Earlier this month, we wrote about US-based restaurateur-chef Rohini Dey’s search for budding culinary talent in India. The entrepreneur owns a renowned Indo-Latin eatery called Vermilion in the US. And she is offering two food enthusiasts a chance to lead the kitchens of her New York and Chicago establishments for a year.
Her hunt in Mumbai came to an end with a cook-off at Indigo, Colaba, on April 23. A similar contest is slated to take place in Delhi later this month. In Mumbai, a judging panel comprising chefs Rahul Akerkar and Nikhil Chib, actor Shabana Azmi, food enthusiast Kunal Vijaykar, APB Cook Studio’s Rushina Munshaw-Ghildiyal and Rohini herself, selected one winner out of the six finalists.
The winning participant, 23-year-old Mumbaikar Aseema Mamaji, now stands to “receive a salary of up to $70,000, a chance to work at the highly lauded kitchens in New York and Chicago, grow her culinary skills, an opportunity for a US permanent residency sponsorship and leading Vermilion’s expansion opportunities.” “We will file for her visa now and we will find out about that in four to five weeks. By September-October, Aseema can travel to the US,” says a glad Rohini.
The winning recipe: Keralan Curries Tres Maneras
By chef Aseema Mamaji
Portion: serves 10
Preparation time: 3 hours
500 gm (10 pieces) Ghol fish n 550 gm (10 pieces) Indian salmon n 20 prawns n 20 gm curry leaves n 50 gm ginger n 150 gm onion n 50 gm garlic n 15 gm cumin seeds n 15 gm mustard seeds n 15 gm chili powder n 15 gm turmeric powder n 20 gm coriander seeds n 4 coconuts n 250 ml coconut milk n 2 lemons n 150 gm sorrel n 25 gm tamarind n 50 ml coconut oil n 20 gm jaggery n 1 sago papad n 2 cherry tomatoes n 2 drumsticks n 2 avocados n Few coriander leaves n 2 drumstick blossoms (or coriander flowers) n banana leaves n Banana wafers n 20 gm salt n 20 gm sugar n 15 gm black pepper n 1 fig n 150 ml guava juice n 40 ml balsamic vinegar n Few leaves of fenugreek cress n 200 gm amaranth grain (rajgira, puffed amaranth) n 150 gm refined flour n 2 eggs
Method for curry
Alleppey: Grind grated coconut, ginger, green chillies, coriander seeds and turmeric together to create paste. Sauté mustard seeds and juliennes of onion, green chilli, curry leaves and ginger in coconut oil. Add that paste to the sautéed mix and thin down using fish stock. Finish with raw mango dices and seasoning. Strain and adjust consistency.
Pollichatu: In a pan, sauté mustard seeds, curry leaves, onions, ginger, garlic and green chillies until golden brown. Add red chilli powder and turmeric. Finish with coconut milk.
Moilee: Heat oil in a large heavy-based saucepan; fry curry leaves, cumin and mustard seeds till they crackle. Add onion, garlic, chilli and ginger and soften. Add turmeric, coconut milk and season to taste. Strain and adjust consistency.
Method to cook seafood
Allepey: (served cold) Marinate prawns with salt, lemon juice and raw mango juice for a few hours. This method of cooking requires no heat, as the prawns cook while being
marinated. Add green chilli and coriander. Use drumstick marrow with avocado to garnish.
Pollichatu: Marinate the Ghol with salt, lemon juice, chili powder and turmeric. Dab dry. Wrap in a heated banana leaf and steam for six to seven minutes in an idli steamer.
Moilee: Marinate Indian salmon with salt, lemon juice and tamarind. For crumbing: dip fish fillets in flour, then in egg whip and then dip it in the amaranth grain, so that the fish gets coated. Cook at 180 degrees Celsius for seven to nine minutes.
Method for garnishes
Alleppey: Remove pellets of avocado, mix with tomatoes, madras onion, coriander leaves and cooked drumstick. Keep drumstick blossoms refreshed in ice water.
Pollichatu: Make fig chutney by cooking peeled figs, guava juice and balsamic vinegar till the mix is thick. Refresh fenugreek leaves. Use banana wafers to
Moilee: Blanch (cook briefly in boiling water) and refresh sorrel leaves. Temper with coconut oil, mustard seeds, tamarind, jaggery. Deep fry sago papad and use with sorrel for garnishing.
‘They were looking for a sous chef, I was only an assistant’
Says winner Aseema Mamaji, in a quick chat
Where have you worked?
I was working as an assistant chef at the Taj Mahal Palace in Colaba. I had given my resignation and I was serving notice when my friend told me about the cook-off. I gave it a shot, not knowing whether I would win, since they were looking for a sous chef and I was only an assistant.
Your recipe led the judges to pick you as the winner almost instantly. How did you decide on it?
I had submitted another recipe, but due to the non-availability of some ingredients, I tweaked it a bit. I thought the south Indian flavours would go well with Latin flavours. And since I could only do one recipe, I thought of doing a sample plate.
What does this win mean to you?
The culinary industry is a male-dominated field and Rohini (Dey) has taken a huge step for women. The competition says that the finalists will get the chance to the head her restaurant and I’m sure with her support I’ll be able to mould my skills better.