The drama of the ladle

Written by Suman Tarafdar | Updated: Jun 16 2008, 04:00am hrs
Theres nothing between me and my chef. Even the glass is gone. The move to the globalisation of the culinary experience often has unexpected facets from English high teas in remote corners of the Commonwealth to desi Chinese joints in the US of A. Among the unintentional results is the outing of the curries and raans.

The open, interactive kitchen became the norm in the west a while ago, but cuisines of the east, especially Indian, have been hesitant. The Frontier at ITDCs Ashoka was a pioneer of sorts in India and this trend has since been adopted by most top end hotels. But in a major shot in the arm for the consumer, persistent queries have pushed the stoves and chullas out in to the open. The open kitchen is in, where the kitchen is the restaurant and restaurant is the kitchen everything is interactive and you can choose what you want to eat and how you want it, says Vivek Bhatt, executive sous chef of Shangri-La Hotel, Delhi. There has been a globalisation of food, and India too has become part of the process, says Sandeep Kachroo, executive chef, Taj Westend, Bangalore, where all the three restaurants Indian, Vietnamese and the coffee shop, have open kitchen.

Display and open kitchens are rapidly gaining prominence, not only because they offer a way to express the concept of a restaurant, but they also attract guests interest towards the process of cooking, says Marcus Mathyssek, executive chef, Hyatt Regency, Delhi. In most cases, the concept is backed by the demand for fresh preparation by customers who today are far more perceptive and demanding than ever before. Chefs can directly seek instructions from the guests on their likes or dislikes, receive immediate feedback, and showcase their product and skill. Admittedly often it is the non-Indian who ends up with her nose against the glass panel (or next to the tandoor), though the occasional Indian too drops the know-it-all to chat to the chef. A lot more of our foreign clients are curious, admits Vikas Ahluwalia, F&B manager, Taj Banjara, Hyderabad, who points out that an open kitchen helps psychologically.

Among the major advantages is that it assures vegetarians that the utensils and the base dishes are kept entirely separate, confirm most chefs. I feel reassured, is the comment a guest makes, saying that it can be a factor in deciding which restaurant to go to. Another advantage is the extent to which customisation is possible. People are paying for their food, so they should get it the way they want, stresses Kachroo. And he is confident this is going to be the norm in the future.

Given that the proposed Food Bill will make the allocation of standards like the ISO 22000 easier, besides helping instill confidence in the international traveller, kitchen hygiene and cleanliness are at the top of the agenda for premium end Indian F&B outlets. And while top end hotels discount the fact that costs are pushed up by having an open kitchen, stand-alone restaurants offer this as a reason, along with constraints of space. But veteran food expert Jiggs Kalra insisted on an open kitchen in his recently launched restaurant, The Legends of India, which serves Awadhi and Mughlai cuisine, not hitherto known for being prepared in open kitchens.

Moreover, the concept is spreading. In a first of sorts, restaurateur Rajiv Mehta has launched an open kitchen for a multi-cuisine food court, Melting Pot, in a mall. We have no hidden base kitchen, he says. We prepare everything in front of the guest, and we want them to come and see and ask about what they are about to have, he says. Its also about translating the roadside experience and an open kitchen, where the guest can see the entire process. I have been in India for six months, and am still getting used to the maddening variety of cuisines in the country, says Caterina Muller, and an open kitchen certainly helps! I can keep ultra hot stuff away on days I do not feel like it, though she claims a partiality to chaat and kababs. In an open kitchen, you see the chefs in action, may be pick up a tip or two. And it definitely gives a guest the power to choose and also interact without any third person from service explaining. It is a buffet served ala carte style. The chef has to be an expert in his cooking style and any loop in his cooking can annoy the guest. Its, not something any F&B outlet can afford if it wants to keep its clientele.