City Trends, Highlight and Future: Culinary expert shares insightful bits
From Moringa taking over kale, to millets beating quinoa in their home game and small plates become indigenous, here’s how behind-the-burners’ thinking is shaping the dining experiences in 2018.
On one of his Indian tours to explore the secrets of Old Delhi by-lanes and the colourful world of Khari Baoli, Asia’s (in fact, the world’s) biggest spice market, the late Chef Anthony Bourdain was asked, ‘How do you perceive trends?’ The celebrity chef, in his unique style had said, “Trends are one chef’s design that gets a wide acceptance. They can be made and broken on whim, eccentricity and a desire to create.”
Rather unconventional in his take, the legendary chef’s word has found credence in the Indian dining space in 2018, with more chefs taking the risky road to experiment and changing the way food is cooked, presented, viewed and even eaten. In fact, 2018 is dedicated to India, with Indian ingredients, techniques and even philosophy pushing aside western trends and creating a new niche for themselves.
Here’s the scoop into what India ate city-wise, as some of India’s finest culinary talent spills the beans on what rules the culinary roost, and what would remain in 2019.
Millets, black food, and colour
City Trend: Conventionally, we cannot call it as a trend. Millets have been a staple pan-India since ancient times. It is, in fact, called the poor man’s nourishment. What happened between 2017-end and 2018 is a conscious decision among chefs to go and explore the world of millets — and work with it, thanks partly to the rise of veganism and the need to explore different ingredients. As a result, today chefs around India work with more than 12 different kind of millets and even have an à la carte menu dedicated to the superfood. Buffets and banquets sections solely serve millet dishes. In fact, meals made with millets are part of a new trend called “conscious, sustainable eating.”
The Hotel’s Culinary Highlight: The Dim Sum Brunch in Zen, our pan-Asian restaurant. Designed around The Leela Hotel’s zero-wastage initiative, this buffet initiative also works on upping the dining experience by creating an on-demand three-course dim sum menu that comes à la carte style on the table.
The Future: Both black food and coloured are the future. And by black I do not mean charcoal activation that remained a highlight for most part of early 2018, but natural-coloured food that were traditionally eaten. For instance, white ingredients aid in cellular recovery; red ingredients support heart and circulatory systems; orange supports skin and eye health; green rejuvenates muscle and bone. Chefs soon will have to work around colours to create engaging dining experiences — and the one food group that I see making its presence felt regularly are naturally black produces like Kadaknath, black sesame seeds, black garlic, gim and black beans like Kala Ghevada, and Frijoles Negros or black turtle beans over the regular kidney beans.
From gastro food to small plates of community cuisine
City Trend: The thing about food trends is that is often determined by the class of guests who are spending the money. And for the last five years the decision makers have been young, working-class individuals for whom food is more than just an indulgence — it’s a lifestyle. And the one trend that has benefited immensely from this group is pub-style food cuisine. Essentially meals that are great on taste, informal and served in a fun manner. For Kolkata, 2018 has been all about gastro-style eating. This also meant that the chefs have had to move on from making fish and chips and from the steak culture, and think beyond with food, presentation and, most importantly, taste.
The Hotel’s Culinary Highlight: The Park Hotels across India have been successful in bringing traditional food — not just from popular cuisine but also from lesser-known areas. One trend that I can attribute to The Park Kolkata, the brand’s flagship property, is the introduction of different kinds of local rice that grow in and around Bengal. In fact their red rice, fried rice and black rice kheer are amongst the most-sought-after dishes that are ordered more for the taste of the rice than the dish itself.
The Future: 2019 will certainly belong to the era of community dining. We have finally come to an end of experimenting with popular cuisine and will have to look deeper into sub-communities to bring in more excitement to the table. The other trend that will catch up soon is those of lost recipes. They were bequeathed by our grandparents to us, and have been forsaken either because they were labour intensive to make or the techniques have been forgotten. The challenge, of course, lies in how to make it more relevant. And that’s where the small plates (a trend from 2015) will make a re-appearance, albeit this time with traditional dishes, rethought and rewired.
From Keto to meatless diet and dining out
City Trend: This year has curiously belonged to both traditional food as well as fads like Keto Diet and others. The reason for this change could be attributed not only to the rise in mindful eating among people, but also the rise in offerings that have made people come out and dine. Hyderabad, for a long time, was a city that ate at home.
The Hotel’s Culinary Highlight: The highpoint for Park Hyatt Hyderabad has been the opening of RIKA — the modern Asian restaurant which has different zones based on the food it serves. We have tried to be as close as possible to the real experiences from each region, not only in terms of food, but also in terms of creating the experience by using the same tableware and ambience.
The Future: Completely belongs to meatless meals and experiences. Thanks to the rise in responsible eating, guests have already shifted to finding better ways to eat meaningfully. So Hyderabad is seeing a resurgence of traditional trends like Meal in a Bowl, more plant-based food and fermented food.
The year of complicated techniques and simple food
City Trend: This year has been an explosion of not just one trend but a collective of trends. While on one hand we saw millets taking center-stage, there were other vegetables that also came to the fore, like broad beans, morianga and even beetroot. Variants of popular ingredients were explored, such as a variety of yams, bananas and even carrots. The culture of Indian coffee drinking took precedence to tea with the rise in cold brews and behind the kitchen, Indian produce and international techniques ruled. This enabled chefs to bring forth interesting dishes that were relatable and yet packed in some interesting flavours.
The Hotel’s Culinary Highlight: Epic Table, which was designed for a well-travelled gourmand. The idea was to present ingredients in all their flavours. It was a dining experience that didn’t have much commercial value to start with. But the year ended with a culinary high and we saw plenty of request for the tables in Epic. The other landmark is our team’s ability to change the buffet to include at least a significant part of regional cuisine in our buffets. And not one dish is repeated.
The Future: It belongs to Indian food, the use of avant-garde techniques and gourmet dining. And by gourmet I don’t just mean specially curated menus, but also dining experiences that are based on foraging, that explore ingredients and most importantly, that have a back story.
Eat Healthy, eat local
City Trend: Pune is a growing, vibrant city and one the key trends catching on in a city full of millennials and corporates is the concept of ‘Eat Healthy 2.0’. The food is sourced from local farms, and follow either the keto concept or are vegan. Our next generation wants to know where their food comes from. As a chef, it is more satisfying to serve such well-informed guests who, through their travels, have become better foodies than our generation. Clearly, the era of ‘just instagrammable food’ is on its way out.
The Hotel’s Culinary Highlight: Cook global and source local has been the mantra for the hotel’s culinary team for the last couple of years. We have managed to use almost all our offerings to showcase Pune’s vibrant food culture and the various influences.
The Future: Will belong to fermentation used widely in cooking, and to creating great dining experiences. Dining in 2019 shall include fermentation of food. Guests will see more of kimchi, sauerkraut, tempeh and kefir. Not just in food, the technique shall be extended to drinks as well, with the gorwing popularity of kombucha (fermented tea).
Heritage ingredients and simpler meals
City Trend: Although it has been barely a few months that I have been in the city to research for the soon-to-be-opening Four Seasons’ property here, the culinary exuberance of this IT hub has taken me by surprise. It is like an interesting caldron of little trends that have been a part of the culinary world for the last two decades, but each one has been homogenised to suit the food palate of the city. Something that has really surprised me this year is the inclination towards single origin ingredients, which is the next level of going local. Food, here, has a story not only related to the dish, but also of the ingredients used. And the sheer array of the ingredients available is mind-blowing.
The Future: Keeping the city’s culinary demography in mind, I have designed most of our F&B offerings to be a perfect mix of interactive style dining using fresh ingredients that are crafted into perfection in front of guests. Every dish will be presented in its original cooking style, varying from Spanish-style grill, stone-oven pizza or bakery live oven at CUR8 restaurant, to the artful Sushi counter, Dim Sum steamer, Charcoal Kushiyaki Grill and Duck Roaster at the vibrant Far & East Asian Brasserie on Level 21. It has been a conscious attempt to move away from gimmicks to food that is high on taste, authenticity and experience.