“India is the source for spices for the whole world,” grins Ecuadorian Chef Edgar Leon. “When I go back home, I will fill my bags with all the new spices that I’ve discovered. It’s a bit risky to take it through the customs in the US, but I’ll give it a shot.”
The chef, who’s anchoring the Ecuadorian food festival at the ITC Grand Central, Lower Parel, has been tasting his way through Indian cuisine to see what he can take back to his chain of restaurants back in the South American country.
“I love kheer and kulfi,” he says, when asked about Indian sweets. Having won an international chef’s competition using cocoa to make a beef preparation with chocolate sauce, the chef is surprisingly bowled over by Indian mithai. “The chefs here at the hotel are trying to teach me how to make them,” he says.
Leon’s visit to India is part of an effort to boost interest in his country’s cuisine, consequently leading to greater trade between the two nations in food products. “We have a new oil made from avocados that is very good because it doesn’t saturate below 250 degrees Celsius. So it’s very healthy. We also have been preparing quinoa salads in our Delhi hotels so that people get accustomed to the taste. By teaching the chefs to use ingredients from Equador, they can introduce new tastes to the Indian people,” Leon says.
One of the key differences between Indian and Ecuadorian cuisine, the chef points out, is the fact that in India, every dish is smothered in a heady mix of spices: “Back home, we use cream, cheese and maybe a few herbs, apart from the main element, whether meat or seafood. In India, you require many ingredients to make a dish right.”
Mix and match
Ecuadorians also mix fruit into their main course. “We have many varieties of fruits that people might consider exotic, but they are part of our everyday meal. We have many varieties of bananas and passion fruits, that are used to prepare lamb and beef dishes,” he adds.
Given his halting English, ask him whether he’s had difficulty communicating with Indian chefs during his stay in here and he responds, “I find that whether you are English, German, South American or French, the language of the kitchen remains the same. That is why the most international community in the world, where sentiment comes before language, is the brotherhood of chefs.”
Ecuadorian food festival at Hornby’s Pavillion, ITC Grand Central, Lower Parel, until October 26. Call: 022 24101010