The one up-close culinary experience Kochiites got recently of European vegetarian food threw up many interesting ideas.
A select crowd of food lovers, gathered at Casino Hotel (Willingdon Island), were excited with the prospect of tasting an exclusive Swiss dinner, put together by five chefs from Haus Hiltl, Zurich’s celebrated vegetarian restaurant.
The dinner was an all veg affair and yet, the majority of them who booked their tables for the night were non-vegetarians, informed Jose Varkey, corporate chef of CGH Earth Group.
There was excitement mingled with skepticism among the staff, who wondered whether the simple Swiss food would go down well with the Indian palette. Said Jose, “I don’t expect everyone to take to it. It needs a certain orientation. The food is simple, fresh and very healthy.”
And true enough, it turned out that way, as the five dishes were brought out one by one, with a good amount of break between each course. The guests sipped on their red and white wines and mocktails, as the first dish came out - Garden fresh vegetables tossed in mayonnaise on toast.
The portions served were small, yet it was fresh and did well to whet the appetite. The next on the menu was Tomato-orange soup, with a sprinkling of basil and mild pepper, served with breads. This was a dish that chef Pascal Haag discovered in his own kitchen. “I tried using orange and liked the taste. I wanted to reserve the recipe for my own cook book but I couldn’t refuse when my boss wanted to use it,” he smiles.
Next one was carrot salad, a popular Swiss recipe. The salad was refreshing with grated ruby colour carrots, lettuce, tossed slightly in mayonnaise, with a sprinkling of orange and lemon juice.
Guests who wondered why there was such an excess of raw vegetables in the dishes, well the answer lies in the fact that carrots and other vegetables are grown aplenty in Switzerland. “We use as much as 200 kgs of carrots every day at our restaurant,” say the chefs. The main course, where soya was substituted for meat, got a mixed response though.
However, everyone went back home with the sweet taste of Swiss mousse, which the chefs had brought with them. “Our suitcases were full of chocolates,” they said. True enough, the mousse, made out of the finest and most expensive chocolate, was a genuine treat for the guests.
Each of the dishes were introduced by the 5 chefs, who freely interacted with the guests and answered their queries.
Sticklers for perfection and timing in the kitchen, the chefs were under the impression that the dinner would go on for hours. “They were a bit surprised when we told them that a meal doesn’t take more than an hour and a half in India. In Europe, dinners go on for much, much longer, as there is a lot of talking, bantering, socialising. Not that the menu itself is heavy. But time passes as people take time over their wines and love to socialise,” said George Joseph, (GM Operations), CGH Earth Group
In the end, the dinner was the kind that would please health freaks but those used to a sumptuous, no holds barred Indian fare might be left asking for more. “It is a humble beginning, and we want to experiment and innovate more with such events,” added Joseph.
And the ball has been set rolling already. Come next month, and the group will unveil its new restaurant, serving Dutch food, at Fort Kochi.
As for the Swiss chefs, the week long Kerala trip was dream-like. “We have been so busy travelling and cooking and learning. It has been terrific,” they exclaim.