Monday, December 5, 2011

Hypermetropic Cooks

Another update on my blog ... may be a post that can fit in here and my other blog on cooking - Foodies' Sphere. 

A thought struck me as I was watching an episode of Master Chef India 2 on Sunday - Dec 4, 2011. Four contestants were fighting out an elimination round. I have noted, be it Master Chef India - the first or second season, top contestants are experts in Awadhi, Gujarati, Rajasthani cuisines, they have toiled with the extremely hot Bhut Jolokia chilly from north eastern states, tossed many fishes in kasundi (mustard paste) much in Bengali style, rolled out sheek kababs and patiently cooked flavorful biriyani. 

In the arena of desserts and baked goodies, they are kings and queens. Adept at making mousse, artfully using mascarpone cheese, baking pies, tarts, quiches, meringue cookies and macroons, they also churn out desi sweets like Ghewar, intricately shaped Jalebis and Rasagulla cake in remarkable style even when provided very little time. Simply stating, they know it all. 

The contestants of Master Chef India are unparalleled experts in international cuisine - Risotto, Ravioli, Lasagna, Tortilla, Quesadilla - from Italy to Mexico to China, name it and they present them matching international standards. Be it Galangal ginger, Pad thai, Sushi or other tongue twisting names, these are no surprises to them. The thought process and creativity these people put in, their knowledge of ingredients, quality and taste of end products they create have always startled the three judges on the show and many lucky ones who have had a chance to taste their platter. 

This Sunday, however, I realised, they are all what I can call Hypermetropic Cooks, a new term I have coined to describe at least those who were fighting out the elimination challenge. These hypermetropic cooks  have abnormally above average, in fact, supreme distant vision, in this context, technical know how of recipes made in regions of the globe, miles away from India. When a banana tree came bang in front of them - more precisely, its various parts - banana stem, raw and ripe banana, banana flower were presented as the core ingredient to be used, they were all flabbergasted. If it had been only an expression of shock, I could quite understand it.Their expressions were like all hell broke loose on them on Sunday.  

The four contestants had to prepare a complete platter using raw banana, banana leaf and ripe banana in the first round. The second round involved usage of banana flower and the last one required contestants to prepare a starter using banana stem.

Raw bananas make yummy dry curry, especially when mixed with grated coconut. Ripe bananas could be steamed with honey laced water to provide a simple, delectable dessert. Steaming in banana leaves added an extraordinary flavor to any dish. Ample knowledge can be derived on how to use all of the above elements of a banana plant from Canara coast, states of Kerala and Tamil nadu (as far as I know). Banana flower beats the rest when it comes to taste factor though it is quite meticulous to clean it. Finely chopped banana flower could be mashed with potato and used to make cutlets or mixed with channa dal to make vadas. Banana stem is a miracle ingredient, rich in roughage, yielding tasty dry and yoghurt based curry. The core ingredient is quite common place in the southern states of India and very vital in nutritive aspects too. People who cared to know about global cuisines could have had an easy take that day had they turned a few pages of any South Indian cook book.

I felt a strange sense of ignorance looming in them and I have seen this in most cookery shows aired in India.    There is much more in South Indian cooking than only idli, vada and dosa.Whilst the whole nation has adopted the tandoor, naan, kulcha, paneer butter masala, concepts of weaving magic with a wet grinder and simple fermentation techniques have gone amiss. It is very appreciable people put in sincere efforts to master things that are cooked and served in far off corners of the world, but why some take a huge leap before they are even aware of indigenous lessons is not clear.

I realized that day - to be a key contender in Master Chef India, it is mandatory one excels in North Indian cooking and be a clone of Nigella Lawson in baking. Churn out a 1000 recipes with olive oil but remain blissfully ignorant of the fact that even till oil can be used for cooking. Be crafty with the pasta maker even if you haven't (even once) skillfully squeezed out murukkus and chakalis. With an overdose of enthusiasm, there are takers for the far fetched Italian, Mexican, Chinese, Thai and Japanese, but even indirect references and simple awareness of completeness and diversity in Indian cuisine strangely goes for a toss. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You really have hit the nail on the head, Divya! People want to be so global, they forget the infinite variations in India. Ofcourse, the south has always been largely ignored. Anyone south of Maharashtra is a madraasi, right?

I really cannot say it better than you have!

-- Shubha