Food

Book a table at The Smoke Co for a serving of marrow

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Braving a national atmosphere that judges people by the food they eat, The Smoke Co gives us a menu that celebrates pork, beef and everything in between

It looks like no dish you’ve ever seen in a restaurant in India. A long, graceful bone, split vertically into two, full to the rim with marrow, painted over with a mango-chilli glaze and sprinkled with sea-salt and cracked pepper. Spoon up a small portion and feel the marrow melt on the palate, sensual in its buttery voluptuousness. The unctuousness is heightened by the slight hint of smoke that lingers over the plate, banishing the last memories of fighting over the coveted nalli at the home lunch-table and the suck-and-chuck attempts to coax out the meat. This is the bone marrow all grown-up, dressed up and ready to party in your mouth.

The Smoked Bone Marrow is the making of The Smoke Co, the cavernous glass-and-wood space that sits rather conspicuously in a Koramangala lane typically packed with quick-service outlets and noisy pubs. For a city of its size, diversity and wealth, Bengaluru’s culinary landscape can be shockingly one-tone. Only once in a while does a restaurant come along to excite the cognoscenti. This season, that honour goes indisputably to The Smoke Co, the first smokehouse of its kind in the country. It is remarkable, especially for its unabashed ownership of all kinds of meats — from beef to chicken — in a national atmosphere that increasingly judges people by the food they eat.

Book a table at The Smoke Co for a serving of marrow

Smoke signals

Those who come in late might find it hard to square the distinctly upmarket Smoke Co with the cheap-and-cheerful Cafe Thulp. But The Smoke Co, in fact, was born in Thulp, as unplanned as the culinary journey of the self-taught chef behind the two brands, Gautam Krishnankutty. Launched after a series of happy, if short-lived food accidents — a three-person catering outfit called Lemon Grass, a ₹4-crore restaurant called Taitai, and an instantly successful food-delivery service called Asia in a Box — established him as an unpredictable player in the city’s foodscape, Thulp came about basically to use up the space rented for the delivery kitchen. And in 2014, Krishnankutty hosted a 10-day Naga food festival with Aketoli Zhimomi, a Dimapur-based chef, at the Indiranagar outlet.

“By this time, we had invested heavily in a central kitchen, with cold rooms and other equipment, to supply the five (now four) Thulps and possibly venture into food products,” says the 47-year-old. “So when we figured asking Aketoli to bring down 200 kg of smoked pork would cost an exorbitant amount, I just decided to do it right there. I Googled, got two barrels, found a fabricator and rigged up a smoker for ₹25,000.” This smoker — an ingenious yet impressive looking contraption — is an installation today at The Smoke Co, a tribute as much to the feted spirit of jugaad as the under-explored practice of smoking in mainstream restaurants in India.

After the Naga pop-up, Krishnankutty began researching how to cure and smoke pork belly for bacon — the bacon-and-cheese burger is the biggest seller at Thulp — to save on food costs. The process brought back memories of eating at smokehouses in the southern United States, where he had spent 10 years studying international relations and political science. “Anytime I could afford to go out and eat (in the US), I’d go to a smokehouse. And that’s how the idea of The Smoke Co germinated. So I began experimenting with European-style curing — the ham, the charcuterie, all of that.”

Book a table at The Smoke Co for a serving of marrow

Rallying for red

Over three-and-a-half years, he played with permutations and combinations of sourced produce, cuts of meats, cures, temperatures, types of wood, the smokers, all the while battling his own penchant for the fast-and-furious, South East Asian style of cooking. “I’m impatient by nature, so it’s really hard for me not to peek into the smoker to see what’s going on!” he says. “So much of curing and smoking is just about waiting — not just days or months, but even years.”

The time factor is rational, considering that smoking evolved as a way to preserve meats. Though storage is easier now, curing — adding salt, sugar and sodium nitrate / nitrites to draw out moisture and add all-important flavour — and smoking benefit when both time and naturally-occurring bacteria are allowed to do their thing. Be it beef, pork, lamb or chicken, flavours mellow and grow more intense, a depth of taste that can’t quite be replicated any other way.

At the same time, his chosen methods allow an infinite number of variations. On his menu right now are a fabulous kielbasa, a beef and pork sausage of Polish-Ukranian origin, the rare bresaola, an air-dried, salted beef sausage from Italy, the more-ish andouille, a smoked pork sausage from France via Louisiana, even a smoked and pulled raan with rogan josh gravy, all made at Thulp Foods’ 7,000 sq ft commissary on Hennur Road.

Two smokers — one hot, one cold — sit outside the facility. Inside, the pride of place amid a bewildering range of sophisticated equipment goes to a table-top bone-saw, an Italian import, the steel-mesh gloves lying next to it underlining its seriousness. It’s the only machine that can split the femur neatly into two, ensuring zero splinters in the Smoked Bone Marrow.

Heartened by The Smoke Co’s emphatically meaty success, Krishnankutty and his partner, Padmakumar Pillai, now plan to take the brand to Goa. The sun and the sea have never seen a better marrow.

The Smoked Bone Marrow is priced at ₹450. Details: 080 46218500

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Printable version | Nov 21, 2019 9:11:19 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/food/book-a-table-at-the-smoke-co-for-a-serving-of-marrow/article22243663.ece

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