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World on your plate

On a crusade to explore the vast ocean of world cuisines, some expat chefs are now an active part of the region’s gourmet map. Somya Abrol gets chatting with some such taste aficionados

chandigarh Updated: Apr 04, 2013 10:05 IST
Somya Abrol

They leave their countries, their comfort zone, go around the world, change homes, gain and share experiences, meet new people — for what? To please them. Here’s the story of four expat chefs from the region who have pledged their lives to providing roller-coaster rides to people’s taste buds.


Liu Zhijun, 46, Ludhiana

From: Shanghai, China
Education: Jinjiang Academy, Association of Cooking

How long have you been working with your hotel/restaurant?
Been with Hotel Radisson Blu since January 1, 2013

Why did you choose India, and Punjab in particular?
When I was working in other hotels’ Asian restaurants, I had many chefs, who became friends, working in Indian restaurants. I learnt to cook Indian food from them; then I surfed the net and got fascinated by the Indian culture. Since then, I always wanted to come to India to explore the culture, so, when I got a call from Radisson Blu, it was like a dream come true. Punjab, in particular, has a very rich cultural heritage. My visit to the Golden Temple in Amritsar was heavenly!

What other countries have you worked in?
Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Japan, but have travelled to many other countries such as Holland, Vietnam, Thailand and Maldives to explore world cuisines.

What differences have you noticed in your authentic cuisine and the Indian version of your native cuisine?Chinese cooking is light on flavour, as opposed to the Indian version of Chinese. Indians like cooking with a lot of sauces. Authentic Chinese cuisine is very low on spices and sauces. In China, cooking changes according to a province — Cantonese is very light, Schezwan region is mildly spicy with numbing flavour and Hunang is spicy with a mildly sour flavour.

What changes have you made to suit the Indian taste buds?I cook according to my guests’ likes and preferences. If an Indian guest walks in, we cook with a lot of spices and sauces. If an American or a European guest walks in, I cook according to their taste buds.

Attilio Fortua, 58, Chandigarh

From: Taranto, South Italy

Education: Studied only till senior secondary, but as a third-generation cook, I was trained in our own bakery back in Italy. Cooking skills are in my genes!

How long have you been working with your hotel/restaurant?

I have been working with PizzaMore for about six months.

Why did you choose India, and Punjab in particular?

India to me is a land of rich spiritual experiences. I have been an Iskon follower since 1986 and had been to India a few times before being appointed here. On one such visit, I met Jyoti Singh, the director of PizzaMore. He was looking for an Italian chef who could offer authentic Italian food to his people. So, I was getting a satisfying job and the opportunity to stay on in India. Bring it on, I said!

What other countries have you worked in?

Eilat (a beach on the Red Sea in Israel) and Belgium

What differences have you noticed in your authentic cuisine and the Indian version of your native cuisine?

Here, I saw that the use of olive oil was minimal. Indians preferred other oils for cooking, unlike back home. The same goes for spices and ketchup. In Italy, we never serve ketchup, at home or in restaurants. The Indian pasta too is very different— back home, we make fresh pasta from durum semolina. We dry it at a temperature of minimum 40 degrees over 24 hours. As a result, our pasta takes seven to eight minutes to cook. Whereas the Indian pasta takes just two minutes!

What changes have you made to suit the Indian taste buds?

I have started adding onions, red bell peppers and red chillies, which are not staple pizza toppings in Italy. Pork is the preferred meat in Italy; here, it’s chicken. Thus, the origin of innovations like chiken tikka pizza for our Punjabi clients! These changes, however, do not hurt my base. The dough I prepare is as authentic as can be.

Rungtiwa Sorlae, 30, Thai chef, Chandigarh

From: Bangkok, Thailand

Education: Was trained as a chef at the Bangkok College of Business Administration and Tourism. Having started my career at Novotel Lotus in Bangkok, I currently have 10 years of work experience.

How long have you been working with your hotel/restaurant?

One-and-half years; since the opening of JW Marriott, Chandigarh.

Why did you choose India, and Punjab in particular?

Thai food is gaining popularity in India, and moreover, I served a lot of Indians whilst working at Novotel Lotus in Bangkok; that’s when I grew fond of Indians. I was working with a high-end restaurant in Gurgaon and wanted to work with bigger brands; JW Marriott gave me that opportunity.Also, being an adventure enthusiast, I like to travel, and what could be a better place than Punjab, as Punjabi’s are true foodies!

What other countries have you worked in?

Just India and Thailand.

What differences have you noticed in your authentic cuisine and the Indian version of your native cuisine?

The level of hotness, but I keep my recipes as authentic as they are back in Thailand. I prepare my own curry paste to keep the aroma and the taste of Thai food intact.

What changes have you made to suit the Indian taste buds?
I have had to reduce the level of spiciness, as Thai food is much spicier than Indian food.


Chef Antonello Cancedda, Italian chef, Chandigarh

From: Genova, Italy
Education: Hotel School, Marco Polo

How long have you been working with your hotel/restaurant?

Have been with Oregano, JW Marriott, for the past one-and-a-half years.

Why did you choose India, and Punjab in particular?

Besides JW Marriott being a very good brand to work with, I am learning yoga and meditating techniques in India. I love the diverse Indian culture and cuisine. And I chose Punjab, and Chandigarh in particular because of its sheer beauty and serenity.

What other countries have you worked in?

USA, Canada, Bahamas, Philippines and the Middle East.

What differences have you noticed in your authentic cuisine and the Indian version of your native cuisine?

The major difference I’ve noticed is, since India is not a beef eating country, people replace beef with lamb, chicken or pork. At Marriott though, we try to keep the dishes as authentic as possible.

What changes have you made to suit the Indian taste buds?
I try to keep my recipes as authentic as I can.

Try your hand at these…

Thai Veg Green Curry
Ingredients
200 gm Green Curry Paste
500 gm Thai egg plant
500 gm baby corn (diced)
500 gm mushrooms (1x4)
500 gm carrots (diced)
500 gm beans (diced)
200 gm lemon grass
200 gm basil
200 gm lemon leaf
200 gm galangal
0.5 litre oil for cooking
0.5 litre coconut milk

Method:
*Take a wok, heat oil, add pounded lemon grass and galangal, add Thai curry paste, cook it for a while.
* Add coconut milk, stir.
*Add blanched vegetables.
*Finish it with chopped basil, lemon leaf, and Thai eggplant.

Recipe contributed by Rungtiwa Sorlae, Thai Chef, JW Marriott, Chandigarh

Spaghetti Aglio Olio
Ingredients:
2-3 garlic cloves
2 tbsp cooking oil
1 tin of peeled tomatoes
Basil leaves
Parmesan cheese
Vegetables of choice
Method:
*Boil the spaghetti in a hot water pan with some oil and pinch of salt. Cook for 10
minutes. Strain, run through cold water and keep aside.
* In a separate pan, heat oil, add garlic (don’t burn it!) and the veggies. Toss them for a while till caramelised.
* Add the cooked spaghetti and fold in the vegetables. Add basil.
*Garnish with a leaf of basil.

Recipe contributed by Attilio Fortua, Italian chef, PizzaMore, Chandigarh

Linguine Pesto
Ingredients:
600 gm linguine pasta
300 gm basil pesto sauce
75 gm potatoes (diced)
75 gm beans (diced)
30 gm Parmesan cheese (grated)
30 ml extra virgin oil olive
30 gm pinenuts
Method:
*Blanch the pasta, beans and potatoes.
*Place pesto in a bowl and keep warm on double boiler.
*Add the blanched pasta, beans and potatoesto the pesto, mix well, drizzle with olive oil, Parmesan flakes and toasted pinenuts.

Recipe contributed by chef Antonello Cancedda, Oregano, JW Marriott, Chandigarh.