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Business News/ Lounge / Food/  A pop-up menu for Mumbai by MasterChef Australia's Andy Allen
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A pop-up menu for Mumbai by MasterChef Australia's Andy Allen

Australia meets India in this food experience by chefs Andy Allen of MasterChef Australia and Hussain Shahzad of O Pedro

Chef Andy Allen at O Pedro (left); and spatchcock chicken. (Photos by Raul Dias)Premium
Chef Andy Allen at O Pedro (left); and spatchcock chicken. (Photos by Raul Dias)

The element of fire seems to be the leitmotif of chef Andy Allen’s life. As a former “sparky"—as electricians are fondly referred to in moniker-loving Australia—Allen can’t seem to get enough. To begin with, he insists on being interviewed while literally throwing trays of fermented chili marinated, spatchcock-style, flayed “chooks" (Aussie speak for chickens) into the wood-fired pizza oven; till they roast to perfection with the requisite, almost charred exterior pat in place. Much later in the evening, he proceeds to show his captivated diners how he singed a sheaf of honey-smeared paperbark with a blowtorch. It's a thin bark stripped off the melaleucas or tea-trees, native to his country of Australia. It imparts a delicate smokey flavour to the final dish of burnt honey crème brûlée.

Also read: For chef Massimo Bottura food is all about art and poetry

Allen, the 36-year-old MasterChef Australia’s season four winner-turned-judge, teamed up with Mumbai chef Hussain Shahzad for a pop-up at O Pedro last weekend. Manifestation seems to be another constant in Allen’s life as he talks about how this collaborative effort reached fruition. “On my last trip to India, where I collaborated on a range of Australian flavours-inspired chocolates with the ITC brand Fabelle, I remember saying how much I wanted to do something with The Bombay Canteen guys. And here I am cooking at its sister property. Though, on my next trip, I hope to team up with The Bombay Canteen and do something different altogether," says a visibly excited Allen who’s finally managed to get a mini breather from his kitchen duties to sit down for a proper chat.

“Meeting chef Hussain was like meeting a girl for the first time when you can feel the spark (there we go, again) instantaneously," he says with a twinkle in his eyes. “Chef Hussain and I have come up with a menu that demonstrates Australia’s produce and represents the ongoing sophistication of the nation’s dining scene. We do this by coupling indigenous Australian ingredients like finger limes and a coastal succulent like karkalla (pig face, sea fig or beach bananas) with Indian ones like tamarind and chaat masala. One can find this synergy in a range of family-style dishes that span small plates, mains, sides and desserts," says Allen of the menu that will be available to sample through the month of May at O Pedro.

One sees dishes like giant BBQ prawns slathered in a Chinese XO sauce-flavoured butter, with side acts like the warm and pillow-y potato bread dusted with anise myrtle salt. There's the zesty buffalo tataki with lobster, creme fraiche, green tomato topped with caviar-like pearls of finger limes. The fermented chili glazed baked pumpkin with tahini sauce is the vegetarian version of the aforementioned chili glazed spatchcock. Then there's a side dish of a tabbouleh-style salad with pearl barley speckled with chopped Australian macadamia nuts for texture and a burnt eggplant and yoghurt sauce that's jazzed up with a sprinkling of grape vinegar. “Sharing what we bring to the table in terms of our techniques, ingredients and learning from these guys has been the highlight of this partnership. I can safely say that I’m more confident in them, than I’d be of myself to deliver," says Allen of the O Pedro team.

Back home in Australia, Allen effortlessly segues from his role as a judge on MasterChef Australia—which he says he’s just wrapped up filming the 16th season—with running his other businesses. These include creating the low-carb and mid-strength beer called Travla in partnership with internationally renowned actor and 'close mate', Travis Fimmel. As well as running his five-outpost strong eatery Three Blue Ducks. “Here’s manifestation for you again," laughs Allen. “After my win on MasterChef Australia in 2012, I started working as a cook at Three Blue Ducks, as I needed that on-site, commercial kitchen experience. Little did I know then that one day I’d be the co-owner of the brand."

Speaking of MasterChef Australia, what is it according to him that makes the show such a phenomenal success here in India? “I feel that India and Australia have a real connection thanks to the show. This is because of how similarly positive the format of the show is and how positive the people of India are. I’ve seen nothing but love and affection thrown at me from every corner whenever I’ve been here," says an almost emotional Allen.

But he’s not yet done with India, he says. Next on his agenda is a trip to Kochi where he’s heard (courtesy, his friend and former MasterChef Australia judge Gary Mehigan) of a lady cultivating caper berries on her farm. Allen promised sharing her contact details. And in return, I’ve promised to share with him my secret spot, also in Kochi, for the ultimate Kerala-style beef chilli fry.

Raul Dias is a Mumbai-based food and travel writer.

Also read: Warm breads, strawberry sloffen hearts at a Dutch bakery in Kochi

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Published: 14 May 2024, 03:00 PM IST
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