Andy Annat, international barbeque crackerjack, roasts, smokes and sizzles up a feast for his first Indian audience. Pankaja Srinivasan and Esther Elias take in the flavours
If you were at Balmoral for the Queen’s eightieth, chances are you would have sampled a selection of Andy Annat’s barbequed fare. He also catered at the Formula 1 in Dubai. And now here he was, prepping for a two-day event split into vegetarian and non-vegetarian sessions.
The second floor lawns of Vivanta By Taj-Surya looks like a picnic in progress. At the far end, banners proclaim it to be an event organised by Coimbatore ACME Round Table 133 and Weber, the grill people. An assortment of grills is arranged and on the side is a bank of tables groaning under the weight of vegetables, dressings, rubs, spices, sauces and other barbeque essentials. Tables with chairs around them bearing colourfully dressed men and women face the grills from where Andy will demonstrate barbecuing. Children run around and help themselves to cheese and crackers being served on the side. The cheese is from Kodaikanal and guests can buy it if they want. Next to the cheese are George and Bill who are urging people to try their pesto, one made with basil and the other with coriander. Absolutely lip smacking.
“Barbeque is my world,” says Andy. He has won five world barbeque championships. He consults for food companies and super market groups and caters regularly for royals, actors and football celebrities. He has cooked alongside Jamie Oliver and knows Heston Blumenthal!
So, what is in store for the vegetarian guests? “Because I am a butcher by profession, I am more comfortable with meats,” Andy confesses with a smile, but is quick to add that veggies are versatile too. He is pretty chuffed with the paneer available here. This is Andy’s first visit to India and he says the frozen cottage cheese in the U.K. was too tiny to skewer and grill, nothing like the big fat pieces here!
The session begins with whole skinned pineapples that will turn slowly in a spit inside a grill. Andy fashions a brush with herbs tied to the end of a ladle and he uses that to baste the fruit with a mixture of salt, sugar, paprika and honey. Nice touch. Courgettes, bell peppers, zucchini, aubergines, mushrooms…Chopped, coated with oil (Andy says back home he uses rapeseed oil for the cooking bit as olive oil has a low burning point), herbs and spices and then grilled.
Freshly barbequed vegetable bits are served then and there. The bonus is that every one feels virtuous as well. It’s just grilled veggies with may be a little bit of oil and some cheese. Andy also recommends using some rum and whiskey in the marinade.
Guests are invited to look and touch and savour. Andy throws in tips and anecdotes and keeps it lively. He speaks of a catering adventure he and his team had in the middle of a frozen lake in Estonia. He speaks of a time when transporting the carcass of a pig to Scotland in his car, he was tailed by the police who suspected him of carrying away a dead body…Andy has cooked in the U.S., Australia, and West Asia, and with chefs of different nationalities. He has added India to the long list.
Barbeque has no rules, says Andy. Anything goes and flavours and taste can be adapted. “Barbecuing is a social occasion. More and more corporates hold informal meetings around barbeques. These events work as ice-breakers and are more effective than formal suit and tie affairs,” he says. It helps that barbeque is usually accompanied by beer that further blurs boundaries.
The grilled pineapples are served. Stuffed chillies and mushrooms with blue cheese are next. Corn on cob and paneer follow. Whatever Andy has demonstrated is also being served as part of the buffet lunch. Proceeds from this event will go towards building schools in the remote areas of Tamil Nadu and reimburse farmers whose livestock have been killed by tigers in the Sathyamangalam Hasanur areas, besides making the Nilgiris plastic-free.
“It’s going to be an evening of smoke, fire and flames!” says chef Andy Annat, throwing a handful of wood chips at the audience. Behind him sit a goat, several chickens, a quail, fish in varied sizes and prawns — all dead and all ready to be barbequed by his expert hands.
He catches the goat by its hind legs first, slashes gashes through the skin and generously slathers a marinade made of oil, honey and herbs such as garlic, parsley, chilli, pepper, rosemary and mint, all the while talking nineteen to the dozen. “Ideally, this should sit for three to 24 hours,” he says but in it goes into a gas stove heated to 150 degree centigrade. The fat hits the hot grill spokes and smoke rises into the Coimbatore night sky. The lid slams down and Andy says, “Don’t keep peeking to see if it’s done. If you’re looking, you’re not cooking!”
While the goat cooks, Andy prepares a large seer fish with lime and rock salt and adds it to the stove. Later, he sprays an already-roasting rack of pork with apple sauce, wraps pork ribs in an aluminium foil lined with butter, sugar and honey (Memphis style pork ribs) and prepares basa fish to be laid over soaked cedar planks. That’s five barbeques simultaneously cooking — multitasking at its trained best.
The wood used in barbeques is equivalent to the spice box in Indian cooking, explains Andy. “Fruit woods give you mild flavours while bigger woods give you darker flavours,” he says. It’s the smoke that arises from the wood placed alongside the meats, that seeps into the slits made along the flesh and seasons it.
With the basa fish prepared, Andy gently opens one of his three barbeque kettles and places it with the planks. “Always open stove lids slowly, otherwise the gush of fresh oxygen could start a fire — in technical terms, a ‘flashback’,” he says. It’s tips like these that continuously pepper Andy’s walk-through of his signature recipes.
Next up are the chickens. But first, he opens a can of Redbull and chugs half. Then he places a whole marinated chicken over the can, legs neatly crossed and sets it in a kettle for an hour. “If that doesn’t give it wings, I don’t know what will,” he chuckles. In a jiffy, another chicken, a quail, some prawns and a yorkshire pudding are done for us to sample.
By now, the lamb is wonderfully browned, the fish flesh ready to fall of the bone and the pork done to perfection. All a little meagrely spiced for our Indian palates, however. Even so, it’s been a wonderful evening watching a master work his magic to send home an audience with small farms rumbling in their stomachs.