Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Why the Tomato Turned Red

In the past few decades, salads have gained increasing notoriety thanks to the regained focus on well-balanced eating and a healthy lifestyle. However, the same trends have also led some to label it a tree-hugger's food, claiming it to be tasteless and having too many veggies. They are of course very mistaken.

After all, what's not to like about salads? It's strongest point is its versatility. A salad can be made out of anything, can be flavored with anything, and can be eaten any time of the day. It is also usually quite inexpensive to make. Consider the health factor just an added bonus.

While planning out my cooking class on salads, I realized that I first needed to define it. To do this, I had to strip it off all its flairs and get down to the grassroots; a definition must hold true at least 99% of the time.

A salad cannot be referred to as cold, since there are warm salads. It doesn't have to be just greens or vegetables either; you can make some amazing salads with just meat. It doesn't even have to have more than one main ingredient. So what essentially is a salad?

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Sixth Sense

It is widely acknowledged that every time we eat, we employ the five basic senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. We do this either consciously or subconsciously, and a combination of inputs from these five senses is what ultimately affects our perception of the food.

A good chef uses this knowledge to his advantage. Flaming dishes and sizzling platters have been accepted to be great merchandising tools in a restaurant. While a delicate balance of flavors is critical to the success of a dish, a variety of textures and temperatures also make a difference.

We may eat first with our eyes, but the nose is a close second. Our tongue can perceive only five basic tastes (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami), so the multitudes of flavor that make up the profile of a certain ingredient are sensed by the olfactory nerves in the nose. Yes, we smell flavors; we don't taste them.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

My Quest for the 'Best Burger'

Put in simple terms, a hamburger is a hot sandwich of cooked ground beef patty placed inside a bread roll. It could have various fillings including, but not limited to, lettuce, tomato, onions, pickle, mustard, ketchup, cheese, and bacon. But that's put in simple terms. A really good burger would have a soft but toasted bun, a juicy and well seasoned beef patty, and just the right amount of condiments and toppings that ultimately provides the right combination of flavors in every bite. It is just a really clever and delicious sandwich.

In my three short years in New York, I've spent many a day looking for the 'best burger.' Searching for great places to eat in New York during my time there was more than just a past time hobby for me. It was more of a sport. I was determined to scope out the best joints and find exemplary food that I felt couldn't be found anywhere else. I even wrote about it in my blog, Diving into NYC.

Let's face it. With the internet being spammed with food bloggers from all over, it's not hard to find great food in the city. I could tell you without blinking an eyelid that the best doughnuts are at Doughnut Plant and the best seafood at Le Bernardin. You would think that there would be a consensus as to where you could find the best burger in New York City as well. But no!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Last Cookout in New York

A few days before I left my life in America forever, I decided to cook one last extravagant meal for my more-than-hospitable hosts. After all, I owed them this. For all the times they housed me at their quintessential New England home in Ridgefield, Connecticut. All the times they drove all the way to Hyde Park and back to transport me to and from the CIA. For making me feel at home during Christmas and Thanksgiving. For giving me tips on how to fit into an American lifestyle and most of all, for just being them.

The Sankars could best be labeled a foodie family. Their vacation albums are always brimming with pictures of food, markets, and restaurants. They most definitely know what they eat and can appreciate a good meal. For me to cook for them was not just a pleasure but often a challenge as well.  They always had an appetite for my dishes and were more than happy to eat the dubious results of my cooking experiments. In fact, they encouraged it.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Party Appetizers To Please

Most of us love to throw a party and apart from the liquor, one thing that people really look forward to is the grub. Great food can elevate the quality and the guest's appreciation of a party many fold. 

We often get intimidated by fancy recipes for party appetizers and ultimately simply serve chips or fry up some French fries or sauté sausages to save on time and effort. For the less lazy among you, here are some tips and recipes on making party appetizers that are easy but impressive at the same time.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Looks Like a Winner

At a buffet, presentation is almost as important as taste. The idea is to make the dish look at least as appetizing as it actually is while at the same time restraining yourself from overdoing it. The main guidelines to keep in mind are balance, unity, focal point, and flow.

The dish above is a Cold Artichoke Salad I made for a graduation Grand Buffet at the CIA in January 2008 . All the credit for this presentation goes to the artichoke itself, my source of inspiration for this plate.

The dish appears balanced and comes through as a single unit rather than an assortment of disconnected pieces of food. There is a clear focal point at the center of the salad, and the flow is comfortable and not constricted. The height gives it character and the intense hue of green is easy on the eyes but appealing at the same time.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Pure Indulgence

I just stumbled upon this piece I wrote as a Writing Class assignment on October 8, 2007 .

Just a whiff of its intoxicating aroma could paralyze anyone worthy of its opulence. A good brew reminds you of that cold winter morning when you were tightly snuggled up in bed and the only reason you wanted to get up was to taste its sumptuous glory. This unassumingly boring looking dark brown grind is anything but dreary. The delicate but strong fragrance it emanates never fails to dance in tune to the energy it stirs up within you.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Graduation Speech at the CIA

Funny yet provocative, this is the speech I spent weeks working on and am quite proud of.


The text version can be found at the link below;

How I Ended Up at the James Beard Awards 2010

The clock read quarter past six. Work had been crazy the previous week and I was feeling so down that I found myself sitting in a Subway sandwich shop ready to order their nasty five-dollar-footlong, Italian B.M.T no less. We all stoop really low at some point.

Just as I take the first bite, I get a text from a close CIA friend, almost as though the culinary gods sent it personally, reminding me about a $500-a-ticket culinary event that any gastronomically inclined gentile would kill to attend. I definitely couldn't afford it and it was too late to buy tickets anyway. At this point, I thought to myself, I would have to crash the party to get in. No harm trying.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

You Are What You Cook

Being a full time cook has changed everything. I couldn’t vouch for other professions but cooking professionally transforms not just food but the cook as well.

I used to be a calm, timid, geeky little kid—the kind you would see on the streets and think, ‘Oh, what a sweet little boy.’ I was a perfectionist, but I was also easily impressed. I was highly tolerant of people and situations. There was no one person I really feared, who could actually control my behavior with his own. I didn't mind the occasional sour grape in the bunch. I was never used to working hours on end or exposed to any significant level of stress. All of that changed after I entered the kitchen.

The Ten Commandments in a Professional Kitchen

In restaurant kitchens, there are several undocumented and unspoken rules everyone must adhere to.

EACH COOK’s territory is taken very seriously. Beware while trespassing. Every inch is accounted for.

DO NOT use a fellow cook’s knives or other equipment without asking first. Don’t even touch them. In fact, even asking for it is often frowned upon; you should have your own.