For those sweet nothings
Chef Horst Rautert of Delhi's Taj Mahal hotel tells SANGEETA BAROOAH PISHAROTY that unavailability of a world-class diabetic sugar in the local market does not make his cakes, pastries and desserts fully low calorie and tooth-friendly.
The conjuror... Chef Horst Rautert of Delhi's Taj Mahal hotel with his creations. Photo: V. Sudershan.
FOR THE calorie-conscious Indian, any achi khabar (good news) is actually no good news. Muh mitha karao becomes almost a war cry from the near and dear ones the moment any good news comes your way. And blessed you are if the fare is not thrust down your throat as well. Only to rest, where else... around your waist.
With Chef Horst Rautert of Delhi's Taj Mahal hotel, it looks like just the opposite. This German citizen in town for the last six months straightaway gives the impression that he not only fill his guests' plates with delectable desserts and sweets but fully believes in often having a plate for himself too. Offer and be offered seems to be the philosophy working here. So rotund and bulky he is, but getting all perked up at the mention of his speciality - cakes, desserts and pastries, has another important fall-out in his life. "Because of it, I have seen eight countries," he declares, the fervour almost touchy-feely, the childlike smile ever pasted on the face.
On the look-out for a profession to pursue at age 19, and so having started his apprenticeship at a baker's decades back in 1967 in his home town Steinberg in Germany, Chef Horst got into German millitary for mandatory reasons. "There was no opportunity to bake cakes there those four years but what I learnt as an apprentice at the bakery made me decide that I shall be a baker once out of the Army," he recalls. True to his thoughts, Chef Horst got back to his oven and dough.
And out he went from his country soon. To be in England, Australia, Malaysia, China, Thailand, Seychelles, and to Pakistan before joining Taj Mahal hotel here.
"Actually, this is my second stint in India. From 1997 to 2000, I was at The Oberoi here," he adds the facts. Spanning over two decades of career as a dessert chef, he laid out tables of sweet nothings to the high and mighties like Prince Charles and Lady Diana, George Bush, Pervez Musharaf, Mir Zafar Jamali, Prince Karim Agha Khan and many other state heads.
"It is a compliment that none of them ever complained," he adds, trying to cloak his German accent in speaking English.
Preferring to use local ingredients for his cakes, puddings, pastries, tarts and other desserts and puffs, he explains, "I always like to use seasonal fruits in my cakes and desserts. The canned stuff can't be as fresh as the fresh ones," being in India and Pakistan for a couple of years now has educated him well about the regional fruits, local sweets and of course, the popular palette.
"I am yet to try my hands on local sweets but what I do here is a bit of fusion work," and thus happened a concoction of gulab jamun and cheese as a cake, rasmalai and chocolate cake, jalebi with lemon yogurt mousse.
"Keeping vegetarians in mind, I also bake eggless cakes sometimes. But what is unfortunate is, you don't get here good diabetic sugar like Isomalt in Germany for a low calorie dessert. Isomalt has optimum solubility and is ideal for diabetics, calorie conscious and is tooth-friendly," he says. Because of import restrictions, such sugars can't be made available to him. And sweetners in the local market can't be used to bake cakes etc as "they turn bitter."
Having resigned to the rule-book, he says, "I always keep my eyes wide open when I go out. Something which unconsiously gets registered in the mind helps me to think of a new dish." Also known for creating as many as 17 varieties of bread, he says, "the idea behind my dal mash bread came while looking at a chef making the Indian chana dal with the masalas."
Also, his eye for ingredients has made him realise that "Peaches in India are the best in the world."
And his oven roll-outs? "Christmas is round the corner and I shall make X Mas cookies in a variety of ways done in different countries. Try out and tell me," he offers.
Well true. The taste of the pudding is in the eating they say.
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