Like most Indians, Aarti Raghunathan is obsessed with fresh, hot food. Given a chance, when she eats out, she likes to chat up the chef and figure out the freshest produce in the restaurant and then place her order.
But things changed for the better last year, when this 29-year-old copywriter understood that she could actually watch what was being cooked and sometimes even be a part of it.
“At Hot Rocks in Hyderabad last year, the wait staff placed lava rocks in front of me and asked me to grill my own meat. I was a little surprised at the fact I had to grill a whole uncooked piece of meat on my own,” she says. “But when I figured I could season and dress it exactly the way I wanted, it was as if a whole new cuisine had opened up in front of me. All I could think about was creating my own combinations.”
That’s what interactive food does to you. It gives you a chance to create a dish that is perfect for your palate and lets you indulge in in-depth discussions about the food you’ve just created. You can pound your own pesto, grill your own meat and even let your soup simmer to that exact degree without having to get up from your seat.
It was Mumbai-based grill joint Barbeque Nation, that set the ball rolling in 2006. Whether you were vegetarian or non-vegetarian, any meat or vegetable could be grilled at your table for that piping hot, fresh experience. Four years later, this is a trend which many call ‘table service’, and has been picked up by several restaurants across the country.
Take the Olive chain of restaurants for example. While their ‘table-serviced’ pestos and salsas have become legendary, what makes them tick is constant reinvention. On the current winter menu is the Raclette grill — a cheese-grilling machine with an assortment of sausages, vegetables and cheese that have to be grilled by the guest.
Olive’s executive chef Sabyasachi Gorai believes that it’s experiences like these that bring the loyalists back. “If people understand the ingredients that have gone in making something, the joy of eating becomes different. It also manages to steer conversations back to food, which is a win-win situation for us.”
Celebrity chef Sanjeev Kapoor, however, has a different take about this trend. He says that this trend comes in two parts — one where the food is finished in front of the guest (flambes etc), and two, where the guest is involved in the cooking.
“Indians have always been interactive about their food, from eating hot chapattis to making chaats,” says Kapoor who owns the restaurants The Yellow Chilli and Hot Rocks. “People don’t mind waiting that little extra if they can get to eat fresh, hot food.”