The Times Of India Chennai; Aug 20, 2010;


Chennai: As eager aunties, trendy teens and a bubbly three-year-old waited for the doors of Hip Asia to open, chefs and waiters were busy slicing veggies and setting chairs out for the Times Chennai Food Festival.

    “We serve lunch till three, so we’re cutting it a bit fine,” said a chef pouring oil into a wok. At Hip Asia, Taj Connemara’s Asian food restaurant, the audience learnt the basics of Japanese cuisine. As it’s quite a challenge to create this cuisine in an Indian kitchen that has more milagu (pepper) than mirin (rice wine), master chef Frank Padua’s focus was on getting people to understand Japanese food.

    He held up exotic ingredients such as nori (dried seaweed sheets) and wasabi (Japanese horseradish paste) and explained their specialities. Padua created two kinds of sushi (vegetarian and non-vegetarian), tempura (veggies and seafood dipped in batter and deep fried), teppanyaki (food cooked on an iron griddle) and chicken teriyaki (Japanese-style grilled chicken).

    For students Gayathri and Susruthi, it was a chance to learn about their favourite cuisine. “We eat here often, and thought it’ll be fun to see how the chefs make the food even though I don’t plan to try these recipes,” said Gayathri.

    Across town, at Thai restaurant Benjarong, Chef Regi Mathew, COO, Oriental Cuisines, and Chef Murali of Benjarong spent two hours explaining different Thai ingredients and how to use them in simple, easy-to-create dishes.

    Mathew and Murali got the audience chatting and laughing with their easy-going manner and humour. Mathew drew ‘aahs’ of appreciation as he gave tips to keep onions crispy, taught quick recipes for coconut cream and talked of the similarities between the Indian and Thai cultures. He too demonstrated a combination of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes, giving people suggestions to make a veggie dish meaty and vice versa.

    “I now understand Thai food, and can experiment to find substitutes for hard-to-find ingredients like kaffir lime leaves and galanga,” said Priya Karmani, who runs a cookery class. “And this information is really useful,” she said, waving the printed sheet with pictures and details of all the Thai herbs and spices, which each participant got.

    “Thai food is not complex,” Mathew told his involved audience. “I’m sure you’ll all try these at home,” he said, after teaching them how to make a simple and flavourful banana blossom salad or yum houbili. “And I’m sure I’ll be getting calls from all of you for the next 15 days as you come up with more doubts,” he said to laughter as he handed out his phone number.

    timeschennai@timesgroup.com Pick up your invites for the shows at the TOI office on Chamiers Road in Nandanam

EXOTIC AT HOME: Hip Asia’s Frank Padua creates a Japanese dish (top), while Benjarong’s Regi Mathew shows an interested audience how to prepare Thai food (above)