An evening with the ladies.... Novotel Cooking Workshop

Don't know if you know but Finely Chopped has a Facebook page now. Read this post on another of my blogs, Mumbai Coffee House, which explains why I opened the FB page. Here you will get frequent updates on what I am reading and thinking in the context of food. What I am cooking, eating. And can connect with other fellow food lovers too.

I was at Olio, Novotel, the other evening invited by my friend and first editor, Kirti of Feastguru. The lovely Rumni, Mrs Feastguru, was there too at Novotel covering this.

It was a European and Mediterranean Cooking workshop. Chef Ashutosh of Olio hosted it. He was extremely patient to the say the least. The audience included a number of ladies from the local neighbourhood of Juhu. I was one of the only two men around. Something which studying Sociology, and working in Qualitative Market Research, had prepared me for. There were a few in the audience who were extremely 'participative' to put it politely. They would keep asking questions which made them seem extremely culinarily challenged. Or very keen to get attention of 'teachers'.

Ashutosh very patiently and animatedly answered each question.

My favourite was "what is the best vegetable to put into Tagine?" And his answer, 'lamb'.

Other questions included "How long do you need to marinate the vegetables?"

"You don't need to"

As Rumni pointed out there were quite a few vegetarians.

"Should we put breast pieces of chicken or leg?"

"Either but leg pieces taste better"

"Where can we buy canned tomato paste from?" "What brand do you use?" "What brand of cooking cream do you use? "What do you do with pesto sauce"

For someone who just made Pollo Pesto Pate, this was a nail biting experience in patience. But Chef Ashutosh had a job to do and he did it well. Gordon Ramsey would have had a coronary attack by the end of the evening. At times even I was almost there.

They had handed out printed recipes and what Ashutosh did was bring this alive through his stories and practical tips and answering of questions and doubts. After all Tagines, Haloumi, Risottos and Cous cous, to be fair, are not part of everyday Hindi and Gujarati.

For me the high points were Ashuotosh's talking about Tagines just after I read the chapter in 'A Cook's Tour' about Bourdain going to Morocco and his Tagine and Cous Cous days. Seeing the Rs 47,000 (1,000 USD) worth Grana Pranado cheese barrel in which they infuse risottos was a special delight for a cheese addict like me. The risotto which they made screamed cheese with every bite.

The Tagine was made with succulent chicken in a rather sharp coriander, garlic sauce. Which as Ashutosh and I discussed was different from the core Tagine base of lamb, prunes and apricots. I always enjoy talking with people who know their food and it was good fun connecting with Ashutosh.

At times the sessions were a bit too candid for my tastes though. As someone who makes his sauces zero base... I didn't really need to know that they buy canned tomato sauce, packaged cream, readymade pasta and cous cous (showed in the the rather insipid cous cous which was served) at Olio. I prefer a bit of awe and mystery and distinctiveness when I go out to an expensive place. I need to be convinced that they can make dishes better than I can. After all who would want to know the silicon content of the swimsuit pin up model? Like I said, transparency is fine up to a point.

Still an evening with folks who love and know food is always well spent. Especially when embellished by a fresh chocolate (!) pizza.

Free gifts they screamed at the end and we got an apron, pesto dip and sunrise tomato dip. The latter two have been hunger busters on crackers for me for the past few days. Still it was an experience which showed that I don't have a career as a cooking teacher. Don't have the patience for it.