Gourmet Secrets: The rising stars of the culinary world
Meet the couple behind the mouth-watering menu at the restaurant at Sol de GoaUpdated: Apr 13, 2019 23:23 IST
I normally cover food in this column – something unexpectedly good I’ve had somewhere or an ingredient transformed into a stunning dish or a place, which serves up extraordinarily good food in fabulous surroundings. I have never talked about the people behind those dishes – young men and women who have to combine artistry and innovation with skill and stamina in a more and more competitive market. So here’s the first.
The unsung heroes
I recently came across a young couple, Maia Laifungbam and Sanchit Behl who met while at Culinary School in Manipal. Young and energetic, they have transformed the menu at the restaurant at Sol de Goa, a beautiful boutique property in Nerul, into something award-worthy. They call it ‘Contemporary Indian Cuisine with a Twist’, but it’s far more than that. Maia has her roots in the north east and those flavours creep into dishes like the green pea and spinach uti. Sanchit has a profound knowledge of both Indian flavours and European techniques reflected in dishes like the wafer-thin pork papad, mutton bheja pops, sol kadi crudo with cured red snapper, Kabuli channa kachumbar with avocado and grana padano and the Amritsari Fish and Chips, which is probably the best rendition of the dish I have ever had. Here’s their recipe with a short interview with what I predict to be two up and coming stars of the culinary world.
“Over the last year, we have experimented with food to create something new and out of the ordinary. The inspiration behind the food comes from our love for mouth -watering India food across the country and the various cuisines. We are blending the local with the global using the highest quality, locally-sourced Goan produce. All our dishes are prepared using international cooking practices, coupled with classic Indian flavours to give you a fine dining experience like no other. We hope you enjoy this gastronomical experience in the beautiful setting of our Bar Restaurant and Verandah.”
Excerpts from an interview
What did you learn at Culinary School?
Sanchit: It did open a lot of doors for us because when I started, I had no idea what the basics were. Manipal is very good at that and all the trainings that we had in the three years were very useful for us.
Did you do European food, Asian food etc.?
Maia: We did everything. It’s the only Culinary school which I think covers all cuisines.
Who taught you?
Sanchit: There was a collection of culinary staff, trained chefs, but the main person was chef Thiru. He was the main mentor.
And does he have enough experience with these different cuisines?
Maia: He did mainly European and a bit of Indian with us and he got others, who were more professional in their own categories, to train us.
Sanchit: We always had guest lecturers and people coming from outside and training us and teaching us.
So who had an influence on you? You said you worked with Manu Chandra. So you think Manu’s kind of food influenced you?
Sanchit: I love the way his kitchen ran. At that time the person who ran his kitchen was chef Kavan. He was a great mentor, very strict. Since chef Manu was in charge of the restaurant, he really wasn’t inside the kitchen much but chef Kavan was there all day, every day and I was working with him had more interaction with him. In a way he was more important to me than chef Manu.
Maia: And we have done training in college itself as our alumni is Thomas Zacharias, Girish Naik, so they would come in and do guest lectures, train us. They kept us up to date with food trends etc. whereas the college supported our basic knowledge, but we had these young chefs coming in and inspiring us.
So you finished there and came here straight away?
Sanchit:No we joined Starwood/ Marriott. So Maia is senior to me by one year, so she finished first. She went to Starwood in Bengaluru, which is Sheraton for the management training course, which we didn’t finish because we realised that hotels are really not our cup of tea even though we are back again into a hotel but it’s a different kind of a scene here. But we did it as it teaches you a lot about quantity cooking, discipline and how to manage staff, interact with staff.
Maia: While she was in Bengaluru, I was in Chennai with Westin Velachery. Even though I was there for only a year, I am happy that I did it. After that I moved here. Maia was already here.
Did you always want to become chefs?
Sanchit: So here’s the thing. Before I joined college in Manipal, I was in Aurangabad for seven months – I was doing hotel management there. That’s when I realised I wanted to get into the kitchen, but they asked me to do the whole year again and I didn’t want to waste a year. Their culinary course is for four years. So, in order to save on one year, I shifted to Manipal.
Are you a couple or are you friends?
Sanchit: We are a couple. Even if we find that later on we split and do go work under different experienced chefs, I do believe that in the end we will end up working together
What do see yourselves doing 10 years from now?
Sanchit: Well I’ll tell you how I see myself five years from now. I see us here at Sol de Goa reaching its full potential. This is still fairly new for us, it’s only been six months and we want to do good with this place.
Maia: In 10 years I do hope to travel a lot.
Me: Where would you like to travel.
Maia: Asia may be. Vietnam.
What do you think about European Food?
Maia: We are drifting away from it.... we are keeping the technique and going more Asian and local basically.
What are your favourite dishes on the present menu you’ve created?
The Amritsari fish and chips, the meen Chettinad and we love using raw ingredients – the ceviche? People are open to eating more raw seafood, now it’s become quite a trend at least in Goa.
What ingredients have you discovered in Goa?
Sanjit: So this wild mushroom methi malai - we haven’t mentioned what mushroom we are using. We will be using the urmi mushroom, which only comes in the rains in Goa. We love the black jaggery here. We would like to use it with pork as pork goes well with something sweet.
What do you think about local fish?
Sanchit: There was a local fish in Manipal called disco fish. We just took it off the bone, filleted and poached it. Karnataka has the best seafood.
So Manipal is near Mangalore?
Maia: About an hour from Mangalore and on the beach for 400 bucks you get like a pile of fried fish.
What is your favourite restaurant in Goa?
Maia: Mei Fung – hands down. The owner is a fantastic guy and will keep you entertained.
Apart from Mei Fung – local food?
Maia : There’s Bhatti Village. But we love going for fish thali. We go to this woman in Saligao.... she and her husband send out thalis for lunch for rupees 120. She’s the best for Hindu-Goan food. Their food is clean and fresh. We feel South Goa is better for sea food, especially Agonda. Palolem has some good restaurants too.
Amritsari fish and chips
Ingredients: For fish batter/marinade
2tbsp raw mustard oil
2g toast cumin
2g coarsely crushed ajwain
1g chilli powder
2 g turmeric powder
3 lemon juice
2g crushed black pepper
2g coriander powder
10g chickpeas flour (besan)
10g rice flour/corn flour
Salt to taste
3g ginger garlic paste
Mix all batter/marinade ingredients together and marinate the fish for five minutes. Make sure the batter is cold and it should be of a thick paste-like consistency.
For Green peas chutney
30g green peas
20g olive oil
3 cloves garlic
2g chilli powder
Salt to taste
Boil green peas and cool. Add the other ingredients and puree to make into a paste. Add water if too thick.
1 thinly-sliced sweet potato
Deep fry the chips and the marinated fish and keep aside.
Swirl the green peas chutney on the plate. Place the chips and then the fish on top. Garnish with raw radish and thick sliced roundels of onion tossed in green coriander chutney.
Culinary expert and explorer Karen Anand has been writing extensively on the subject of food and wine for 30 years. Apart from having her own brand of gourmet food products, she has anchored top rated TV shows, run a successful chain of food stores, founded the hugely successful Farmers Markets, and worked as restaurant consultant for international projects, among other things. Her latest passion is food tours, a totally curated experience which Karen herself accompanies, the first of which was to Italy.
This is a fortnightly column. The next edition will appear on April 28.
From HT Brunch, April 14, 2019
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First Published: Apr 13, 2019 20:41 IST