It was just chance that I was assigned to head to APB Cook Studio the other day. I am glad I went. Present were Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal, owner, founder and brain ‘mother’ of APB Cook Studio – she also wears many other hats like consultant, food writer and an avid blogger – and Chef Vikas Khanna, a celebrated chef in the US and a celebrity chef in India thanks to MasterChef India. He has also released quite a few books, and a little birdie told me that there are a few more coming out in the near future.
His latest book Khanna Sutra was the reason of this day’s gathering. Chef Khanna was demonstrating some of his recipes from the book but with an APB Cook Studio twist. The recipes in the book are a collection from dishes served in his restaurants and promotions. Munshaw Ghildiyal also launched Lust Pantry at her studio. The pantry has on offer special mixes and spices that she has concocted. Not just this, the pantry also showcases niche and unique small scale players providing quality ingredients offering local producers a chance to grow – that was how she explains the thought process behind it.
Getting back to the demonstrations, Chef Khanna’s motto is not to tamper with the integrity of the ingredient. So his Butternut squash with cinnamon and oregano soup has exactly those for its base ingredients. Since butternut squash isn’t easily available in India he replaced it with the humble pumpkin. Butter, onions, a cinnamon stick, a little ginger together with the pumpkin cooked with broth, blended and served with a sprig of oregano – that’s it! Munshaw Ghildiyal’s way to spruce it up was to add her own mix of cinnamon walnut sprinkle. These are one of many spice mixes that she has created; she says that they are handy keep around when trying to add a spark to the usual fare. The final product has this amazing sense of warmth to it – it is quite comparable to snuggling in the blanket on winter days. The ginger and cinnamon are the reason for that. Munshaw Ghildiyal’s addition gives a nice crunch with the walnut giving a new texture to the soup. Chef Khanna calls it the echo of the ingredient and that every recipe has that echo somewhere but it is difficult to pick up.
So while he prepared for his second demo – Crispy Okra Salad with dried mango strips – Chef Khanna and Munshaw Ghildiyal discussed Indian food today. He said that it is interesting note that Indian food in restaurants do not taste great, it is still the home kitchen which brings out the best Indian meals. His back-up for the observation – in a restaurant kitchen there are so many ingredients, a chef is spoilt for choices making a dish unnecessary complex. In contrast, a home kitchen is more simplistic with limited ingredients and yet the master of the home kitchen conjures a meal like no other. Chef Khanna’s Okra salad also has humble origins in a home kitchen in Surat. Deep fried okras mixed with chilli flakes, dried mango powder (amchur), fresh coriander, thinly sliced onions, a squeeze of lime and little bit of dried mango slices (the beloved Indian aam papad). To this Munshaw Ghildiyal added her Anna Rascala Masala – spice mix made of Curry leaves. The inspiration for this mix came to her when she was preparing Sambhar at home. With high iron content the curry leaf gets a big tick mark for health benefits as well as taste.
The last demo was the Ginger and red wine poached pears. I have come across this delectable dessert at many a meal and I have always wondered the secret to it. I wonder no more. For the Indian version, Chef Khanna uses pomegranate juice instead of red wine, but if it has to be a red wine choose one with a bit sweetness to it. Powered by cinnamon, cloves, bay leaf and cardamom seeds the liquid boils away as the pears are placed in the pan. After the pear has cooked – the bottom half squishy and soft while the top retains its firmness – reduce the liquid to the perfect consistency to work like a sauce for the pear. To this Munshaw Ghildiyal added her orange anise sugar (Citrus Tzar Spice mix) adding an aroma which is perfect complement to the wine and the other spices. Chef Khanna added that his way to a perfect wine poached pear is to have perfect distinction between the red and the white.