UK-based chef Ben Churchill’s creations take the phrase ‘playing with your food’ to a new level. In his kitchen, you may bite into something that looks like a pepperoni pizza, but tastes like vanilla sponge cake, strawberry jam, white chocolate and marzipan.
Another preparation looks like beans on toast, but is made of lemon sponge cake and strawberries. A big glossy chilli or a banana will take you by surprise when you slice it to find out that it is really just a dessert made of chocolate.
The 29-year-old artiste, who started preparing desserts 18 months ago, is known for creating optical illusions with food. Turns out, chefs back home, too, are inspired by him. An increasing number of Indian chefs are disguising their dishes to amuse diners, or to simply demonstrate their artistry.
The sous chef at Jamjar Diner, Andheri (W), had his eureka moment while hanging out at the eatery’s terrace, which is brimming with plants. “He wanted to add an element of surprise to the desserts,” says Sahil Timbadia, partner, Jamjar Diner. The restaurant serves a dish called Flower Pot Surprise. At first glance, it looks like an orchid plant. But, as you dig deep into the ‘soil’ (made of brownies), you will find marshmallows, ice cream and Oreo cookie crumbs. A basket filled with what looks like carrots and flowers is served at Myx, Juhu. The carrots are actually dim sums made of chicken forcemeat, wrapped in carrot skin. “The presentation is as important as the taste of a preparation,” says Sameer Bhalekar, executive chef, Myx.
Chef Amit Sharma of Poetry By Love And Cheesecake, Bandra (W), agrees. “A visually attractive dish makes a big difference,” he says. Mandarin Meat Fruit, a dish served here, is rather deceiving. While it looks like an orange, when you break it open, you will find chicken parfait. The outer coating is made of mandarin jelly, which adds some zest to the dish. Similarly, it is almost hard to believe that the sunny side up served at Seven Kitchens, The St Regis, Lower Parel, doesn’t involve an egg. The white of the egg is prepared with feta cheese, whereas the yolk is created from peach. The ‘bacon strips’, as an accompaniment, are actually watermelon shavings in disguise.
The Squid Bolognese served at Woodside Inn, Colaba, leads one to believe that it is pasta. However, the spaghetti is made of squid. It is topped with a spicy meat-based sauce. “It is a popular recipe by three-Michelin-starred chef Pierre Koffmann. We have added a twist without changing the essence,” says Sean Pereira, restaurant manager, Woodside Inn. Sharma also says he has made cosmetic changes to many dishes without “sacrificing the taste”. “The ingredients remain the same,” he adds.
Restaurateurs feel that having such dishes on the menu works for the customers as well as the eatery. Ishaan Bahl, owner of 145, Kala Ghoda, says apart from creating a quirky dish, they are also building “recall value”. The gastro pub offers milkshakes that are served in edible bottles. What’s more? The concept of the illusion may make a boring vegetable also seem appetising. At Farzi Café, Lower Parel, Karela Calamari looks just like squid. Another dish, Arancini, which is essentially an Italian risotto preparation, is stuffed with dal and chawal. “These surprise elements appeal to audiences. They take pictures, which is an added advantage for us,” says Zorawar Kalra, owner, Farzi Café.