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Giving food a makeover

Food with drama Nimish Bhatia Photo: Sudhakara Jain

Food with drama Nimish Bhatia Photo: Sudhakara Jain  

Small portions, sleek presentation, surprising tastes on your tongue. Chef Nimish Bhatia helps you negotiate the world of Nouvelle cuisine, degustation menus, de-constructed and re-constructed food

If your samosa is not fried, has marinated aloo, chunks of mango and pomegranate wrapped in chilled crispy melon, is it still a samosa? Will your mind be willing to taste flame-fired lobster with moilee cream drizzled with pineapple shavings? When beans and custard apple turn to dust on your plate, can you still believe you’re eating vegetable and fruit? If methi parantha turns into a cigar and a microgreens-filled salad that looks like a terrarium, smokes up as you pour on the dressing, you know you’ve entered a fantasy food world.

“And why not?,” shrugs Chef Nimish Bhatia, familiar to many in Bengaluru’s foodie circle. “Why should lavender only be in your talcum powder? Why can’t you eat it? We eat all parts of a plant. A flower becomes a fruit. Flowers have great nutritive value,” he says, making a case for the marigold and jasmine floating in the tomato bubble soup he’s put on the table.

Turning food on its head yet keeping the basic recipe familiar, Chef Bhatia is going all out with his new adventure — Nimisserie — a restaurant on Bengaluru’s Brigade Road. Nimisserie is perhaps the first time in Bengaluru a coming together of concepts of Nouvelle cuisine, aspect cuisine, degustation menus, de-constructed and re-constructed food. All those terms may seem like Jabberwocky to the uninitiated, but his funda is rather simple: “Today competition is not between good and bad food, but between good and good food. And you have to be better than good. In the diner’s perception, you have to be nouvelle.”

What the Nouvelle movement did to French cuisine is now following suit here. It’s a move towards lighter, delicate dishes, served in smaller portion sizes, with a great emphasis on how it’s presented. But to make things look simple and beautiful, and pop up that element of surprise on the diner, the process that goes into it seems pretty complicated. Mint is a chutney, but served as little jelly-like spheres, thanks to the wonders of molecular gastronomy – that science where you can transform the physical and chemical properties of a food to play around with its taste, texture, and therefore appearance.

Freeze-dried pineapple concentrates all the flavours of the fruit rather strongly in its shrunken form. You can “aerate” a makhni sauce so that the rich buttery-ness is retained, but it doesn’t feel heavy on your tongue or tum.

“The biggest food fad today all over the world is towards health. Smaller portions, and what looks good follows,” says Nimish, who, after spending a good 13 years with the Lalit Ashok group of hotels, broke out on his own, and has been consultant to set up restaurants in the U.K. and the U.A.S.A. “As a corporate chef, at some point you become a babu. I was missing the onions and potatoes, so I came back,” he grins.

He wanted to give foodies in the city something new, but food that was close to their palette. “You’ve eaten all the food that I serve you here, but not my way. And that’s the beauty of ‘aspect cuisine’. It’s about my aspect of food. Dividing food geographically and regionally is making it all very cluttered. Labelling food, I believe, is not correct. Food should be made to order.” And from this also stems the degustation menu — a set menu created by the chef, sent out in courses, a tasting menu that lays out for you all the food he wants to surprise you with.

Also in this attempt to personalize food, bring back your happy memories of food, he believes in tapping in on the feminine connection to food. “Ask any one which is the best food they’ve had and they are most likely to say it’s the food cooked by their mother, sister, or wife. They are the people who know your likes and dislikes in food. I have a tawakaree where we make and serve small portions, served morsel by morsel – like your mother would make a phulka or poori, one by one, and put it on your plate.”

Chef Nimish is a stickler for original recipes. “I don’t believe in fusion. Recipes have to be a 100 per cent original – but you can change the accompaniments, the presentation,” he says serving up a hot crispy puff-like cone. Bite into it and you find a golden liquidy potato bhaji and what you just ate reminds you of poori-bhaji! The Tomato Bubble is a tomato soup loaded with marigold, tawa dried tiny tomatoes, and fruity fragrances, over which is poured a fresh decant of herb infusion. And floating in it is two orbs of pure tomato puree in all their pinkness, thanks to the miracles of molecular gastronomy. Little jellied spherical orbs of mint or churan make for interesting visual poetry as well as do a tango on your tongue, cleansing your palate and getting you ready for more.

This element of surprise in food is what de-construction and reconstruction of food is all about, believes Chef Nimish. “If your favourite food is curd rice, you don’t exactly eat it for a kick. You eat it as comfort food, or when nothing else is around to eat maybe. But if I give you all the elements in it separately, all the known flavours, but in a very different forms, and ask you to reconstruct it for yourself, you’ll like it better. We don’t eat food for hunger alone; we eat it for joy.” Moreover, he points out that we all tend to savour our food not just through our five senses. “There’s also the sixth sense – what the person sitting next to you at your table and eating, is saying about the food. If he thinks it’s bad you’ll believe it, and if he thinks it’s great, you’ll tend to sway that way…” Food can change mood, and mood can change food, he also observes.

“It’s food with drama,” we unequivocally agree. “And what’s life without drama?” concludes chef Bhatia.

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Printable version | Mar 30, 2020 7:38:10 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/Giving-food-a-makeover/article14012104.ece

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