Food for thought: A trip through Serendipity Festival

A seventeen-year-old savours the tips and tricks of the culinary arts

At a session on international cuisine made from local ingredients, chef Patrick. Photos by Tara Dasgupta
At a session on international cuisine made from local ingredients, chef Patrick. Photos by Tara Dasgupta

Tara Dasgupta

For someone like me, who has just recently decided to study this subject when I complete school, the culinary arts events at Serendipity Festival were a delightful introduction. Curated by Goan restaurateur Prahlad Sukhtankar, the programme had a variety of events around food—from sessions on indigenous cuisines to the history of pizza to a masterclass on cocktails.

Before I walked in for the first session, I spent some time looking at the exhibitions outside The Food Lab, a temporary hall built to host all the culinary events.

One of these exhibitions was about a project by Akash Muralidharan, where he cooked one recipe every day for 100 days from an old cookbook, Samaithu Paar, and documented the various vegetables that are no longer used as commonly as they once were. As I looked through the posters on the missing vegetables, I realised that many of them were unfamiliar to me. It was really interesting and I made a mental note to go back home and check with one of my grandmothers about vegetables that she used in her kitchen earlier, and doesn’t any longer.

Another exhibition titled ‘The Library of Edible Issues’ was a collection of books and zines across various topics ranging from agriculture to food culture, addressing some of the questions around understanding sustainability in the Indian context and the future of food. A particular book title that caught my eye was Parsi Food and Customs by Bhicoo J. Manekshaw. I have sociology as a subject, with Parsis as a topic, so seeing the book made me think of the lesson. I could only go through the book briefly but it immediately went on my ‘to-read-list’. Another book was The Science of Spice: Understand Flavour Connections and Revolutionize Your Cooking by Stuart Farrimond. The reason I remember this book was because it had a sticky note next to it with the question ‘Which spice do you use the most?’ and the entire shelf—and a bit of the next—was covered in multi-coloured sticky notes with various responses. There were other questions as well: ‘Which dairy product do you use the most?’; ‘Which is your favourite vegetable to cook with?’. It was a fun little way to make the browsers further interact with the books, since the questions were referencing, or relating to, a book on the shelf. There were almost always at least two people perusing the little bookshelf with a keen look of curiosity in their eyes.

Photos by Tara Dasgupta
Photos by Tara Dasgupta

Since I was also eager to see the other exhibitions and performances at the festival, I was only able to make time for three of the culinary arts sessions but I enjoyed them immensely. One of them was about creating the “perfect bite” where chef Aniket Chatterjee took us through the entire process of creating something that had the most intricate meshing of flavours and thought-out ingredients, which were aesthetically pleasing, and resulted in a round, even-flavoured bite. Combining chorizo with apple sauce to cut down the harsh flavours, and putting “lemon gel” in a potato base with sour cream seemed like such ingenious ideas. Eager to get a first-hand experience of some of these wonderful recipes, my parents and I went to Black Sheep Bistro that day for lunch, and as I ate the scrumptious jackfruit toastadas, I admired the beautiful way in which they had been plated, and savoured every bite!

The second session was more interesting than I thought it would be. For someone who drinks coffee every day, I never really fully acknowledged how much it takes to make one simple cup of coffee. It is a lot more than simply levying a spoon of coffee into a filter, adding hot water and letting it sift through the coffee grounds for the resulting steaming hot cup of satisfying coffee.

Sumanth from Araku took us through the entire process from picking the coffee bean to brewing the perfect cup. He emphasised how temperature, soil grade and moisture levels played an important part in the ultimate taste of the coffee. He also gave us an overview of the different ways in which the coffee beans are roasted, and what each roast signifies in terms of taste and flavour.

The part about the different ways of brewing the coffee was interesting, with participants sharing their personal preferences between South Indian filter coffee, expresso shots and pour-over coffees. He also shared some tricks and tips about making the perfect brew—one of the simplest things I learnt was that the ideal temperature for coffee is actually just a bit below boiling point.

The third session I attended was one on international cuisine made from local ingredients. It was fascinating to see the coming together of French and Goan cuisine—the ingredients being from Goa and the recipes from France. I was amazed to see chef Patrick expertly cutting a king fish, ridding the piece of any skin, all the while also explaining how to achieve the cleanest cut. He shared several interesting, lesser known ways of using local vegetables and fish. One involved tossing the fish with some lemon juice to make it more brittle, another using the local methi or fenugreek to soften the bones of the fish so that one can ingest the bones as well! I was certainly quite surprised when I learnt of this neat little trick—and even the chef looked quite pleased with himself while sharing it. Coming back home, and industriously searching on Google, I did not find that particular titbit of information anywhere—so will have to trust and try it based solely on the word of a professional chef!

What I particularly liked about the sessions was that each chef and speaker was not merely giving a presentation, rather it was a free-flowing conversation where comments and questions were appreciated. In fact, some topics were picked up entirely because of the audience. It was a joy to watch them in their element while talking, or showing something they were passionate about. They were funny, especially in their replies and responses to the audience questions. I wondered if I also had to be funny if I wanted to be a chef. The best part for me was probably the realisation that food was somewhat like music, as it transcends limits and people from all over can enjoy the flavours. Apart from young people like me (and even younger), there were old people, retired homemakers, and those who simply walked in because they enjoyed food.

I am extremely glad I went to Goa and braved the heat to attend these specific sessions. While thinking about them, I realised that even chefs have to be quite outgoing and interactive—especially those who wish to start a small cafe or bakery. As a quiet person myself who wishes to set up a small cafe somewhere, I realise I must do my best to be more social. Perhaps serendipty was a good place to start.

Tara Dasgupta lives in Kolkata and loves to bake and draw. She is 17

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