French chefs Eric Grandin and Cyrille Bailly conduct a culinary experiment
Welcome to India. A wonderful greeting and also a tricolour mise en bouche (starter) prepared by Eric Grandin and Cyrille Bailly, two freelance French chefs who were training kitchen staff at Old Harbour Hotel in Fort Kochi. A tricolour aspic made from cucumber, yoghurt and carrot puree set delicately in long stemmed glass, it made a wonderful starter to a gourmet experience that the two chefs had spooned out.
But what had their experience been of working with and training staff seasoned on hardcore ethnic flavours and spicy curries? Well, certainly not a cakewalk as Eric explained.
From observing the methodology used, to suggesting and finally implementing changes were not as simple as boiling an egg. For a kitchen is a special zone of egos, secrets and taste.
Eric and Cyrille began by using locally available ingredients to devise a French menu. But can there be coconut and coriander in French food? Certainly not but a French presentation of Indian food, where flavours are tempered down can certainly be a way out as was on the dinner presented by the chefs.
So poached eggs floated in a creamy dill sauce served along with banana wrapped in bacon. Madras rice generously peppered with pineapple, raisins and coconut bits with grilled and then fried tiger prawns came along with coconut-mango chutney. Moroccan styled Lamb Tajine with an Indian touch. Sweet endings were a chocolate patty oozing with warm chocolate sauce, truly the piece de resistance and a final Indianised pineapple crumble completed the chic gourmet experience.
Anxious Eric and Cyrille seemed truly pleased when they heard a shower of claps from the diners. They knew they had them by their hearts and mouths.
Eric hails from Arles, the ‘creative town of Van Gogh', and said that everybody from Arles was into artistic creations, and he was into it with food.
As far as training the staff went he said he began by making it mandatory for the kitchen chefs to have a recipe book. Every ingredient that went in had to be measured and so the scales were brought out and put to full use. The oven was tried by one and all in the kitchen and lots of baking, grilling and braising were done.
Eric who has stayed with an Indian family learnt the ropes of Indian cuisine with them and has been experimenting with the creation of an Indo- French fusion menu. Eric and Cyrille are known for creating specialised menus for special occasions.
As an example Eric says that for a ‘Black and White' theme dinner they had prepared food in the thematic colour combination. And if there was food to be made for a literary event, he would churn out something suitable for a mature taste. A fun event would call for fun foods, a formal one for such and a picnic for on the run food.
In Kerala the two are visiting Thekkady and touring the spice fields to touch and smell the spice and come up with new and different ways to use them in their version of Indo-French cuisine.
Eric feels that though spice is very Indian but it still holds mysteries that can be used differently in food. And that's his onward journey in Kerala.
It is the biriyani that is his reference food for India but the flavour of curry leaf is what has him by his taste buds. Coconut oil gives South Indian food its special flavour and paneer masala is the authentic North Indian food according to him.
But for now it is curry leaves and coconut that he is relishing and experimenting with in a very, very French way.