All Four Seasons without an Olive

My wife Megha, attended an event at Olive organized by Four Seasons Wines from United Breweries thanks to her new found friend Rushina (food blogger). While I usually write the reviews on Megha’s blog “Live to Eat!!!” now known as “I2Cook”, this was an all cooking blogger event with single representation and hence I gladly sat this one out. The event was a good one as brought out in the words of Vinda Dravid (food blogger): –

“Being an eager amateur at wine tasting and pairing, a recent Food Bloggers’ Dinner at Olive, Mahalaxmi Race Course, Mumbai, hosted by the acclaimed Four Seasons Wines of the UB group in India was an enlightening experience for me and most certainly a doorway into the mystifying yet alluring realm of wines.  It also gave me the opportunity to socialize with my fellow food bloggers.”

So what prompts me to write about an event that I never attended?

I am a digital marketing specialist and run campaigns for corporates through the digital medium. I have been a part of this trade for the past 6 years. So what happens when a corporate like UB is prompted to setup a PR event at an upmarket ‘Olive’ for bloggers. What do the stakeholders expect and are they getting it?

Why should we bother?

A blogger organised it and is a friend? Such events take a lot of work and co-ordination to setup as pointed out in the words of Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal (Blogger and organiser): –

“And what a crazy dew days it was getting it all together, with mails going back and forth between me and Melissa Serao of Grey, planning the where, when and how, planning menus and sending invitations. But it all came together in the end, thanks to Melissa who did all the groundwork and on the 19th about 18 bloggers (the most ever) settled down to a degustation dinner.”

It is human nature to look at the economic gain and react accordingly and bloggers are no different as pointed out in the words of Vishwas Kasat(Food blogger):-

“We were told to reach at 8 pm but I reached around 8:30 PM and as previous blogger meet at Indian Harvest I was almost the last one to reach. Settled down with fellow bloggers and then we were first given a menu which had a four course Salad, Starters, Main Course and Dessert (tea and coffee at the end but who is interested in that when one has wine)”

Kasat is really fond of food as his blog suggests and influenced by fellow writers but may be more interested in the wine than the olive.

It intrigued me to write when Megha explained the aftermath of the event and informed me that most bloggers felt that it may not be ethically right to write for free wine and is purely PR driven. This is not just her expression but is brought out in the words of Pranav Kacholia(food blogger) as well. The interesting part is the Disclaimer.

“What happens when you take a bunch of food bloggers and throw in a wine expert? You get the first Bombay Food Bloggers dinner of 2011. It was an event courtesy of the UB Group who wanted to introduce us to various wines, from their Four Seasons brand, that can be paired with the different parts of a full four course meal.

I have not reviewed any of the food or wines on this post. As this was a PR event it would not be ethical of me to do so.”

The disclaimer brings out the fact that the olive comes free with the wine. While I believe that the photos Pranav has put up are sweet wine which can be valued as payment for a good olive. I believe the PR guys would agree with me here.

Just to bring some perspective, the organising of olives costs wine that more than all the 18 bloggers present might sweeten or brew through their blogs to UB or Olive. It is a combination of several such olives that makes the wine worth the Olive for a corporate to brew bloggers.

So has the corporate or Olive made a mistake? I am sure that the PR agency would differ and call this more than an experiment. Digital media gives us the power to talk to specific people and bring affinities together. So who do you call for such an event? Was it incorrect to call Kalyan Karmakar for such an event?

“I was seated at a little table beside the main table. Caught up with a couple of old friends, Rushina and Jyotika. Wouldn’t have made it but for the earnest urgings from both of them.  Met some new folks – couple of charming ladies from the agency that organized the evening and a Chino German animator who was marooned in India after the film she came to make got delayed. I missed out on the wine lecture though. Well, as they say bad boys have all the fun.

Hopefully, looked enough of a ‘connoisseur’ to not make the sponsors question the organizers for inviting me.”

Kalyan like all the other bloggers present is a lover and promoter of good food as is brought out in his blog but could not bother differentiating between the non-existent olive and the wine on a no cash event.

The corporate invests in these olives to have influential bloggers taste their produce of wine and differentiate it from the olive for their readers who are waiting to choose. Has the wine turned sour? Not really. There are great bloggers out here in Mumbai and can write brilliant reviews on subjects that they know; like I believe Nikhil Merchant (food blogger) did who also attended.

As the 3 lakh odd bloggers in India evolve into a unified influential strength the corporates are bound to approach more bloggers to test, taste and affirm belief into their wine and olives. While these tests may seem free they should be obligatory to a blogger in the interest of the blogging community. PR is always going to be around to motivate you but should not influence your direction. That is what marks bloggers apart from the population. But you guys already know that because you have followers created out of sour grapes.

The bitter taste of not writing might be greater as the corporates will have less belief in the bloggers and may feel that they received less than their worth of olive. On the other hand the bloggers who did write will lose future wine.

While it is difficult for a PR agency or corporate to choose the right bloggers, we as bloggers must say NO when the subject does not auscultate a reaction to an olive. Will all the next four seasons remain without an olive is for bloggers to choose? Every olive counts and marks the growing strength of a blogger. I write reviews based on the feelings that the offering creates and will not be afraid to differentiate an olive from a wine or to call an olive the bitter taste of nature based on the nature of the barrel.

Michelin Star – What is the difference?

What is so special about a Michelin star chef? The cook at the local restaurant can cook without being rated by a Michelin Star! Read on to know if they really need to be marked or the star is just a media bubble.

So what is so different? Is it about small quantity and high prices, names in European lingua? Is it about the ambience or the presentation of food? All these questions get answered when one has the privilege to taste the food created and I repeat ‘created’ by chef Igor Macchio.

 Igor Macchio is a chef who runs an eatery in Italy called “La Credenza”. Chef Igor has been rated with a single Michelin Star which means that La Credenza is the best in its category of food creators of Italian food. This also means that Chef Igor caters to anonymous inspectors about 6 times a year and successfully assures them that his title of Michelin star is the basis of subjective and critical acclaim.
If not in Italy where can one taste the best Italian cuisine from a Michelin star chef?
VetroThe Oberoi (Left on the lobby) has a round door, which I thought was unique and confusing for a new visitor; because the glass and wooden door is completely spotless. Vetro means “glass” in Italian personifying its allegiance.

The restaurant is designed to exploit natural lighting using a curtain of coloured glass. The interior designer obviously made a killing on creating lines of glass holders and filled them with randomly coloured glass (probably left over from a previous job) which lacks imagination. I would not speak much of the décor, as it only reminds me of the lounges in an international airport. However, there is a little corner that contains a wine library and wine tasting table that is perfect for a group session adorned with some of the finest Italian wines.

I walked straight into the clean and organized kitchen where Chef Igor was in the process of creating a lamb marinated in Xanata coffee and served with sweet corn sauce garnished with cress. If you can digest the real name for the dish, “Agnello marinato al caffe’ con ragu’ di mais dolce e germogli lamb marinated in coffee, sweet corn ragout and aromatic cress.”

The Italians speak with their hands and work their mouth on every word rounding off the ends with precision and Chef Igor did the same with “scho-cho-laat’se” and “baat-saar”. It is quite a fresh breath listening and watching the chef make a complicated recipe sound like a tomato toast. While the presentation is a la 5 star complimenting the real test has always been the taste. So we sat in the Vetro over a glass of divine white wine while the chef explained the veg dish; pumpkin ravioli created in amaretti milk known in Italian as, “Ravioli di zucca con schiuma agli amaretti e pesto homemade pumpkin ravioli, pesto and amaretti milk foam.”

The taste of melting pumpkin ravioli is so different from the ingredients in solitary albeit precatory, cuts your interest in the world around you while you digest each sense on your face. Some of the recipes are more than 24 hours in preparation time to serve up quarter of a plate of mind watering taste, aroma and experience. For instance the fine risotto topped with a swirl of anchovies.

The staff at the Vetro comprehends Italian cuisine and aspire to learn more. They work in the background interacting with you in the most subtle manner to make sure that you need not lift hand or open mouth for service. The air-conditioning keeps you comfortable shielding the sun’s heat rays.

The Mumbai based Nariman Point restaurant has all the requirements that an Italian restaurant may require. A perfect destination for Chef Igor through his world tour promoting his piedmont style promising cuisine of exceptional quality. Chef Igor does not use garlic unlike most Italian chefs and yet has a clear understanding of why certain things are done the way they are. He explains, “We always puts the dra-ssing on the top and the sauce at the bot-tom as the garnish may lose frashn-ass as the sauce may bees hotz!” The whole process of cooking is about precise measurements and precise ingredients and combinations, to make sure that food is tasted in perspective of the right combination.

I believe that such hard work and precision can only come with substantial skill and experience and deserves a star rating which is done with equal diligence. Vetro is worth a visit not just by Michelin Star chefs but also Italian savouring audience. Are you one of them?


Arusuvai Chain Season 2: Sauteed Mushroom

Arusuvai is a beautiful friendship chain  to bring together blogger and non blogger. A secret ingredient is mailed and all you have to do is create a dish from it. This was originally started by Bharathy of Spicy Chilly, Srivalli of Cooking 4 all seasons and Lathamma of The Yum Blog. Now the second season is organised by Sayantani of A Homemaker’s Diary.

I received my first secret ingredient from Divya Kudua of Easy Cooking. Along with the ingredient; I also received a hand-written letter and a book – Dessert Puddings by Nita Mehta.Frankly, I’ve never used this ingredient nor did I know the name of it.I had a hunch that it was used in preparation of rice items like biryani or pilaf but I wasn’t sure. I googled first for garam massala and tried to match the image with the ingredient  and finally I found that it’s called ‘Star Anise’.

Star anise is the almost ripe, dried, star-shaped multiple fruit of the star anise tree (Illicium verum), which is a member of the magnolia family (Magnoliaceae). The small, red-brown, star-shaped fruits contain 6 – 8 unevenly sized, boat-shaped individual fruits 12 – 17 mm in length, each containing a glossy brown, egg-shaped seed. It has a more powerful, pungent and strong flavour when compared to other spices.Whole stars can be used as such or they can be grounded as well. A note to keep in mind, because of its powerful flavour, only small amounts are used.This spice is widely used in Chinese cuisine, and to a lesser degree in South Asia and Indonesia.
This is my first experience with the spice and I wanted to use it in a completely different manner. Star anise is commonly used in Indian rice or curry and it can also be used in baking or in flavouring fruit salads.

250gms of button mushroom, cleaned and cut into cubes
2 nos star anise
2tsp olive oil
2tsp minced garlic
1stp ground pepper
1/2tsp chilli flakes
salt to taste
Fresh parsley, finely chopped for garnish

Heat oil in a pan and add star anise. Allow it to change it’s colour to blackish brown and add garlic. Let the garlic turn a little brownish and crisp, I like garlic nice and crispy; if you don’t like yours brown or crispy then let it cook only for 30seconds. Add mushrooms, salt, pepper and chilli flakes. Cook on medium flame until the water has evaporated and the mushrooms are cooked.Switch off the stove and garnish with fresh parsley. Serve hot as a side with anything you like! Serves 2.

My tastebuds: I found the flavouring too strong and different from the usual.

The chain of friendship continues and I will be sending secret ingredients to Veena of Kitchen Celebrations and Vidya of The Black Ladle.

English Winter Soup

It’s winter time, well technically in Mumbai too…. It’s  pleasant and the best part is that a you don’t have to cover yourslef up from top to bottom. December and January are the only two graceful months of pleasant weather in contrast to the humidity.
Winter is also the time for some delicious soups and it is the best way to hydrate yourself too. I found this recipe here and liked it instantly. The soup is a meal by itself and one bowl can really fill you up!

1/2 cup arborio rice
1tbs olive oil
2 medium sized potatoes, sliced
1cup fresh or frozen peas
2tsp crushed garlic
1tsp nutmeg
2tbs finely chopped parsley
4cups water or broth
salt & pepper to taste
2  hard-boiled eggs (optional)

Heat some oil in a skillet, and roast the rice until gloden brown; this will help the rice to cook faster and give it a nice nutty flavour too. Keep aside.
Heat oil in a pot and add crushed gralic, cook for about a minute and let it not turn brown. Add potatoes and allow it cook for a minute. Add parsely and mix well. Now add rice, peas, nutmeg, water or broth and salt and pepper to taste. Bring the soup to a boil and then simmer the stove to medium and cook for 15 minutes. Serve hot with toast or egg or both. Serves 2.

This is my submission to this month’s  No Croutons Required – Rice, hosted by Lisa’s Kitchen, to Souper Sundays, hosted by Kahakai Kitchen, to Soup Recipes, hosted by My Culinary Creations and to Winter Warmers, hosted by The Veggie Hut.

Asparagus,Mint & Lemon Risotto

This post has been a long overdue and for some reason I almost forgot about it…..The Risotto is inspired by Jamie Oliver and it’s my first time to try out any of his recipes and I’m glad I did.
To get fresh asparagus in India is a rare thing and I happen to pick them at the Farmer’s Market; fresh, green and also organic.The method for cooking  risotto is almost the same as my previous post Yellow & Red Pepper Risotto apart from the flavouring ofcourse…

1 cup arborio rice
1 cup fresh or canned asparagus, cut into desired length
1cup finely chopped onion
2 garlic clove, minced
1 tbs butter
1tbs olive oil
5 cups vegetable broth (or chicken broth)
1/4 cup white wine (optional)
salt & pepper to taste
1/4 cup parmesan cheese (can add more if you like)
2tbs  fresh mint leaves
1tbs lemon zest

In the cleaned skillet cook onions in 1tbs remaining butter over moderate heat, stirring until turned light brown, add garlic and onions, cook until soft. If using fresh asparagus, pre boil or if using canned; add them into the skillet and season with salt and pepper.Keep aside
In a saucepan heat broth and keep at a bare simmer or microwave.

Take a non-stick pan (chances of burning the rice is lesser),add olive oil and keep stirring dry rice for several minutes in the oil over medium-high heat until it is golden, but not burnt. This also helps the rice to release the starch later on, and creates a nice nutty flavour.
Add wine and cook, stirring constantly, until wine is absorbed.If you are not using wine; you can start adding broth.Add about 1/2 cup simmering broth and cook, stirring constantly, until broth is absorbed.
Continue adding broth, about 1/2 cup at a time, and cooking, stirring constantly and letting each addition be absorbed before adding the next, until rice is ‘al dente’, about 20 minutes.
Remove pan from heat and stir in the prepared mixture of onion and asparagus , parmesan cheese, mint, lemon zest,salt and pepper to taste.Serves 2.

My tastebuds: the mint and lemon gives risotto a different and a tangy flavour. I didn’t like the lemon too much and felt that the flavouring was not complete.

This is my submission to this week’s Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted by Cindystar.

A good 2010 and some yam fritters…

It’s been four months of blogging and I really feel like I belong to the food blogging community. I always look forward to your comments, which are a source of encouragement. 2010 was a  good start and I look forward to this coming year with a lot more blogging 🙂
We all love snacking and for some reason we enjoy the fried ones much better than the oil-free ones. I’ve always enjoyed yam deep-fried and like  other roots it fails to give a good taste when consumed just boiled. Yam fritters are good evening snack or can be even eaten as a side-dish along with your main-course.

10 medium sized yams cleaned, boiled & skin removed
oil for frying

for dry massala
1tsp chilli powder
1tsp amchur powder
salt to taste

Flatten all the boiled yam with your palm. Deep fry the flattened yam and serve hot sprinkled with the prepared dry massala.You can also use chat massala instead of the dry massala.

You might like to know: Choose yams that are firm and do not have any cracks, bruises or soft spots. Avoid those that are displayed in the refrigerated section of the produce department since cold temperature negatively alters their taste.
Yams should be stored in a cool, dark and well-ventilated place where they will keep fresh for up to ten days. They should be stored loose and not kept in a plastic bag.
(Source: WH foods)

This is my submission to this month’s Deep Fried Snacks, hosted by Tickling Palates.