2017: The year in review

Taste of 2017: the year in food

Innovation is the name of the game; at least for Manu Chandra. The man behind the now cult Monkey Bar, Asian gastrobar The Fatty Bao and trendy Toast & Tonic, believes in sticking to local flavours and ingredients, while reinventing the way they are presented. Think laal maas phulka presented taco style or a flavourful kheema bao.

Having graduated from The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, and having worked with top chefs abroad, Chandra came back to India to join AD Singh as Chef de Cuisine at Olive Beach, Bengaluru. His own restaurants followed in quick succession.

Taste of 2017: the year in food

Known to mince no words and a strong advocate for Indian chefs who are doing great work behind the scenes, the Chef Partner at Toast & Tonic, The Fatty Bao, Monkey Bar and Executive Chef Olive Beach, Chandra looks back at the year that was in terms of food. Here are his thoughts on 2017:

Asian comeback

Taste of 2017: the year in food

Fairly dominant was the Asian cuisine revival across the globe. It was more focussed than generic Asian restaurants. For instance, in India it was all-encompassing Asian restaurants that came to the fore, while globally it was a more hyper-focussed approach. Younger Asian chefs began opening restaurants, and flavours from Vietnam, Thai, Chinese and Sichuan came to the fore. It was a time of bold flavours and it was good to see the West embrace them for a change. Take for instance, Little Tong Noodle Shop, a little restaurant in Manhattan that was opened by Simone Tong, an American girl with Chinese heritage, to glowing reviews. In fact, it’s been touted to be the best bowl of noodles, with flavours inspired by the border of Mongolia and China.

Talented cooks

The year saw a lot of talented people, not necessarily certified chefs, come forth with some delicious food. These were just people who love food and hosted pop ups or collaborated with restaurants to bring forward some unique flavours. They made stuff that restaurant chefs don’t normally. In fact, I’ve said this many times: chefs get way too much credit; they might come from culinary schools, but at the end of the day, have businesses to run and so their creativity is curtailed. These people on the other hand have nothing to lose; so they experiment and shine. This is a segment that will continue to grow.

Regional cuisines

Regional cuisines definitely enjoyed their moment in the sun and will continue to do so. Especially, South Indian flavours. For example, this year, people finally realised that gunpowder was a kind of podi and the South has several such podis. Pulimunchi, a word people didn’t even know about, became a dish to reckon with. People realised that there was a whole lot of difference between say Andhra cuisines and Mangalorean. That Tamil Brahmin food was a whole other ball game when compared to that found in coastal Tamil Nadu. Basically, people discovered the sheer variety of flavours that was to be found South of the Vindhyas. Oriya food is still largely undiscovered. In my opinion, there’s nothing more exciting than discovering Indian flavours; learning about your country through its food and how it’s such an integral part of our culture.

This is a trend that will continue for the next few years; let’s hope 2018 is a watershed moment for it though.

Home-grown wonders

Taste of 2017: the year in food

Chocolate making and coffee making in the country saw an explosion this past year. And it’s only getting stronger. Companies like Earth Loaf and Mason & Co have been making bean-to-bar chocolate with cocoa grown right here in India. They’ve been taking the time and effort to educate and work with farmers to grow quality cocoa. ‘Single estate’ and ‘single origin’ became terms people were familiar with. These companies might have some interesting flavour combinations to offer, but the fact remains that they worked on improving the base product. Who would’ve thought that Indian origin chocolates would find a spot in the international market?

Beer craze

2017 saw the beer craze hit the Indian market and my gut feeling is that it’s only going to get bigger and bigger. Not just bottled beer: a lot of people are kegging, many states are allowing it, and then there are the multitude of breweries and microbreweries that have carved a niche for themselves. People have moved away from the Kingfishers and Haywards. A bulk of the supply might still come from these companies, but the change has begun. And for a country that has seen single brands and brews for so long, this is a rather welcome change. There is so much more curiosity about wheat beer and IPA today.

Raise a toast to Indian wine

Indian wines, too, have only gotten better. We’ve seen some great wines being produced right here in the subcontinent, some that can effectively compete with other cheap imported wines. It’s a rite of passage that has been covered in a rather short span of time. The Indian wine industry is only about 30 years old and we’ve grown by leaps and bounds. It’s an exciting place to be in. 2018 should see a lot of new brands come to the fore and one can’t wait for it.

(As told to Ranjani Rajendra)

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