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Pastry art

Meet Joe Manavalan, pastry king

CREAMY DELIGHTS: Joe Manavalan (extreme left) at Painted Platters -- Pic. by V. Ganesan

IT PROMISES to be a melt-in-the-mouth destination for pastry addicts.

Joe Manavalan `pastry king' from Bangalore, who single-handedly invented the idea of a plate that is so delicious, is in town to kickstart a pastry corner at La Madeleine, the continental food restaurant just off Kasturi Rangan Road.

"Don't worry, I'll help you eat your dessert," Joe advises as I gasp at the size and splendour of the offering. It's called the mud pie and besides chunks of chocolate cake, layers of creamy mousse and ice-cream, it also has three different sauces, toasted almonds, with a sliver of crisp biscuit winging it like a hat on the top. Needless to say, it is completely over the top in terms of calories. "It's my metabolism, I can eat any amount of sweet and it doesn't have any effect on me," he adds. J.K. Madan, who runs La Madeleine, just sighs as he surreptitiously dips his spoon into the mud pie with the two of us. "It's a passion," he says. "Food is a passion with Joe as also with me. From the moment he started Painted Platters in Bangalore, I was hooked. There was not a single time that I did not go there and I knew that we just had to bring it to Chennai."

Madan is a dab hand at pastry making himself. "But Joe is in a different league," he says.

"I was every mother's nightmare," confesses Joe. You can understand what he means when he describes how traumatised his parents were when he announced that he was not going to be a doctor, a scientist or aeronautical engineer, like his father who worked at the National Aeronautical Laboratory at Bangalore, or like his three brothers aspired to be, but that he wanted to be a cook! It never failed to scandalise his relatives when they visited his house and asked his mother what their son was planning to do and while she muttered words like "management trainee" and "hoteliering" he just stood up and said, "I'm a cook!" He still hoots with laughter at the memory.

However, he was not going to be any old cook but the best one in the business. He not only came second in the entrance exam for the Oberoi School of Hotel Management, but soon found that he excelled at the hands-on stuff, working in the kitchen. As he tells the story, when he was working at the Oberoi Hotel in Delhi, the pastry chef was a Frenchman, who was so impatient with the young trainee under him that the trainee left. "Get me that young man there," the Master Chef said looking at Joe, "He seems to have a good hand for detail." And that was how Joe became a pastry chef. He not only learnt his secrets from a number of Swiss chefs, Germans and Austrians, who are the best in the business, he notes, but also went on to teach at the famed Oberoi School of Catering.

"Each one of them was different," he says about the chefs. "The Swiss were precise, they would have all the ingredients lined up before they started and would work like machines. The French Chef had a wealth of experience , but I can never forget the German; if I made a black-forest cake, on which I might have struggled for five hours and presented it to him and every cherry on it was not perfect, exactly the same size, or every leaf was not exactly the same shape! Whoosh! He would sweep it off the table into the dustbin and I would have to start all over again. Perfection, that's what I learnt from him."

From the Viennese Chef he learnt his repertoire of light pastries, or nut or cake bases filled with rich and creamy contrasting fillings. These form the main strength of Joe's repertoire. His desserts are not "puddings" in the English sense of the word, nor heavy cakes of the American variety. He refuses, for instance, to have a black forest cake or the more common pineapple sponge cake, but goes in for combos, exotic mixes of cake, creams, cheese-based layers, with fruit and sauces made of preserves. There are also a number of "naturally flavoured" ice creams that taste like kulfi without being too frozen over. For those who don't eat eggs, there's an eggless dessert that's aptly named, "Chocophile".

Joe is particularly proud of his menus that are tucked away into the pages of real books. For instance, while choosing your coconut or lichee flavoured ice-cream you can do a quick read of James Joyce's famous first novel, or maybe chomp through a paragraph from Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment" while attacking your plate of walnut brownies. Both at Bangalore and over here, there's one wall reserved for paintings and photographs to be displayed by young and adventurous artists, free of charge.

What Joe is most proud of, however, are his plates. "I have patented a way of spray painting my plates with chocolate. Here," he says, demonstrating the technique with a finger, "you can lick it off!" It's not the usual dusting of chocolate powder and icing-sugar, but an actual film of chocolate on the plate with clever sayings from famous literary works lining the edges. The good news is that for all these touches of exotic splendour from the pastry paradises of the world, the price is affordable. The top favourite, mud pie comes at Rs.130 as does the tiramisu with real mascarpone cheese, but the crθme brulee is priced at Rs. 90 while the ice-creams and sundaes are at Rs. 40 a scoop or Rs. 105 per cup of froth.

Painted Platters is open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day from July 18 onwards. It is located adjacent to La Madeleine, No.1, Kasturi Estate, First Street, Off Kasturi Rangan Road, ph: 2498 0819.


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