There’s art in my soup
Ranveer Brar’s new Mumbai restaurant symbolizes the synergies food is developing with design, art and fashion
Besides cheffing, hosting food shows on television and recently authoring Come Into My Kitchen, Ranveer Brar dabbles in painting and sculpting. “Food is food and art is art and the two never seem to blend,” he says. And yet, melding food and art into one cohesive experience is exactly what he’s attempting to do at TAG Gourmart Kitchen, just launched in Mumbai in collaboration with The Amateur Gallery (TAG), which highlights the work of young and new artists.
“The idea was to do an art/food space; translate food into an artistic expression,” Brar says. “In this restaurant, with minimalistic décor and pops of young colours, I wanted to do food that is very Bohemian, travelling, conversational… something very personal, much like a painting if you think about it.”
He brainstormed with TAG’s consultant art curator Niyatee Shinde to understand the kind of art TAG stands for. “Since it’s work created by students, it has a certain youthfulness, a loudness, a playfulness about it. We decided to keep the youthful energy, a sort of flirting with the palate. And when the art gallery said they wanted to do a vegetarian menu, I was excited, as at this stage in my career I want to make vegetarian food interesting.
“There’s the idea that vegetarians are uncomfortable in a non-veg eatery and vice-versa. The process of creating a menu that would appeal to both was mentally very stimulating for me. Now, if my team and I see a non-vegetarian who is having fun in this vegetarian place, then our job is done,” smiles Brar, who has used the umami notes of extracts, oils, ferments, etc., to bring a complex flavour profile into this menu.
Think a melt-in-the-mouth mushroom galawat dressed up with a hit of truffle oil, texture-rich Watermelon Sashimi with yam guacamole. A smoky Afghani mantu dumpling of lentils with yogurt served in a sealed jar or a Wasabi Edamame Hummus paired with toasted khakra. Or a robust butter chicken ravioli made with mock meat and served on a bed of kale. And a palm hearts biryani redolent of Awadh, where chunks of jackfruit fall apart at the touch of a fork. The plating of the dishes reflects art compositions in the interplay of colours, shapes and textures.
Each small plate can be paired with the perfectly complementary 2-ounce pour of wine, explains Brar, whose love for wine was born when he worked at the French-Asian restaurant Banq in Boston, US. A frequent traveller to Napa Valley, Brar now blends his skills with wine and food with his understanding of art to present not just a meal in an art gallery, but a heightened sensory experience.
Food consultant and writer Rushina M. Ghildiyal, who is curating an event for Brar, is currently on the lookout for an origami expert. “I want various artists to interpret the chef’s dishes in their own ways. There will be an animator and a photographer and I will do my ‘foodles’,” says Ghildiyal, who is known for her food-related doodles.
“It’s all about creating the right synergies,” explains Sanam Sippy, director, Asilo, the 38th floor restaurant at the St Regis, Mumbai, which enhances the appeal of its location and a live saxophonist by hosting “Couture Cabanas”. Over four successful editions, they invited designers to give design makeovers to four semi-private areas using their signature cocktails as the theme.
Picture yourself sipping a delicious L’Orange Crusta cocktail (Grey Goose L’Orange vodka, triple sec, maraschino liqueur with a squeeze of lemon juice and a twist of orange peel) on a rust-coloured couch, gazing at the orange-streaked sunset sky from the country’s highest rooftop cabana done up in colours and concepts that match your drink. The metallic amber space designed by architect Ashiesh Shah is ablaze with amber lights set in opaque and solid black acrylic panels on the walls, metal mess installations inspired by the city skyline, and fashion designer Kunal Rawal’s textured cross-hatch fabrics with cross-stitch elements that reflect the city’s robust underpinnings. The other three cabanas are built around the themes of Parisian Chic, in lemon yellow, White Russian, in feminine florals, and True Blue Martini, with neon-blue geometrics.
“It makes for compelling viewing and a memorable evening out for our guests,” says Sippy. “We wanted to develop a unique idea where the best concepts of design are inspired by signature cocktails: It’s something that has never been seen before—a convergence of fashion and entertainment—where celebrated designers aren’t just showcasing their collections at Asilo, but are also creating something novel.”
Among the designers who have had a go at cabana makeovers are Nachiket Barve, Narendra Kumar, Falguni & Shane Peacock, Amit Aggarwal, Payal Singhal, Anand Kabra, Krishna Mehta and Maheka Mirpuri.
Nor is this exploration of synergies limited to Mumbai. Last Saturday, Delhi saw Binge, an 18-person brunch at Blue Tokai Coffee Roasters, for which chefs Ashay Dhopatkar, Kainaz Contractor, Mary Lalboi and Rahul Dua created a four-course, literature-based menu. Dhopatkar created The Beaming Braveheart, a combination of eggs Benedict, Florentine and forestiere, symbolizing Harry Potter’s love for the Forbidden Forest and his heart of gold. Rahul Dua’s Suspicious Sausages had an aura of mystery as brunchers tried to guess if Sherlock Holmes’ favourite bangers-and-mash was indeed what it seemed. The Wild Scarlett Kelsa Meh main by Lalboi, inspired by the risk-taking protagonist of Gone With the Wind, was a Naga-style mutton in a thick gravy with spices sourced from high-altitude jungles. Kainaz Contractor’s dessert, The World Through the Eyes of Miss Bennet (of Pride And Prejudice), was a delicate take on ice-cream sandwiches and custard, combining berries, spices, chocolate and cheese.
A similar convergence was recently seen at Bungalow 8, one of Mumbai’s first concept stores, where an Art Meets Design exhibit featured both prized canvases and price-on-request scarves. Coming up on 14 December is another Fashion’s Night Out by Vogue India, which will blend copious amounts of fashion with an “eat right” themed cook-off between Shvetha Jaishankar, author of Gorgeous: Eat Well, Look Great, and a well-known chef. At the forthcoming Serendipity Arts Festival (16-23 December), a first-of-its-kind interdisciplinary arts festival in Goa, chef-partner Manu Chandra (of Toast & Tonic, Olive Beach, Monkey Bar and The Fatty Bao fame) and food historian, author and co-founder of the Goan Culinary Club, Odette Mascarenhas, will curate the culinary segment. They were chosen expressly for their ability “to start conversations and exchange across artistic styles, generations, and geographies”, says festival director Preeta Singh.
Food courting art. Design dancing with food. Food and fashion stepping out together in style. Music getting into the mix. Many degrees more evolved than themed restaurants, if done right, these convergences can make for a win-win situation, where the customer gets more bang for her buck and creatives sync with businesspeople to develop more platforms to showcase their creativity.