Celebrating the Myriad Tastes of India

By Sharmila Chand

Preference for local and regional food is an important food trend in the present year, for India’s food service industry. Chefs across the country are seen focused on cooking regional dishes, sourcing local ingredients. 

The Chefs are travelling across the country to explore regional cuisines and flavours of India to get better understanding of them. In this scenario, regional Indian food festivals in hotels across India are expected to gain frequency. Here we talk to some Chefs and food experts to find out their understanding of curating regional Indian food festivals.

Exploring Regional Flavours

“Almost as soon as I stepped into the role of Executive Chef at JW Marriott Hotel Bengaluru we launched a Goan food festival at the JW Kitchen. We would have an Awadhi food festival happening at the JW Kitchen from the 26thof October this year, and are looking to host another regional food festival this December,” expressed Daniel Koshy, Executive Chef at JW Marriott Hotel Bengaluru.

“We did the Goan food festival because we wanted to bring something new to the table and allow our guests to engage with a whole new taste spectrum since at our JW Kitchen we mainly serve north Indian, south Indian and Asian food,” he pointed out.

“At JW Marriott Hotel Bengaluru, we don’t believe in decreasing the number of dishes we bring out as part of our JW Kitchen buffet during a food festival. We also don’t believe in doing a food festival if we aren’t going to represent the region bountifully. We offer the best of food from the region we are throwing open to our guests by bringing in some very specific ingredients. Like for the Goan food festival, we brought the Goan tamarind and coconut that cannot be replicated by any other region,” he elaborated.

“We have participated in various food festivals where we have showcased regional food. At the ‘World on a Plate, Season 3’ held in Bengaluru, we displayed our Mango Mario Prawn Curry with Coconut Rice, which is made from Ambotik Masala sourced from Goa. Tamil Street Chicken which is our version of a Tamil street dish with chilli coconut tempered chicken; Aam Papad Paneer, which has aam papad sourced from Amritsar, were our other offerings at the food festival. The Tamil Street Chicken was awarded as the Best Runner up Dish at the festival,” Shikha Nath, Culinary & Brand Director, Bombay Brasserie, disclosed.

“We have organised the ‘Aromas of Andhra’ (Andhra Food Festival) and ‘Flavours of Kerala’(Kerala Food Festival) amongst other food festivals, which offered authentic regional Indian cuisines to our guests,” Rohit Joshi, Executive Sous Chef, Bengaluru Marriott Hotel Whitefield stated. 

“The key offerings at these food festivals with us were popular traditional dishes that the region which was the focus of the food festival had to offer. The aim was to let patrons explore the hidden treasures of local delicacies from the destinations; highlighting the true essence of the region,” Rohit articulated. 

“To start with, we have changed the breakfast offerings to reflect Hyatt’s philosophy of FLOSS (Fresh, Local, Sustainable, Seasonal). In fact, we have gone a step further. We, at our all day dining buffet restaurant, offer organic cereals, vegan breads with super grains, freshly squeezed juice combination and organic local eggs,” pointed out Vikram Ganpule, Executive Chef, Hyatt Regency Chennai.

“Our emphasis is on core South Indian breakfast, which incorporates the local super grains like jowar, ragi and millets to name a few. In terms of festival, we have been experimental and if I do say so myself, quite successful with our recent Oktoberfest menu. Oktoberfest has been curated with an eye to the future, because we see a growing trend of vegan food in India’s food service industry, which is not necessarily exotic but can be derived from local/regional Indian cuisine as well. Vegan Nawabi Kebab, Vegan Mock Duck Curry, Mock Meat Curry are some of the dishes which we did incorporate,” Vikram explained. 

“Yes, we have done regional food festivals for our guests. The key offerings to the guests varied as the menu was vast. This is the best thing about regional Indian cuisines; no matter how many items you place, it is always less,” conveyed Rajinder Sareen, Executive Sous Chef at Sheraton Grand Bangalore Hotel at Brigade Gateway.

 “We recently organised Kerala Food Festival and Sri Lankan Food Festival and both were great success as the guests enjoyed the spread. For instance in Kerala Food Festival, the special menu revolved around four major cuisines such as Malabari Cuisine, Plantation Cuisine, Backwater Cuisine, and Tatte Kada Cuisine. Here one got to savour diverse spread of dishes such as Karimeen Roast, Syrian Beef Curry, Chicken Stew, Palappam and much more. During the Sri Lankan Food Festival, the key dishes were Jaffna Crab Curry, Lamb Bistek, Lotus Rooy Curry, Fish Bun, Asmi and Sri Lankan Aluva,” Rajinder elaborated.

“We have hosted many food festivals for our guests. We would like to highlight the ‘Tangara’ festival which was a great success and was hosted in our specialty restaurant, Emperor’s Court. It was our endeavour to bring forward an experience of two different cuisines. The tantalising flavours of the authentic Chinese cuisine on Kolkata’s palate along with a pinch of Indian ingredients ensured the perfect taste of Kolkata’s Chinatown,” explained Karanbir Singh Gulati —Director of Food & Beverage at Renaissance Mumbai Convention Centre Hotel & Lakeside Chalet, Mumbai — Marriott Executive Apartments.

“Chef Cham Hun Chakap, Chef de Cuisine — Emperor’s Court along with his team of culinary experts curated a special menu of Hakka delicacies from the Tangra region of Kolkata, during this festival,” he informed.

Curating the Menu

“To curate the above-mentioned food festival menu, I travelled with our Chefs across the length and breadth of the country to source regional ingredients. We took traditional combinations and ingredients and created dishes, which highlight the flavour of the ingredients and at the same time are a twist on traditional dishes to suit today’s tastes,” Shikha proffered.

“While curating the menu the focus was to have a good mix of some authentic dishes and some uniquely inspired ones. Our inspiration came from the unique offering of ingredients that India has to offer, such as bhoot jolokia from Assam, aam papad from Amritsar, kudampuli from Kerala, tilkut masala from Sangli, and emma from Shillong,” she expressed.

“We curate the food festival menu based on the expertise of our visiting Chef as well as our team of resident Chefs, and we focus on the core factors of micro-regions and their local cultures,” Daniel offered.

 “For instance, Goa is famous for its non-vegetarian food and for the many things it does with its fish and beef, but it also has a very dominant Saraswat Brahmin population that is mostly vegetarian. We work with these culinary nuances to bring people of all taste preferences under one roof, and are currently in the midst of executing something similar for vegetarians with our Awadhi festival, since Awadhi food might be famous for its meat, but is not only meat-centric,” Daniel elaborated.

“While curating food festivals, it is important to focus on catering to the needs of each existing guest by looking to retain her/his interest in your offerings, rather than chasing after new ones alone,” he sensibly advised.

“To curate the menu for Aromas of Andhra, we invited a guest Chef from Hyderabad Marriott who hails from the Srikakulam district of Andhra Pradesh,” Rohit informed. 

“While curating the menu, the idea was to have a perfect mix of new home style preparations, which are filled with flavours, and pairing them with popular preparations from the region such as kodi pulao, Andhra fish curry, Hyderabadi biryani, haleem and other delectable offerings,” Rohit asserted. 

“The inspiration to curate the Oktoberfest menu for the festival came from mock meats and vegan food trends. We wanted our vegetarian guests should not feel left out while dining with us,” Vikram affirmed.

“When it comes to curating menu for the regional food festivals, we keep the menu according to the availability of local spices, vegetables as well ingredients of the particular region and as per our guests’ expectations and their eating habits. We keep the dishes as  authentic as we can so that they don’t disappoint our guests,” Rajinder pointed out. 

Learning Opportunity

The food festivals with regional Indian cuisines can be a learning opportunity, even for seasoned culinary professionals, as one here can get to familiarise with many relatively lesser known ingredients and cooking styles. For awesome diversity of regional Indian cuisines can be continual learning experience.

“For our team, these food festivals are an opportunity to learn of new cuisines and a chance to broaden their cultural sensitivities as well as knowledge of different regions, without having to travel to the region for it,” Daniel pointed out.

“We also use these festivals to further understand the expectations our guests have of us, and the lengths we ought to go to ensure their satisfaction,” he asserted.

“Food festivals should have interests of their guests at heart. So when an outlet sets out to curate its spread or menu, it ought to focus on innovation and authenticity as opposed to being obsessed with driving numbers. If you get stuck in a rut by being repetitive, and by offering only a specific type of food (even if on rotation), regular guests who are bound to have tried them at some point of time are likely to grow bored and move away, especially in the backdrop of the pie getting smaller due to emerging competition from stand-alone restaurants,” Daniel reasoned.

“The biggest learning from food festivals for me is that we should always try to keep it simple and let the star ingredient stand out in the dishes. Less is more when it comes to the range of ingredients in regional Indian food festivals,” aired Shikha.

“Food festivals are an opportunity to showcase traditional home style dishes, which are usually not prepared or served in restaurants. This creates an opportunity for connoisseurs of good food to savour different delicacies and also get an insight about the history and culture of different regions. For example, cities like Bengaluru comprises of a diverse set of people from across the country, who get a chance to relish regional delicacies from geographically far apart different regions of the country from theirs through these food festivals,” opined Rohit.  

“Food festivals are fun and an opportunity to do something different. They are indeed a great learning experience and can set the trend. Guests these days are well travelled and are always looking for something unique and genuine. It feels good to tap into this demand and fulfill their needs,” observed Vikram.

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