What’s cooking in 2015?


col-foodism-150High on food. That’s what you are most likely to be this year as an array of dazzling new food experience await you. Yes, no longer will food just be about curbing hunger pangs but overlap in the realms of art and greater awareness of your surroundings. 2015 could well be a watershed year for well heeled Indians who like to explore and expand the frontiers of cuisine they are experiencing around them.

The previous few years have not been kind on the hospitality and food sectors, but now the confidence seems to be back. Not only are established names expanding once more, but many new players are seeking a slice of the pie. Luxury hotels are revamping old restaurants and opening new ones. Another plus is a profusion of totally new directions that chefs and restaurants want to go as they sense a new desire to break boundaries among their paying customers. Fusion has been tried out, but expect a lot more of it this year, in myriad shapes and flavours. Along with an opening of the mind!

The most important step of course is the sheer expansion of the restaurant space, especially by chef led restaurants. From Indigo to Monkey Bar and Tian, from Delhi to Chennai, new restaurants are not only opening, they are doing so with an eye on raising the bar. Dining is increasingly becoming an experience, a memory that aims to cut through the clutter of our lives overloaded with sensory experiences.

A jazzed up south Indian thali. No one has been able to resist this one at Southern Spice in Taj Coromandel, Chennai

The process to transform Indian food to fine dining has been in the works for a while. Restaurants such as Indian Accent or Fire at The Park or Southern Spice at Taj Coromandel have raised the bar for different types of Indian cuisines, and converted traditional Indian meals into multi course meals.

Newer outlets such as Masala Library or Farzi Cafe are taking Indian cuisines yet fresher directions by converting the cuisines to make them more in tune with fine dining options even as traditional clients still have the option of exploring something familiar. Combine that with innovative presentations, international food ingredients, and some pairing of suitable wine to go along – and there are immediately many more experiences to be had. You will not easily recognise a lot of Indian food coming your way. Expect a drumstick ravioli or a mutton sushi soon.

Will there be dog food too?
A view of the Palate Fest in Delhi in November 2014. Expect many more such fests in different cities

And you can expect food at the most unexpected of places. There are many new formats of presenting food, with even the staid business fairs having jazzed up. It is in the public spaces however that the greatest changes are coming. The Palate Fest and BBC’s Good Food show in Delhi were indicators of what’s possible. By bringing together a diverse set of people who should have known about each other – moneyed diners and luxury hotel restaurants for example – but didn’t largely out of sheer lack of awareness, the eating out ecosystem should greatly benefit. Food fairs, picnics, pop ups, street cafes, garden lunches, culinary tourism, food walks, wine dinners – there’s a lot on the anvil. Look out for more such events as five star hotels come to you, from Srinagar to Bengaluru.

An important transformation is that of vegetarianism, which is no longer going be a handicap. While for the longest while, vegetarian options were an afterthought at most restaurants, but it is more and more likely the scenario is changing. Nor is it the once familiar veggies that are dominating the new dishes – instead a profusion of beans (you never knew there were so many!), nuts, sprouts, berries, mushroom, tofu and herbs – exotic and otherwise, are now square at the centre of the experience. As for that unexpected gate crasher at the cuisine enthusiasts table – vegan diet, it is on the rise, especially among and the young! Expect to be urged towards vegetarian options this year!

Speaking of, health is going to be a high priority. With eating out an almost daily affair – just about any way to keep the arteries clear finds favour. Organic food is only going to grow in demand – though people are also going to ask just how organic is that persimmon mojito. ‘Even if the woodapple tree is decades old, do you have the certification on it being fertilizer free?’Farm to fork may not be the easiest to manage in India despite a far greater proportion of our citizens involved in agriculture, but efforts are going to intensity. Locavore – more and more. Quinoa, barley, oats, ragi – yes a whole lot of new cereal will join the wifey’s vocab as the latest fads are explored. Organic bone broth anyone? Eating less, now that’s just rubbish and will not be expected next year!

Cooking of course is an art one can only stop and wonder at what some of younger Indian chefs are cooking up. A lot more of international cooking techniques, and a few almost lost Indian ones as, are coming back as well. If molecular gastronomy almost bypassed India in its global heydays, well, India seems to catching up with a vengeance now. Look out for many chefs who will double up as performance artists at a table near you.

Casual dining, as places such as Mamagoto, Hungry Monkey, Sodabottleopenerwala and Social have shown, is the new cool, and is expected to the choice of the hip. Yes, most aspire to that, just cast your eyes around the world! Do you notice a trend of cool names too?

Watchers of Cake Boss, Fabulous Cakes and their cousins can now relax. India finally shows promise that its journey into a purely western product – baked confectionary is finally going to catch up. Pink cream cakes with fluorescent green flowers is not what we are talking about. Instead home grown – okay some French trained – pastry chefs are the talk of the town with their imaginative and mind boggling cakes, cupcakes carrot cakes and much much more. Expect your dessert bills to be up this year significantly as you customise sweet little Pinky’s face on the 6 layered creation. Just be careful, it’s a momentary pleasure, best delicately handled.

Globally the year looks to move more towards wellness including ‘ugly’ food! Sugar substitutes are always popular – expect coconut and date substitutes next year. Innovative packaging is catching up in India, but globally expect chefs to bring not just the sights but smells up close. Eel paste not your choice? Flexitarianism is another option – with the occasional consumption of non vegetarian as an indulgence? Of course with marijuana going legal in the US, expect marijuana flavoured soups, doughnuts chocolates and cocktails! Getting high on will never have been easier!

Suman Tarafdar


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