I recently had the opportunity to be a part of “Chef’s Cook-off”, an exclusive event by JW Marriott, Bengaluru. The event which was organized as part of the ‘Marriott India Chef’s 3-day workshop’ saw chefs from all Marriott India and Starwood Hotels participate. Featuring the best of culinary minds, the event was helmed by Toine Hoeksel, culinary Director Asia Pacific, Marriott International Inc. as well as culinary Director of Marriott India, Raheel Ahmad.
Fun and insightful, Chef’s cook off was an outdoor event held at Madhavi organic farms, a lush green expanse of land in the midst of Bangalore that is committed to the cause of organic farming. A complete treat for the senses, the farm is a treasure house of fruit, vegetable, medicinal and spice plants grown using organic fertilizers.
In line with the ‘farm to fork‘ philosophy, fresh produce from the farm was used to cook a traditional South Indian meal using authentic ingredients and traditional methods prevalent in the good old days. Vijayalakshmi Vijayakumar, cofounder of Madhavi farms doubled up as a dynamic guide cum trainer while giving the Marriott Chef team, a complete crash course in the nuances, methodologies, culture and traditions of Iyengar Cuisine (strictly vegetarian fare devoid of onion and garlic and native to a part of South India).
The setting was rustic, reminiscent of the kitchens during the days of the yore. Practices like offering a prayer to the earthern hand made stove decorated with rangoli before starting the cooking, made you take a trip down memory lane.
Totally involved and ready to be instructed at every stage, the chefs took to hand pounding the indigenous ‘masalas’ using grinding stones with ease. They soaked in each and every bit of detail about the recipes, ingredients, flavours and methodology.
The workshop gave them an insight into some of the classic South Indian preparations like ‘majjige hooli’ (a curd based gravy/side dish eaten with rice), ‘puliyogare’ (tamarind rice) and a variety of other accompaniments like coconut chutney and even a home made ‘chawanprash‘ (a mixture that aids digestion).
The final meal was served ceremoniously on a banana leaf with all us sitting on the floor after a quick prayer. (Incidentally, sitting cross legged on the floor is the best way to eat as it aids digestion).
The food was sumptuous and delectable.
The whole idea of the workshop was to promote native cuisine prepared using locally sourced ingredients. These heirloom recipes have been safe guarded and improvised over generations making them true treasures. The focus was also on the significance of ancient cooking tools/methodologies which not only enhance taste by preserving the flavor of the ingredients but also add to the health quotient.
Kudos and hats off to the team at JW Marriott for showcasing these aspects. It is something close to my heart and totally relevant in today’s times where the essence of home cooking is seldom enjoyed, food traditions are disappearing at a furious pace, native foods are forgotten and sadly, fast food (read frozen, junk and processed food doused with preservatives) is the order of the day.