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The Oriental connection

What's the secret of Marriott WelcomHotel's Pan Asia restaurant's delectable offerings? SANGEETA BAROOAH PISHAROTY finds out on an ingredient buying trip with Master Chef Peter Chou.

QUALITY FARE: Master Chef Peter Chou buys what is ideal for his dishes in New Delhi's INA market. Photo: R.V. Moorthy.

CHEF PETER Chou is a Chinese who has never seen China. Born and brought up in Kolkata, Chinese cuisine is what linked him to his motherland. Having a family restaurant at Park Street in Kolkata, it was but natural for him to become a chef. All his uncles and his father were regular in the kitchen. Preparing dishes with a strong touch of Guandong region of mainland China.

So, it is nothing extraordinary for him to be in a local market, picking vegetables, spices and sauces. Even the smell of the raw fish is just another odour.

"From a young age, I am tuned into what one needs to become a chef. My training at The Oberoi in Delhi completed the job," says this Master Chef at Marriott WelcomHotel's Pan Asia restaurant. Unlike chefs coming from China, he speaks fluent English and Hindi and so, the task becomes easier. Not that you won't find a shopkeeper at the city's INA and Khan markets speaking Chinese!

Pure for sure

"Though we are dependent on our suppliers for the ingredients, yet it is the chef's weekly job to go on random checks to local markets to see the quality of ingredients available and compare them with what is being supplied to us. We work on strict specifications," Chef Peter brings out a yellow broad sheet to justify it. Written against each ingredient are the rate list and other specifications like the weight and look of them. "For instance, we have these yardsticks like the tomatoes should be bright red and a kg of it should have 12 tomatoes. Sweet lime should be seven in a kg and likewise. The fullness, the tenderness of a vegetable is to be checked by touching." He talks as his hands and eyes are at work in the INA market in this morning hour. "The sauces that we use in Chinese, Japanese and Thai cuisine at our restaurant are procured from this market. They have an amazing variety here," he says.

Knowing fully well that authentic Chinese food needs a bit of addition to suit the popular Indian palette, the chef mentions the common Indian spices like black pepper and red and green chillies that do the needful. "But we can't shift too much. People these days are travelling and so they know which is what," and so is the use of spices like galangal. To suit the needs of vegetarian food lovers, there is now an array of sauces to be used in Oriental cuisine.

Himself a fan of the Chinese roast dish Peking Duck, he says, soon Pan Asia restaurant would have a duck roaster for it. "The specification for a duck for this dish is, it should be two and a half kg, not more than six months old and is forced fed to become fat. Come over to taste it," he drops the invitation. It is, of course, open for all the connoisseurs of exotic food.

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