Top chefs in the city experiment with chocolate in the starter, main course and dessert, for one weekend only
LOOK forward to some decadent dining from November 28, at the Chocolate Pairing Week. Featuring four leading restaurants over three days – Lotus, The Flying Elephant, On The Rocks and Tuscana – and paired with wine, it features gems like risotto rice with chocolate and ravioli with chicken tikka and chocolate sauce. L Nitin Chordia, one of the organisers and a certified chocolate taster, admits that pairing chocolate with food is not unusual. ‘‘During the Chocolate Week in the UK there is a showcase of a full chocolate meal. Our event is a formal introduction of the concept in India,’’ he begins, having successfully organised a chocolate dinner at Park Hyatt Chennai in September. ‘‘Wine will be paired with a chocolate-infused meal and this is a first in India,’ insists Chordia. Making plans for next weekend? Some of the participants and a few experts tell us what to expect:
By Ryan Peppin
Bottle for the bean
‘‘The overarching grape that will be used for pairing is the Shiraz. However, we will be trying to experiment with grapes such as Nebbiolo/Sangiovese from Italy and Tempranillo from Spain, used in the robust Riojas. I also intend to look at blends such as Syrah/Cabernet, Syrah/Merlot, depending on the flavours emanating from the dish. Unfortunately, no experiments with Indian wines as complex state excise laws and TASMAC laws make it virtually impossible for Indian wines to be made available in Tamil Nadu. My best memory of this experiment is Chef Peter Gilmore’s chocolate-infused main course at the Appelation restaurant in Barossa Valley, South Australia,’’ says sommelier Praveen Krishnamurthy.
Willi Wilson @ Tuscana
Chocolate means gifts or a house warming or Europe, where there are so many choices. Chocolate is versatile, sweet and savoury; it is beneficial and yet chocolate can be the scourge of any waistline. I am a Belgium or Swiss praline fan and in Chennai, make do with Felchlin from Schwyz, Switzerland. Chocolate is always an indispensible part of any hotel or restaurant menu, although there is limited usage in savoury dishes created with chocolate. With Tuscana hosting dinner on all three days of the festival, our menu has been put together by Chef Enrico. He is an Italian cook on a sightseeing visit and has incorporated Callebaut chocolate into his dishes. This includes an antipasto of soft pecorino cheese in chocolate, and later, farfalle with chicken and chocolate, diced beef tenderloin braised with chocolate, with tiramisu for dessert.
Rohit Koshi @ On The Rocks
I’m doing a four-course menu and this is my first experiment with chocolate. Though we’re doing this at On The Rocks, I have used a lot of Indian ingredients. There will be two primary tastes—sweet from the chocolate and spicy from the Indian ingredients. One experiment is ravioli with chicken tikka, blending spices, dark chocolate and cheese. Another is lamb chops with a sauce featuring port wine and a 70 per cent dark chocolate. I will also be serving grilled liver with it. Working with chocolate is all about balance. Experiments that have gone wrong? Chocolate with scallops. And crab.
The dessert wagon
Chocolate goes well with so many raw ingredients, provided the first ingredient is always the chocolate. The extra flavour added should only be an extra touch and should be picked based on the type of chocolate used. As examples, we could combine milk chocolate with mango, coffee, nuts and citrus. The dark chocolate (more rich in cocoa base) should be mixed with red chilli or black pepper. All of these combination could be used on plated dishes, pastries on display and of course, chocolate bonbons. No matter how special your own creation, it can be a success only if you have used the right quality of plain chocolate. I like working with Valrhona from France as they have a huge variety. Tanariva chocolate goes with roasted nuts, and Jivara without anything, as sometimes the best combination is no combination at all,’’ says Mickael Besse, who isn’t part of this promotion. He was one of the first chefs in the city to successfully pair chocolate with Indian spices at his dessert boutique, Ecstasy.
Rajesh Radhakrishnan @ Lotus
I have done a few dishes featuring chocolate in the past. But in terms of doing a whole menu—and with wine—this is a first. You traditionally use chocolate only in dessert. But in cuisines like Mexican, it plays a part in mains too. We’re doing it at Lotus, because it is our speciality restaurant. There was a time when we just could not get quality chocolate in India. But now we’ve got Valrhona, Callebaut, Lindt, etc. For this event, we’re going with Callebaut, but Valrhona is what I generally use. I’m trying to combine it with flavours like seafood, beef, even tomatoes, with a 70 per cent cocoa. Among the combinations that have worked, there’s prawns in a sauce of black pepper, spring onions and dark chocolate. And a frozen dessert of lemon grass and dark chocolate as well.
@ The Flying Elephant
This is the second time we are working on the chocolate menu and, yes, we have gotten better at it. For the event we’re doing two set menus—vegetarian and non vegetarian. Expect a mix of sweet, spicy and sour flavours. For example, we are doing a chocolate cannelloni with mushrooms and scallops. And for vegetarians, one of our appetisers is a zucchini salad with chocolate. Blue cheese is a great combination with chocolate. We’ve also got two chocolate cocktails, a mojito and a martini. Other ingredients that go well with dark chocolate are coffee, red wine, spices, avocado, mushrooms, orange, sea salt and olive oil.
DOMINIQUE PERSOONE: The wild and creative mind behind Belgium’s famous brand, The Chocolate Line, whose Bollywood ganache has saffron and curry, says,‘‘ There were chocolates with tikka masala, cilantro, cinnamon and when Indian visitors saw the combinations, they first thought, ‘Oink, these combinations with chocolate, how weird is that!’ But they came back for more. This is true food pairing.’’
The three-day chocolate festival is at Lotus, The Park; On the Rocks, Park Sheraton; Flying Elephant, Park Hyatt and Tuscana, Wallace Garden. From November 28 to 30.
Details: Chocolate Pairing Week on Facebook