Eating with Flowers: Grand Mercure, Koramangala

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Mise en Place

I am a firm believer in sleeping in. So, having to arise, slip into suitable attire and leave home by 9.45am on a weekend was my idea of un-fun. Still, the effort was made, and well rewarded. I was invited last Saturday to attend a Chef’s Bench at the Grand Mercure Hotel in Koramangala. I love Chef-led events, where one gets to interact and learn from someone who is passionate and really into his job, and this one caught my attention for its very unique concept – edible flowers. Chef Vimal Vikraman was going to teach us how to cook with locally grown flowers, and once I saw the menu, it was clear that this was actual flower infusion, not just the usual tack, which is plating and decoration with flowers. ‘Cause lets face it, however pretty it looks, most of us are loath to actually pick that petal or flower garnishing our plate and eat it!

So, along with a couple of fellow-blogger pals, I enjoyed a lovely morning with Chef Vimal, who served us a beautiful meal. Chef explained to us that he had picked (from homes and private gardens), that very morning, the different flowers we would eating, since there is no concept of an organic flower shop or market here, and one needs to ensure that the flowers are without pesticides, etc. All the flowers had been given an ice water bath-submerged for 1/2 an hour or so to bring any worms etc. to the surface (a good tip, that). It became clear, right from the very first dish, that Chef Vimal is a master stylist – each dish he put together had textures, layers and was a sight to behold. He quoted the saying that goes something like – you eat with your eyes first, then your nose, and only then your mouth. Certainly explains the love and attention he puts into how his dishes look. He made sure to add color and texture, and plate dishes to be at their photogenic peak. And really, there is a certain something added to a meal when your food looks so gorgeous and colorful!

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Creamy hibiscus soup

Our first course was a Polynesian salad, made with thinly cut cucumber, papaya and mango slices, mixed baby lettuce, tiny cranberries, flower confetti and a raspberry vinaigrette. It was a real delight to the eyes and tasted wonderful as well. As one of my fellow diners said-it tasted… flowery :).  Next up was an excellent Creamy hibiscus soup, where the stated flavor of the soup took second place to the garlic, onions, tomato and potato. The two main courses were a Pan fried silver pomfret with wilted spinach and marigold. The pomfret was small, cut thin, and prepared to a light crunchiness. The spinach and marigold got quite the treatment-sauteed spinach and marigold were encased in a ball of blanched spinach, and when one cut into this and took a bite, it really was a delightful explosion of flavor! A tip from Chef: add some nutmeg to spinach to retain the earthy flavors. The vegetable main was a superb Roasted carnation veg tart with braised sweet tomato and zucchini. The levels of elements that were part of this plate were quite too many to count, with Chef adding one little garnish and flourish every time we looked!

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Rose Panacotta

Our dessert was a Rose Panacotta made with a generous amount of milk rather than the usual cream, and thus had a super light and creamy texture – it was in fact like diving into a chilled rose milk. Set in martini glasses, these were a work of art, with sugar flounces and the piece de resistance, a rose petal that had been dipped in egg white and then coated in sugar. It was crunchy and quite yum!  I generally don’t care for the taste of rose petals, but with this treatment, the bitterness had been removed. We all told Chef that he should present these dishes as part of the buffet at 12th Main, if not do a festival around it, for this was too good to just be a one off thing! And if you want to experiment with any of these dishes in your own kitchen, drop me a line and I will pass on the recipes so thoughtfully shared by Chef.

Many thanks to Ruth Dsouza Prabhu for the pictures!

Natasha Ali

Natasha's first foray into food writing has been with Chef at Large. Who knew all those years spent eating food, reading about it and looking for the next restaurant to try or watching cooking shows would have left such an indelible impression?! She's back in India after having spent over a decade in the US where she studied as well as taught in academia and now works as a content writer seeing as she can write about pretty much anything. Movie mad, obsessed with the English language, and never one to turn down a glass of good wine, cup of tea, or a good book, she's open to trying any dish once, she enjoys a variety of cuisines with favorites being Ethiopian, Thai, and Lebanese. Natasha covers Bangalore for Chef at Large and can be reached at natasha.ali@www.chefatlarge.in