What's cooking?

Tasting times: Naresh Thimmaiah and Deepika Khaitan discussing their favourite dishes. — Photos: K. Gopinathan  

NAREN THIMMAIAH B.U. has been dishing out exotic coastal fare from Goa, Karwar, Mangalore, and Malabar for the last 12 years. The executive chef of the Taj Gateway Hotel, however, like most chefs, does not cook at home! He chats up Dipika A. Khaitan, interior designer and foodie from a celebrity family of actresses and culinary wizards. And as they settle down for a delicious conversation on appams and stew at the Pot Luck Caf�, BHUMIKA K. catches up with them.

Dipika: So how long have you been here at the Taj Gateway?

Thimmaiah: Oh, for 12 long years.

Dipika: Wow! ... I've been a regular to your Karavalli restaurant here. Though I personally like to cook simple home food like rasam and dal. I also like eating Italian. What kind of food do you cook?

Thimmaiah: I like to cook a variety of cuisines because my profession needs it. But then again, my personal favourite is home-cooked food. Way back in 1992, I started off in the Italian section, and after three years shifted to coastal food. Now I'm managing all cuisines. Even 12 years into this profession, you keep learning everyday — new cuisines, new dishes, and variations. Tastes of people keep changing. That's where fusion cuisine comes in. Most of the dishes, in our Pot Luck Caf�, we don't call Continental food: we call it European food with Asian spices. Because we know that's the kind of food people like here.

Dipika: It's like the Indian Chinese ...

Thimmaiah: Yeah. It all started there. If we had not customised Chinese food to the Indian palate, probably Chinese food would not be so popular in India. Today, Thai cuisine, and of late Vietnamese, are catching up...

What's cooking?

Dipika: I hear you are from a traditional Coorg family. Your mother must be a great cook.

Thimmaih: Oh yes, my mum is a great cook.

Dipika: In fact, my mother makes excellent appams, which I feel is competition to Karavalli


Thimmaiah: Okay (laughs). Now we know where to come and learn, and hone our skills!

Dipika: Her secret is fermented toddy.

Thimmaiah: We too use it...

Dipika: Oh, you do?! I haven't eaten here for over a year now.

Thimmaiah: Fermented toddy is the best ingredient to make a good appam.

Dipika: We have started getting it legally again. For sometime it was illegal.

Thimmaiah: That was one period when we were also forced to use yeast; you can make out the difference.

Dipika: Yeast and coconut water... Once I remember, the coconut water my mother was fermenting for the appam overflowed in the fridge because of the yeast.

Thimmaiah: Your mum is from Kerala?

Dipika: No. She's a Telugu, an actress... But tell me, don't you think more and more people are eating out in Bangalore today?

What's cooking?

Thimmaiah: It's only for last three or four years that the scene has changed so much. But otherwise Bangalore has been conservative in trying out newer dishes.

Dipika: It mainly started I think, because the city's turning cosmopolitan and women are now more work-oriented, finding little time in the kitchen.

Thimmaiah: Yes, it's a combination of factors. A large number people work now and it suits them to eat out. At same time, people in this cosmopolitan city like to try different cuisines. And this is really helping the food industry (laughs).

Dipika: I think Koramangala is really becoming big and diverse in food.

Thimmaiah: Yes, in the last two years Koramangala has grown really big. Otherwise it used to be the central district. Now it's Koramangala and Whitefield. And gone are the days when going to a restaurant was limited to the city. Restaurants are coming up in most unusual places — outskirts, farms.

Dipika: And they are doing quite well... Tell me, where do you cook up recipes for the Karavalli?

Thimmaiah: We reproduce the good old recipes of grandmas, which we have learnt in their homes. In fact, all our chefs went to coastal areas — Goa, Mangalore, Kerala, stayed with them, and learnt the dishes we now make here. The only area we have compromised is in toning down spice levels.

Dipika: What about oil and fat?

Thimmaiah: Most of our dishes hardly have any oil. They're either shallow fried or cooked fully. That's one way of continuing tradition. We have people who don't really the completely authentic, but want it to their liking.

Dipika: They are not very experimental...

Thimmaiah: The guest should enjoy the meal. So we sometimes modify it to their taste. That is where fusion has come in.

Dipika: Would you like to start a TV show like Sanjeev Kapoor's?

Thimmaiah: I was on and off on TV. I was on the Good Morning India show some time back and on ETV Kannada.

Dipika: Do you cook at home?

Thimmaiah: Not really. Fortunately my wife Roopa is a better cook (laughs). Do you?

Dipika: Yes, I do, three meals a day, everyday. Except that sometimes there's no time. So we end up eating out three nights a week. Mornings, we eat at home. Do you eat out often?

Thimmaiah: Not really.

Dipika: What are the hot favourites at the Karavalli? I love the appams, idiappams and vegetable stew.

Thimmaiah:Yes, appam and stew is a hot sellout. Tiger prawns Malabar style, Coorg fried chicken, Alleppey fish Curry, and ullithiyyal are others.

Dipika: Oh! Ullithiyyal is made with tamarind sauce, right?

Thimmaiah: Yes, baby onions are cooked in roasted coconut masala with tamarind pulp. And of course, among the desserts, we have the Goan sweet bibincaI heard you were planning to start a restaurant. When is it happening?

Dipika: (laughing) Not right now. Maybe when I'm 40.

Thimmaiah: By then enough concepts will change... but still, what kind of restaurant will it be?

Dipika: Basically I have a farm on Kanakapura Road and I'd like to start a weekend restaurant. Our family is full of celebrity cooks, so each one wants to get in their specialty on the menu. My mother's sister Sowcar Janaki used to run Coconut Grove in Madras; later she ran another in Malaysia. I've married an hotelier myself. He owns MTR. So that way I'm very much into food and it's my passion. If I travel, I try local cuisines. Have you eaten at MTR?

Thimmaiah: Oh yes. All of us are MTR fans.

Dipika: Give me tips on one of your recipes.

Thimmaiah: I will go for vegetable stew, which is also your favourite!

Dipika: I make it a different way. I make the gravy thicker. Mine has more of Indian spices like cinnamon, elaichi, and clove and pepper, of course.

Thimmaiah: So we're on the dot! It's the same with us. We use coconut milk. And in addition we use carrot, cauliflower, beans and potatoes, a thickening agent.

Dipika: We avoid other vegetables. A number of people prefer lots of potatoes in it. People pick out the carrots and leave them aside. So I avoid putting other vegetables.