Raising a Toast! Celebration of whisky and French food throws up some delectable surprises

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Published: March 24, 2019 1:05:51 AM

The idea is to dispel the myth that French food is fussy, snooty or bland. It can be fun, casual and very social.

Chronologically speaking, the first is about commemorating French food around the world by invoking the best chefs in the world to serve French dishes at their outlets.

Today’s scribble isn’t about pairing French food with whisky. It just so happens that my column schedule falls splat between two very remarkable events, so I thought of dividing the space between both of them.

Chronologically speaking, the first is about commemorating French food around the world by invoking the best chefs in the world to serve French dishes at their outlets. The idea is to dispel the myth that French food is fussy, snooty or bland. It can be fun, casual and very social. Sure, it isn’t ever going to rock the spice scale, but that’s alright; it is flavourful. In India, over 80 restaurants are participating in the Goût de France (or Good France, as they cheekily translate into English, employing deft wordplay) celebrations. For me, the festivities kicked off with a very special dinner, with exquisite wines and cheese (French, bien sûr) cooked by chefs who had been flown in specially for the occasion. Among them was a young chef, all of 18 years of age, who had won a prestigious competition this year. The idea of the meal, as 26 of us came together around that table, was to see how French food is not just about dishes, but techniques, which can be applied to ingredients no matter where in the world you are. So, on our table were local seasonal vegetables, which had been often delicately touched up with Indian spices and condiments. It was a fun evening without pretences or predispositions to any stereotypes. The conclusion: French food is not just served in pricey Michelin-starred restaurants, it is also at the heart of cafes and bistros. The celebrations continue, so look
up the list on the Good France website to know which restaurants in your city are participating.

En suite, we are now gearing up for the International Whisk(e)y Day (IWD) on March 27—not to be confused with World Whisky Day, which, as the absence of an ‘e’ suggests, is more Scotch-centric a celebration and is held on the third Saturday of May every year. IWD falls on the late whisky writer Michael Jackson’s birthday and it encourages you to pick up a glass and raise a toast with a whisky, or whiskey, no matter where in the world you are.

I have, for lack of a better excuse, started the celebrations early for this one. Struan Grant Ralph, the global ambassador for Glenfiddich, happened to be passing through India and, in his suitcase, he brought two absolute treasures: one was a yet-unreleased whisky from the house, which was aged (for nearly two decades) in Japanese Mizunara oak, a tight-grained wood, which is barely toasted, thereby introducing very nuanced aromas, even as the tight grain makes the whisky age slower. Even at cask strength, this went down as easy as honey. It coats, but doesn’t cloy, lingers but doesn’t dominate, and is rich all while being fresh and buoyant.

The next one was a peated whisky from Glenfiddich. No, it’s not from Islay. In fact, it’s a style that harkens back to times (circa 1930s) when most Speyside whisky was also made using peat. This practice was especially common during the two great wars when coal was allocated for other more immediately pertinent uses, thus leaving the farmers peat to use freely. Over time, it might have fallen out of fashion with only a handful of distilleries keeping the peat imprint as their signature style. This, too, was a tastefully tactile exercise in balance, showing strength yet smoothness. Sure, it was peaty-smokey, but without going overboard to the point that it would mask the floral and fruity notes underneath.

Both these whiskies aren’t launched yet. The house may take a call on what to do with them soon, we were told, and yet here we were enjoying these phenomenal drams in august company. So come March 27, no matter what you can get your hands on, pour yourself a wee measure of the water of life and raise a toast to good cheer and health all around.

-The writer is a sommelier

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