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British chef brings best of modern Brit cuisine to India

'Top-flight' chef Robert Rees, in India to showcase best of UK produce at British food fest, dishes out his India experince.

india Updated: Dec 25, 2003 21:34 IST

No pork, no beef. Chicken yes and lots of vegetarian food. This was the brief given to the young top flight chef from UK, Robert Rees, before he set out for the British food festival, A Taste of Britain, in India at the ITC Maurya Sheraton in Delhi and ITC Windsor in Bangalore. Rees is in India to promote and tell Indian clients of how UK Food and Farming and Tourism is among the best in the world. He also aims to raise awareness and generate interest about UK's food and drink industry in the Indian market.

For Robert Rees, who comes with an impressive background and is the proud holder of a Michelin Award specifically come to India to promote British food and tourism, the first India trip has been memorable in more ways than one.

The first which he is so quick to point out: "I missed my first wedding anniversary. My wife is never going to forgive me for this."

But the thorough professional that he is, he has enjoyed his role as the "Ambassador for British produce." Rees is here to specifically promote produce from Gloucestershire and south west ( he proudly points out the Gloucestershire label on his chef's shirt)- the "lovely" cheese, the puddings, the fresh apple, pear and tomato chutneys from KitchenGatden preserve in Gloucestershire. He hopes they will respond favourably also to the sweet chutneys he has brought along. "The Indian chutneys were a little bitter, the ones I have brought are sweet." That should be good news for the Indians with a huge majority possessing a sweet tooth.

The Indian palate has taken favourably to Yorkshire pudding and smoked salmon, says Rees. Another specialty which he carried were Prince Charles' organic biscuits - "very expensive" says Rees, "but which finished just like this", he snaps his fingers.

Though his hectic schedule has hardly left him time to see things around in Delhi, Rees did step out to the INA market in Delhi and the spice market and was surprised at the wonderful quality of the fruit and herbs in India. He says: "Even the fruit at the roadside was rich and juicy and of really good quality - the pomegranates looked red and healthy. I did not expect such good quality. The herbs used in India -coriander, cumin, rosethyme - are much better in quality than what we use in UK.

"I think there is a need to also promote in UK that Indian food is not really so spice that it cannot appeal to British. Also, more of British food needs to be promoted here. Though tastes are different there is a wide variety of modern British cuisine which can appeal immensely. British food is not just about fish and chips and baked beans - Theres' Cerney Goats Cheese in Filo Pastry with Ratatouille, Watercress dressing, Three Choirs Butter Sauce, Duntisborne sausage, Jam Roly Poly".

He has also met with Indian clients on stocking British produce. He says: "Though tastes are different, it will give people an opportunity to choose from the variety. If we come halfway and India comes halfway, there can be a really good exchange of Indian and British cuisine."

On his experience with Indian food, he names, but of course, the hugely popular masala tikka and has not experimented much. "But I had something like a pancake with potatoes stuffed into it and it was wonderful," he says. Indians will surely know what it is - the most popular South Indian preparation, present all over India in various versions - the ubiquitous dosa. Now thathe is here, he is all set for more experimentation and mix and match cooking styles. "British food does not lend itself to a buffet style. Itwill dry if presented thus. Indian food is more moist and serves well in a buffet. For instance, the duck which we prepare is pink and the sauce comes separately. But here it is cooked a lot more and the sauce is mixed with the preparation. So, it has been a learning experience."

What would be the lingering memories the young chef will carry back: "There are two kinds of reactions to India: Either you love it or hate it. I love it. My wife would love it. I will remember the organised chaos. (He found something of it at the Maurya kitchen, too). People and people milling around. The incredibly slow pace of things happening. But things finally do happen and everything is done with a smile despite the chaos, so it really does not hurt."

And that one distinct feeling which he remembers: "I went to the spice market and saw people with huge sacks on their heads, and as they passed me, a strong chilly flavour invaded my senses and stayed at the back of my throat. That's India."

So, what places in Britain would he recommend. Says Rees: "I would advise people to go beyond London. Sure London has the Buckingham, but look beyond: Oxford, Cambridge, Exeter, Liverpool. I think Indians love gardens and the natural beauty of these places will appeal certainly to them."

Rees has been beseiged by the media during his stay. Forty interviews in three days. A film crew, ITV, following him. What was it like? Rees replies promptly: "Ask me to talk about IT, management and I would be 'duh'. But this is my life and I love talking about it. It has been no problem at all."

A perfect answer from the charming and impish cultural ambassador.

First Published: Dec 25, 2003 21:33 IST