Sunday, 29 September 2013

A Brave New Swirl: The Future Belongs to Indian Wines

This opinion piece has appeared in the latest edition of Time Out magazine.

After getting over our old obsession with French wines, we fell in love with the New World, only to rediscover the heady liquids coming out of our own backyard

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

You can also find
this article on
IT WAS at the turn of the new millennium that I met the colourful Australian chef named Bill Marchetti, who will go down in my history book as the man who taught India’s elite to drink wine. Being Aussie, Bill had no time for humbug and he used to find it hilarious that some very rich Delhiites would sink a lot of serious money in what he would call cat’s piss. It’s a serious wine-tasting expression reserved for a particularly grassy Sauvignon Blanc, but Bill wasn’t using the expression in the sense familiar to a wine encyclopaedia.
Those were the days when people would proudly gift bottom-of-the-barrel table wines from a French company named Barton & Guestier (which, I must add, doesn’t only produce bad wine!), just because it was French. The waiters knew only one name and it was Chateauneuf du Pape, the name given to wines produced within the geographical appellation of the same name in south-eastern France. It was easy to remember the wine because everyone used its acronym CDP, though some Punjabi gents insisted on calling it papay (Arre, ek papay pila!), without the least respect for the allusion to the first French Pope, Clement V, a great lover of Burgundy wines, and his six successors who shepherded the faithful in the tumultuous years of the Avignon papacy (1309-1378). Chateauneuf du Pape was the ‘Castle of the Pope’.
The other reigning divinity of that era was Georges Duboeuf, the man famously known as the Pope of Beaujolais, which is another prominent geographical appellation, but wines people drank with gusto were the ones his humongous factories mass produce for less discerning markets. People were drinking bad wine and they were drinking it just because it was French, so much so that if one received a vin de pays (second from the bottom) as gift, instead of a vin de table (lowest of the low),  one considered it a major honour.
The five ‘growths’ of the 1855 Classification and the grand vin of Bordeaux, the grand cru and premier cru of Burgundy, and the many finer points of this complicated caste system went on top of the heads of the drinking public. The handful of oenophiles came across as a bunch of old farts with a lot of money that they had found no female recipients for, or bored housewives who needed an honourable way to keep themselves busy. Who had the time to figure out that Chablis was not a grape variety but the name of the northernmost wine-making district of Burgundy, or the patience to wait for a decade or more for one of Bordeaux’s pricey red wines to ‘open up’ and become ‘drinkable’, or the inclination to find out if the Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande was better than the Pichon Longueville Baron — both are Second Growths and therefore high up in the Bordeaux caste hierarchy.
Old World wines can confuse the hell out of ordinary mortals. When the Europeans framed their arcane wine regulations, which require you to be a walking wine encylopaedia to know what you’re drinking, they did not account for the drink finding a following across the world. They merrily went about inventing a wine argot that only insiders understood and the French inheritance laws complicated matters further. The famous Burgundy grand cru of Clos Vougeot, as a result, is actually 51 hectares divided into plots that belong to 80 different owners. Grand cru, incidentally, is a term reserved only for the elite 550 hectares of vineyards in the region.
You can imagine how confusing it can get when you have some of the finest wines of France coming with unpronounceable names of vineyards superimposed with the names of the villages where they are located. So, when you are served a Gevrey Chambertin, which is the name of a village (or commune) in Burgundy, you have to know that you’re about to drink a Pinot Noir, a fruity red wine that expresses itself best in Burgundy, though people in Oregon may not agree with this proposition.
If that is not a shock in itself, how about trying to recall the nine grand crus located in this historic village? And I am not even asking you to decipher what a TBA signifies on a German wine label. It is not ‘to be announced’, but Trockenbeerenauslese, or ‘dried berries selection’, which signifies that the wine you are drinking is a dessert wine made with hand-picked grapes affected by noble rot.
The New World — Argentina, Australia, Chile, New Zealand, South Africa and the United States — has made life a lot uncomplicated. The labels, for starters, are not like Hercule Poirot mysteries. If it’s a Chardonnay or a Pinot Noir, a New World label says so in as many words. It tells you all you’d want to know about the wine (grape variety, alcohol percentage and country and region of origin) without challenging your knowledge of French or Italian or German, or of geography. And what’s better, you can buy a bottle of New World wine and drink it on the same day; it may get better with age, but it’s not ‘closed’ or ‘tannic’ (in other words, undrinkable) when young. New World styles are more welcoming, more accessible. The French may sniff at New World wines for being “Coca-Cola”, but the world just loves them — and now, labels such as Screaming Eagle, Harlan Estate, Opus One, Penfolds Grange and Montes Alpha M have caught up with the heavy hitters of the Old World.
A wine connoisseur may tell you that there’s a palpable difference between the wines of the Napa Valley and those of the Russian River Valley (California), or of the Barossa Valley and the Margaret River Valley (Australia), or of Marlborough and Central Otago (New Zealand), but if you don’t care, it doesn’t matter. Whether you like a Chardonnay or a Zinfandel, or Anything But Chardonnay, all you need to do is go to the nearest liquor store and pick up a bottle whose label says so. No guessing games, no riddles — and thankfully no cork.
The embarrassment of a cork breaking as you struggle to extricate it from the neck of a bottle is too common an experience to be repeated in print. The possibility that your wine may be corked — out of every 100 bottles, three are likely to be contaminated by a substance released by cork — has only solidified the argument against this closure technique that has run out its lease. Fortunately, much of the world (with the dogged exception of France, Italy and Spain) has switched over to screwcaps, which we all know how to unscrew without difficulty, because the fresher, ready-to-drink winemaking styles lend themselves to this idiot-proof form of closure.
New World wines gained a market initially only because they were much cheaper to import, which made it easier for vendors to sell them at competitive prices to hotels and restaurants without seriously compromising their margins. Take the Argentine economic crisis (1999-2002). It pulled down Malbec prices so much that the world started drinking the plump red wine from Mendoza as if it was going out of fashion. The taste grew on the world and soon, we realised we were on to a good thing.
Chilean wines became hot favourites in India for a similar reason. In Maharashtra, it used to be very cheap to import and bottle wines bought in bulk from the international market. Rajeev Samant’s Sula seized the opportunity and used imported Chilean bulk wine to produce Satori Merlot. The red wine clicked and created a market for Chilean wines.
In the case of Australia, though, it was aggressive marketing to enter new markets, necessitated by overproduction at home, which led to the push towards India. With the market share of French wines dropping to 39 per cent, the New World (mainly Chile and Australia), which had zero presence here at the start of the new millennium, commands a healthy 37 per cent. Italy too has made serious inroads into the Indian market, thanks to a concerted push by its state agencies, and today straddles 24 per cent of it.
The future, though, belongs to Indian wines, which has got a new lease of life with the emergence of Fratelli as a serious player and with more (though not necessarily better) labels coming out of Bangalore. The quality of Indian wines has shown a remarkable improvement in the last ten years — Fratelli’s Sette, Sula’s Dindori Shiraz and Four Seasons Barrique Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon top my personal favourites list — and it is unsurprisingly attracting the hip and young. The world has discovered Indian food; it’s India’s turn now to discover Indian wine. India is wine’s newest world.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Manish Mehrotra to Cook With Top Indian Chefs in America for Varli’s Showcase

Varli Singh is without doubt the American
ambassador of Indian gastronomy 
By Sourish Bhattacharyya

VARLI SINGH has become the ambassador of Indian cuisine in a country that least understands it. Operating from her home city, New York, Varli now has a magazine, a website and a chef awards event (all dedicated to the Indian gastronomic tradition), she manages a discount card and a range of cookware carrying her name, and she also runs a charitable organisation that works for economically marginalised children back home in India. I wonder how she manage to do so many very different things!
We've been Facebook friends and I have been following her work for quite some time, so I was naturally drawn to her Facebook post on Manish Mehrotra, the incredibly talented powerhouse driving the success of Indian Accent, being the only one from the country to be invited to the Varli Chefs Showcase that is taking place this year on November 13 in New York City.
I then went to the Varli Magazine Facebook page and discovered the wealth of Indian kitchen talent that America has. They may not be glamorous like Vikas Khanna, the poster boy of expat Indian restaurants, but they have helped build brands that have demystified Indian cuisine to Americans who have a hazy notion of the “coooo-rrrry”. Some of them who will give Mehrotra company at the Varli Chef Showcase are:
· K.N. Vinod’s restaurant, Indique, is in the heart of the Washington, D.C. power district, Connecticut Avenue, and has been rated as one of the “100 Very Best” by the Washingtonian magazine.
· Ex-banker Shuchi Mittal Naidoo’s 29Calories is New York City’s favourite Indian tapas caterer at trendy parties.
· Bachan Rawat is the chef and co-owner of the A-List celebrity hangout, Bukhara Grill in New York City, which he started in 1999 with his business partners Raja Jhanjee and Vicky Vij, both of whom worked at the famous Bukhara at ITC Maurya.
· Delhi School of Economics graduate and ex-World Bank/McKinsey executive Rohini Dey, who’s now more famous as the owner of Vermilion, the restaurant that serves Indian food with the Latin American twist in Chicago and New York City.
· Another old Bukhara hand, Hemant Mathur, whose 55-seater Tulsi restaurant in New York City has a Michelin star (the guide calls his style “original, dashing and studied), and who, according to the New York Times food critic, “cooks like a dream”.
By getting together these highly talented people on one platform and dazzling New York City with their culinary genius, Varli Singh is giving her mother country’s food traditions the spotlight they deserve. I only wish she sets out on a mission to discover more gifted chefs in India and gives them a global platform. That’ll be a lasting service she’ll be doing to our growing community of chefs.

Here's the link to my previous article on Varli Singh.

Friday, 27 September 2013

Bonding with Best and Curley: Aussie Super Chefs Spend An Olive Afternoon

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

The team of Vikram Khatri (left) of Olive Bar & Kitchen,
Mehrauli, presented a fulfilling lunch with visiting
Australian chefs Mark Best (centre) and Ian Curley
IAN CURLEY is as passionate about his work among the homeless and young criminals as he has strong views about Gordon Ramsay’s fly in-fly out approach to the restaurant business. He has a deliciously irreverent sense of humour. You’ll see him on the Heaven and Hell Episode (No. 26) of Masterchef Australia Season 5. But that’s not why I am writing about him and Mark Best, the Sydneysider chef who, like the British-born Curley, now also runs a highly successful Melbourne restaurant.
This is the second successive year that Curley, founder-executive chef of the European restaurant opposite Victoria’s Parliament House in Melbourne, is in India to cook and to inspire young aspiring chefs as a part of The Creative Services Support Group (CSSG) Summit 2013: Food + Art Edition. The chef who’s proud to be classical in his approach to his art is all set to make a hamburger with lobster gazpacho and beetroot carpaccio with goat’s curd and walnut at the 12-course dinner being orchestrated by the CSSG’s guardian angel, Anand Kapoor, at The Leela Palace New Delhi, Chanakyapuri, on Tuesday, October 1.
Curley and Best were speaking to the Indian Restaurant Spy after an indulgent lunch hosted by the Australian High Commission at Olive Bar & Kitchen, Mehrauli, where the incredibly talented Vikram Khatri and Sabyasachi ‘Saby’ Gorai’s acolyte, Dhruv Oberoi, a bright young man from Chandigarh, prepared a memorable three-course meal with the two visiting chefs. Of course, it was Best’s coconut sorbet with strips of mango, curry leaves and pepper powder that left us wanting more.
I asked Curley, the more loquacious of the two, what he cooked for his episode of Masterchef Australia Season 5. He said he made steak tartare (“a classical French dish with Victorian produce”) and a Bomb Alaska with pomegranate. The twists are original — very Curley. In Mumbai, where he’ll cook over the weekend, Curley will whip up a kulfi Bomb Alaska, which he’s visibly excited about (as he’s about having a meal with Manish Mehrotra at Indian Accent).
Best’s Melbourne restaurant in the Central Business District is the Pei Modern, which has been getting rave reviews for its modern bistro dining menu, but he earned his spurs with Marque at Surry Hills, Sydney’s hipster suburb teeming with students, quaint bookshops and restaurants serving food of just about every nationality. He said he started out being a practitioner of contemporary French cuisine (he has worked with the likes of Alain Passard, the reigning god of vegetarian cooking, and Raymond Blanc), but he then chose to be “just Australian” infusing the “multitude of cultures and influences that Australia is famous for. This effortless infusion was evident in the coconut sorbet.
Even as they struggled to come to terms with the fact that October 2, when Best will conduct a Master Class for the Delhi Gourmet Club at Le Cirque, The Leela Palace, Chanakyapuri, will be a ‘dry day’, I asked the chefs about the defining trend in the restaurant business in Australia. “Home-grown, farm-grown produce,” Mark said. “We have a grower who just does carrots, for instance,” Curley added and then mentioned the other big trend: “Ethical sourcing.” It reminded me of the old kitchen adage: Your food tastes as good as the ingredients that go into it. Creative chefs such as Curley and Best have understood this home truth well.

Connoisseurs Vote for Mixed Bag of Winners in Blind Tasting of Indian Wines

By Sourish Bhattacharyya
THE WESTIN at Koregaon Park, Pune, took a bold leap of faith and organised an event called Wines of India this past Sunday to showcase the increasing diversity emerging out of the country’s vineyards. It was a bold leap of faith because our starred hotels treat Indian wines the way they used to dismiss the country’s culinary wealth with utter disdain. It’s almost as if they are embarrassed to operate in a country that also produces wine!
Grover Zampa Vineyards COO Sumedh Singh
Mandla (left) with Subhash Arora, President,
Indian Wine Academy, at the Wines of India
event at The Westin, Koregaon Park, Pune
(Picture: Courtesy of Subhash Arora)

Just like Indian restaurants used to get the worst locations in a starred hotel and tandoors were kept only for making breads and a few standard kebabs, till ITC changed the rules of the game with Bukhara at the Maurya in the 1980s, Indian labels are put right at the end of wine lists, as if our hotels are afraid of owning up to the fact that India also produces wines. Indian wines are not even kept in rooms for guests entitled to the freebie.
It was commendable therefore to see The Westin get wine producers from Maharashtra and Karnataka together at Koregaon Park, Pune, a neighbourhood that has always been associated with an evolved lifestyle, maybe because of its proximity to the Osho Ashram. And when I saw my good friend, Indian Wine Academy President Subhash Arora, head straight to Pune after flying in from Hong Kong, I knew it was an event that was being taken with utmost seriousness by our wine luminaries.
Those invited (about 150 experts and connoisseurs from across the country) to this first-of-its-kind event to be organised by a starred hotel got busy doing some serious blind tasting and rating the wines they were served during the course of the day. In the evening, the same wines were served at a networking dinner where the who’s who of Pune showed up. The wineries that participated in the event were: Sula, Fratelli, Grover Zampa, Four Seasons, Nine Hills, Reveilo, Kiara, Turning Point, Vallonné and York. “We believe that wineries in India today produce some of the world’s best wines,” said Vikas Malik, Regional Director (Food & Beverage), South Asia, Starwood Asia Pacific Hotels & Resorts. “These go very well with the Indian palate and international travellers are also trying out local wines,” Malik added.
Subhash commented later on my Facebook wall that “the methodology left much to be desired. … Winners will make a mistake hanging the results on their walls.” Being a veteran of 35-odd international wine competitions, Subhash may not approve of the idea of a whole lot of people, moving from one counter to another, tasting and judging wines on the rather basic criteria of taste, colour, look and after appeal.
My take on the event is that it was the closest we have come to involving consumers in the exercise of judging the wines they would like to drink. Unless people take ownership of what they consume, we’ll never have a robust wine drinking culture. To quote Dilip Puri, Managing Director (India) and Regional Vice President (South Asia), Starwood Asia Pacific Hotels & Resorts: “Wine tasting sessions are very popular internationally and considering the growing wine market in India, this was a great opportunity to showcase the best wines produced within the country at one common platform and gather feedback that will help us enhance our wine offering to our guests.
The blind tasting results, based on the scores given by the invitees, are out. What I loved about the list of winners and runners-up is that it spills over with surprises, which means no company has attempted to influence the outcome. The spokesperson for The Westin, Koregaon Park, Pune, said the winner wines will be promoted in the hotel for the next three months and if the feedback is good, the event may be repeated in other Starwood hotels as well (The Westin is one of the brands that Starwood operates).
I am sharing the list. Remember, it’s the 2013 vintage, so the reds may still be a bit rough on the edges. A lot of the wines may also not be available in your city, but when you’re out travelling, especially to Mumbai, you can always buy the wine you’re missing.

The winners are:
Chardonnay: Reveilo Chardonnay Reserve (W); Reveilo Chardonnay (R)
Chenin Blanc: Nine Hills Chenin Blanc (W); Reveilo Chenin Blanc (R)
Sauvignon Blanc: Fratelli Sauvignon Blanc (W); Sula Sauvignon Blanc (R)
Sparkling: Zampa Soiree Brut (W); Zampa Soiree Rose Brut (R)
Dessert Wine: Sula Late Harvest Chenin Blanc (W); York Late Harvest Chenin Blanc (R)
Merlot: Vallonné Merlot Reserve (W); Fratelli Merlot (R)
Shiraz: Turning Point Shiraz (W); Sula Rasa Shiraz (R)
Cabernet Sauvignon: Reveilo Cabernet Sauvignon (W); York Cabernet Sauvignon (R)
Cabernet Blend: Grover La Reserva (W); Turning Point Shiraz Cabernet (R)
Rosé: Nine Hills Rosé (W); Vallonné Rosé (R)

Six Indian Restaurants Retain One-Star Rating in Michelin Guide 2014 for UK and Ireland

By Sourish Bhattacharyya
This is the tenth year that Benaras, the
first solo restaurant by Atul Kochhar,
has retained its Michelin one-star rating 

SIX INDIAN restaurants, all in London, have retained their one-star status in the just-released Michelin Guide 2014 for UK and Ireland — none other Indian establishment elsewhere in Europe, in fact, has yet qualified for a Michelin star. These include the self-owned restaurants of the first two Indians to get Michelin stars — Atul Kochhar of Benaras and Vineet Bhatia of Rasoi, both of whom, incidentally, are ex-Oberoi, or XO. Also on the list is Tamarind, the first Indian restaurant in the UK to be bestowed the honour (when its kitchen was presided over by Kochhar). Tamarind is now headed by the ex-ITC Maurya hand, Alfred Prasad, who’s been acclaimed for his fish and seafood preparations.
The other three Indian stars are Amaya Belgravia, which is run by MW Eat Group, the company that owns the historic Veeraswamy, Chutney Mary and the mass-dining Masala Zone restaurants, and is famous for its dramatic show kitchen with live grills; Quilon at Buckingham Gate, the ‘south-west Indian coastal’ restaurant of the ex-Taj star, Aylur Sriram, who gave up his law studies to become a chef and then earn his spurs for his work at the Taj Bangalore restaurant, Karavalli;  and Trishna, the Marylebone  Village outpost of Trishna Mumbai, which got its first Michelin star last September. Delhiites may find the last name interesting, given the way Trishna’s Delhi foray met with an ignominious end opposite the Qutab Minar.
Atul Kochhar was only 31 when he got his first Michelin star in 2001 for Tamarind, where he was head chef, and Benaras, his first solo venture, is now 10 years old. The latest Michelin star must be a sweet tenth birthday gift for Benaras and Kochhar, who now also owns two other Indian restaurants.
It was also in 2001 that Vineet Bhatia, who is two year older than Kochhar, got his first Michelin star for Zaika at Kensington High Street. A year after Kochhar opened Benaras, Bhatia set up Rasoi, which has been winning awards and accolades every year, and has critics eating out of his hand.
The Michelin Guide 2014 has made news this year for the promotion it has given Heston Blumental, whose Fat Duck continues to retain its three stars, for Dinner, which opened at the Mandarin Oriental in Hyde Park in 2011. Dinner has just got its second star and another Blumenthal restaurant, Hinds Head, which like Fat Duck is in the sixteenth-century village of Bray in Berkshire, has one. That makes Blumenthal the fortunate owner of six Michelin stars.
The other restaurant to be upgraded to a two-star rating is The Greenhouse, the Mayfair restaurant run by French chef Arnaud Bignon, but there’s been no new entrant in the elite three-star club, which continues to have Fat Duck, Alain Roux’s The Waterside Inn, also at Bray, Gordon Ramsay at Chelsea and Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester, Mayfair, as its four luminaries. The one-star list has seen a sizeable increase with 15 new names, including Lima, the first Latin American restaurant in the UK and Ireland to get a star.
For Indians, the next big thing will be the elevation of at least one of the one-star restaurants. Till that happens, we still have six good reasons to celebrate.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Samir Kuckreja Re-Elected NRAI Prez in a Year of Challenges and Success

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

SAMIR KUCKREJA, the suave and articulate former CEO and MD of Nirula’s who now runs his own consultancy company, Tasanaya Hospitality, was re-elected president of the National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI) at its 31st annual general meeting (AGM) in New Delhi on Tuesday, September 24.
Samir Kuckreja gets another
term as NRAI president
Manpreet Gulri, Development Agent and Country Head, Subway Systems India, and Riyaaz Amlani, MD, Impresario Entertainment and Hospitality, more famous as the man behind Mocha and Smokehouse Grill, were vice-presidents. Established local restaurateurs Kabir Advani (Berco’s) and Manpreet Singh (Zen and Tao) were voted treasurer and secretary respectively of the national body, which is now in its 31st year, and has 1,200-plus members across 20 cities.
NRAI was in the news for two good reasons this year. The first was its victory in the Delhi High Court, thanks mainly to the persuasive arguments of Lalit Bhasin, in the case that saw the honourable judges uphold the contention that herbal hookahs didn’t come under the purview of the Control of Tobacco Products Act. The second, and in my opinion the more commendable achievement, was the release of the India Food Services Report 2013, which effectively highlighted the economic contributions of the restaurant industry and made the government sit up and take note of the fact.
The report, which was released by Union Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma earlier this year, reported that the contribution made by the restaurant industry to the country’s GDP was almost seven times more than the hotel sector. The industry, whose total turnover is pegged at INR 247,680 crore, is said to be expanding at 11 per cent and is projected to scale to INR 408,040 crore by 2018.
Of this vast pie, the organised segment controls 30 per cent of the business, which works out to INR 67,995 crore, and if it maintains a steady combined average growth rate (CAGR) of 16 per cent, it can reach INR 145,770 crore by 2018. A people intensive industry, restaurants provide direct employment to 5 million people and indirectly provide jobs to another 7-8 million.
That the government has started taking the NRAI as a serious advocacy group is apparent from the trade body’s inclusion as a key partner in an inter-ministerial group set up by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. In Maharashtra, too, the NRAI is represented on the committee that the Chief Secretary has set up to examine various issues raised by the association and to simplify licensing procedures in the state. It has also been working closely with the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI).
Looking ahead, Kuckreja said in an interview with Indian Restaurant Spy that the association will address the “big challenge” of training the frontline staff. The NRAI has tied up with the IL&FS Skills Development Corporation to drive this effort, which is on top of the association’s agenda, apart from growing its membership and opening new chapters (at present, it has active chapters only in Mumbai and Bangalore). “This is important because the issues confronting the industry are largely local,” Kuckreja said, adding that the association will continue to be a leader in government advocacy.
The AGM also elected a new managing committee, which comprises: Ajay Kaul, CEO, Jubilant FoodWorks (Domino’s); Amit Jatia, Vice Chairman, Hardcastle Restaurants (McDonald’s India-West and South); Gaurav Jain, MD, RTC Restaurants India (Ruby Bar and Grill); Jay Singh, Co-Founder and Executive Director, JSM Corporation (Hard Rock Café and Shiro); Monish Gujral, MD, Moti Mahal Deluxe Tandoori Trail; Niren Chaudhary, MD, Yum Restaurants India (Pizza Hut, KFC and Taco Bell); Rahul Singh, Coach and Founder, Beer Café; Rohan Jetley, VP, Bistro Hospitality (TGIF); Sandeep Anand Goyle, CEO, Essex Farms; Sanjay Coutinho, CEO, Baskin Robbins; Santosh Jindal, Director, Jade Garden Restaurant; Sunil Lamba, MD, Kwality Group; Tarsillo Nataloni, Director, Flavors; Vipin Luthra, Chairman & MD, The Palms Town and Country Club; Vyoum Ghai, Director, Suribachi and Buzz.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Masterchef Australia’s George Calombaris Loses 20 Kilos, But Gary Stays Happily Prosperous

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

HOW does it feel when your television show co-host loses 20 kilos and you don’t shed a gram? Masterchef Australia co-host and judge Gary Mehigan talked about his futile battle to lose weight, although his television other half, George Calombaris, has shed 20 kilos by going on a no-alcohol, no-carb diet. “You should see him tasting food on the Masterchef sets,” Gary said with his usual warm and welcoming smile. “The cameraman keeps pleading with him, ‘George, I am not seeing what you are eating. Can you have a bigger portion?’ ”
Gary tried to go on a diet after shooting for Masterchef Australia Season 5, but he has evidently not been very successful. “If George had lost only 5 kilos, I could have tried harder, but I can’t do 20,” he said on the sidelines of a lunch masterminded by him and his executive chef, Dan Schwartz, at Celini, Grand Hyatt Mumbai’s Italian restaurant, for Tourism Victoria. Of course, his broad smile seemed to suggest that he’s not seriously ruing the fact that he hasn’t shed that much weight.
Gary Mehigan (left) now has a
prosperous gut, but his co-host
George Calombaris has shed
20 kilos (Image: Courtesy of
Sharing his Delhi experience last year at our table, which I shared with the well-known publisher, Tariq Ansari of Mid-Day Multimedia, and Nitin Mongia, who runs the boutique hotel CCaza Commodore at Mandwa in fashionable Alibaug, Gary finally shed light on his absence from the side of George when the other half had gone to Chandni Chowk to sample the jalebas of Old & Famous. He had a bout of Delhi belly thanks to the gol gappas that he had a day before. “The coriander water just didn’t agree with me,” he recalled, even as he prepared to hit the streets of Mumbai and sample pav bhaji with NDTV’s Anisha Baig.
When Ansari insisted that Mumbai, like Melbourne, was the food capital of India, Gary couldn’t stop talking about Manish Mehrotra’s menu at Indian Accent. He was bowled over by the spicy tamarind-glazed spare ribs and the gorgonzola naan. He made sounds that expressed his feelings much better than words.
Earlier, speaking at a master class for journalists, who behaved more like fans than stuffy professionals, Gary spoke of his frustrating experience trying to get a paneer masala recipe from his followers on Twitter. Each recipe was so different that he decided to develop one of his own.
He even tried to get some recipes out of Jimmy Seervai, whom you may remember from Masterchef Australia Season 2 (2010), but he turned out to be an “eight curries kind of guy”. Australia is in dire need of a chef who can showcase the best of Indian cuisine and “make a killing”. Gary said Indian restaurants in Australia are still stuck at a time when the first wave of Indian immigration happened more than 30 years ago. “And we don’t know anything about South Indian cuisine,” he said. “Melbourne is a good place for good Indian chefs to go and make a killing.” Gary mentioned how Melbourne chef Adam DeSilva, after a visit to Mumbai a couple of years back for yet another Tourism Victoria event, launched an Indian fusion restaurant named Tonka and got rave reviews for his paani poori! I am sure a lot many of our chefs would jump at Gary’s offer and get Melbourne eating out of their hands.

My next blog post will have the story about the master class that Gary held for journalists.

Getting Ready for a Masterclass with Masterchef’s Gary Mehigan

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

Hosted by Tourism Victoria, Gary Mehigan will be
in Mumbai today to conduct a masterclass for
the media at the Grand Hyatt. Image:
Courtesy of Gary Mehigan's blog
I AM in a state of high excitement because I shall be spending a good part of the day with Gary Mehigan, co-host and judge of Masterchef Australia as well as Melbourne restaurateur, the series that is watched by more people in India than Down Under. Hosted by Tourism Victoria, which naturally would want to showcase the culinary wealth of Melbourne, Gary will conduct a masterclass for the media at Celini, the Italian restaurant at the Grand Hyatt, Mumbai, and then serve lunch to invited guests. Victoria’s Tourism Minister Louise Asher will also be present at the event to showcase her state and its many attractions.
Last year, when Gary and George Calombaris came to Delhi, I spent a day with them, first at a farmhouse cookout, where India’s most famous Aussie, Bill Marchetti, presided over the suckling pig, and then as the host of an appearance they made for their publishers, Penguin Books, at the Landmark at Ambience Mall, Vasant Kunj. They’re easy to get along with and very professional — and they were surprised as their celebrity status in India. “We are learning to get used to it,” Gary had said to me. Well, I am looking forward to another day of seeing Gary get mobbed by women and children, who are his biggest fan, in one of Mumbai’s finest restaurants.

Monday, 23 September 2013

CHENNAI CHRONICLES: This idli is fair and lovely, and well, it flies as well

By Sourish Bhattacharyya
The flying dosa of the ITC Grand Chola's Madras Pavilion
Three of the all-day restaurant's 14 specialty dosas 

The restaurant's colourful dispenser of
filter coffee does a pretty good job of
making the brew do the 'metre dance'
THERE’S nothing like a perfect dosai and idli to give your day that rejuvenating special pep, especially when you’re alone in a city, commuting between your hotel and your place of work. And when the idli is as light as the flying idli at the ITC Grand Chola’s Madras Pavilion, your day won’t get just a special pep, but a very special pep.
It takes a lot of courage on the part of a ‘North Indian’ hotel chain to lay out an elaborate ‘South Indian’ breakfast in a city that swears by its dosai and idli, pongal and thayir sadam. ITC Grand Chola’s Senior Executive Chef Ajit Bangera and his team have taken up the challenge with the seriousness it deserves. It would have been foolish not to do so. A dosa or an idli gone wrong would lead to serious consequences for the majestic hotel.
But the hotel has taken its chances by getting a little playful with its 14 specialty dosas, without compromising the authenticity of the original breakfast item. The fillings of the specialty dosas are as diverse as feather-light scrambled eggs (my personal favourite), or tangy soy nuggets (this dosa was invented for a guest recovering from a throat operation and therefore in need of a high-protein diet), or the sweat-inducing Nellore chillies, or roasted garlic, or even sprouts. Normally, when fillings such as these used, they ooze oil and make the crust soggy. The beauty of these dosas is that their crust doesn’t lose their crispiness despite the unusual fillings.
But the star of the table, without doubt, is the ‘flying idli’ (Philippe Charraudeau’s name for it has been inspired by its lightness!), which is as white as truth and simply melts in the mouth. At the core of the idli is the fragrant, lily-white, short-grained rice known as Ponni, which was developed by the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University in 1986. The lightness of the rice variety carries on to the idli. It also reflects the effort and the care that has gone into the idli. It shows in the recipe that I have added at the end of this post. Try it out at home and see if your idli flies.

Ponni rice, 1 kilo
Urad dal, 300gm
Salt to taste
Soak idli rice and urad dal separately for two hours.
Wash the rice and dal at least six to seven times.
Make sure the idli rice and urad dal appear clean when you add water to them. No milky residue must be left over before you put the two in the grinder.
Grind the urad dal to a very fine paste.
Grind the idli rice to the consistency and texture of semolina.
Mix the two well along with salt.
Let the mixture rest for 12 hours at an ambient temperature of 28-30 degrees Celsius.
Now line the idli tray with a clean cloth and pour over the mixture into the mould.
Steam the idlis for 20 minutes per batch. Serve steaming hot with chutney, podi (‘gunpowder’), ghee and sambhar.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

CHENNAI CHRONICLES: What It Takes For A Restaurant to Top TripAdvisor Rankings

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

HOW DOES a restaurant, which is barely five months old, reach the top of’s Chennai rankings and stay there? When I asked this question to Vikramjit Roy, who was discovered by Vice President (Operations), ITC Hotels, Gautam Anand, at Wasabi in New Delhi and transplanted to ITC Grand Chola in Chennai as leader of the newbie hotel's Pan Asian team, the young chef launched into a long discussion. Then he said something that has stuck in my mind: “We cook with a mother’s love. We have systems and recipes, but our secret ingredient is love.”
Chef Vikramjit Roy explaining to yours truly and Philippe
Charraudeau, Vice President and General Manager, ITC
Grand Chola, how to unveil the seared foie gras from
its orange peel quilt. That was sheer inventiveness. 
It was this past Friday, around 9 p.m., and Pan Asian was abuzz with people. The early-bird Japanese diners had already come and left, yet the restaurant was packed. A prominent family of Gujarati diamond merchants had occupied one long table to celebrate a birthday in the family. And it was hard to find a vacant table at the 176-seater restaurant.
I wondered why and I got my answer in the course of my meal. It was better than what Vikramjit had ever done at Wasabi — and I have maintained that his ‘swansong dinner’ for the Taj, the one he created for the Delhi Gourmet Club and it was attended by Anand, to be in a league of its own. What he laid out for us at on Friday was deserving of a Michelin-star. His team had transformed even the humble fish cake, a common feature of any Thai menu, by hoisting a stopper full of spicy mango puree on top of each. Before eating, you are meant to squeeze the stopper so that the mango puree oozes out into the fish cake, giving it a dramatically different taste profile. Anyone who can do that gets my instant respect. “It’s a complex affair to make a simple dish,” Vikramjit says, and I believe him entirely.
‘Progressive Asian’ is how Vikramjit describes the menu of his restaurant. Each dish is authentic, but it comes with a twist, or, as Vikramjit puts it, with “layers of elements”. The traditional banana blossom salad gets a young and contemporary twist (apart from another texture) when it is made to sit atop wasabi mash. The Sichuan-style crispy prawns arrive on a bed of avocado puree, with a crispy caramelised pineapple on top and ikura (salmon roe) on the side. Eaten together, they tantalise the palate with a bouquet of flavours and taste sensations.
Vikramjit explaining the intricacies of the
tuna (chu-toro, not less!) tataki spiked with soy
salt and served with wasabi mash. Yours truly
is seen with Atul Bhalla of the ITC Grand Chola.
Likewise, the duck carpaccio with a scoop of yuzu (citrus) sorbet on top was a brilliant reinterpretation of duck with orange sauce, an old-world French recipe. The topping not only added another flavour dimension to the carpaccio, but also made the act of eating raw meat more palatable. We see the same inventiveness in the ‘scallop in onion shell’ (the scallop actually comes in a quilt of onion!) and the baked chicken puff pastry, which looks like a miniature wine barrel and has a film of wasabi wrapping the chicken inside: the competing textures and tastes of the puff pastry, wasabi and chicken make it a treat for the palate and a trigger for the mind’s amphetamines.
In my view, it is dim sum chef Raju’s finest piece of work — he has brought back the best from the three months he spent at The Peninsular Beijing to master the art. He has indeed come a long way since he left his home in Pokhara, Nepal. “My entire team of 14 is from Delhi. We have all left our individual comfort zones with the intention to cook from our heart and connect with our guests,” says Vikramjit. Of course, without the support of ITC, which has a tradition of setting food benchmarks in the country, he may not have gone this far.
The IHM-Kolkata graduate (he talks about Sabyasachi ‘Saby’ Gorai as his super senior, so you can imagine how young he is!) was a part of the pre-opening team at threesixtydegrees at The Oberoi New Delhi, has worked under the brilliant Thomas Wee at Empress of China during its heyday at the hotel formerly known as the Parkroyal at Nehru Place, New Delhi, and been exposed to the best of Japan when he went to the Okura in Tokyo for an exposure to the classical hotel’s two Michelin three-star restaurants — Yamazato, which specialises in sushi, and the teppanyaki place named Sazanka.
Pan Asian is an old ITC restaurant brand. Vikramjit has just reinvented it, but he couldn't have done it so effortlessly had he not been at an ITC hotel inspired by the irrepressibly brilliant Gautam Anand. I hope Anand will now make it a national trend-setter like Dakshin. Fortunately, he has a chef we’ll hear a lot about. We have only seen the tip of his creative iceberg.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

DJ Suketu & Sunny Sarid to Herald Ghungroo’s Third Birth Next Week

Sunny Sarid, who has been synonymous
with Ghungroo since 1986, is leading the
team working on the reopening of the
nightclub at WelcomHotel Dwarka.
Image courtesy of
By Sourish Bhattacharyya

SUNNY SARID, a B.Com. student from Chandigarh who used to come to party in Delhi on weekends, took charge of the DJ’s console at Ghungroo in the most unusual circumstances in 1986. Bill Bhattacharya, the then DJ of India’s most happening nightspot at the ITC Maurya, had not reported for duty and seemed to have disappeared from mother earth. Ghungroo’s captain, P.K. Mehta, who used to play the same ‘slow numbers’ for ‘close dances’ between 1:30 and 2 a.m. every night, was in a cold sweat. So, when he saw Sunny sauntering into the discotheque, he put him on the job that would define the life of the country’s best-known deejay at a time when the clubbing culture was in its infancy.
Today, 27 years on, Sunny Sarid is working overtime to get the rejuvenated Ghungroo up and running for its third life at the WelcomHotel Dwarka (its second was as a part of Dublin, Ghungroo’s successor at the ITC Maurya). The split-level nightclub, which will have a mix of Bollywood and international numbers belting out of its sound system set up by the UK-based company OHM, will open with a performance by DJ Suketu next week (the formal announcement will be brought to you soon by IRS a.k.a. Indian Restaurant Spy). The following night will see Sunny Sarid, the man who took the leap of faith and put Bollywood and Punjabi pop on the nightclub’s playlist at a time when it was considered blasphemy, in action behind the console designed by Pioneer, the leading company in the business. The other big features of the new Ghungroo are the laser displays and colourwash lighting, which will make the walls awash with changing colours.
The old Ghungroo opened in 1978 with a woman DJ from UK, who played for eight months and left after passing the mantle on to Field Marshal K.M. (‘Kim’) Cariappa’s daughter, Nalini. Bill Bhattacharya took over from Nalini Cariappa around 1981, after she went to Madikeri, the picture-perfect hill station in Coorg, where the Field Marshal had built his home named Roshanara in 1944, to be with her father. It was from Bill that Sunny Sarid picked up the basics of mixing at a time when DJs were looked upon as oddities — Bill was only too happy to let Sunny play whenever he wanted to take a break or have a smoke. Last heard, and that was in 1989-90, Bill was a manager heading a couple of McDonald’s stores in the U.K.
It was Sunny Sarid that defined Ghungroo, which became an essential part of the rites of passage for the generation of Delhiites now in its late 40s and early 50s. Unsurprisingly, there was an outpouring of nostalgia when Ghungroo shut down in 2001 with a who’s who party at Kamal Mahal, ITC Maurya’s banquet hall, which I still remember for the dazzling display of lasers accompanying Sunny’s music. The dress code was ‘Bohemian’ and Delhi’s A-List made it a point to show up in it that night.
It’s impossible to imagine Ghungroo without Sunny Sarid. As he told me nostalgically, “Anywhere in the world, from Toronto to Hong Kong, and most recently on a bus in Turkey, I invariably bump into someone who recognises me from Ghungroo.” Will Ghungroo ever be able to relive those glory days? Clubbing action, Sunny said, has moved to neighbourhoods today because people have become careful about not driving home from distant discotheques after imbibing alcohol. The new Ghungroo may not get back the old crowd, but it certainly promises to be West Delhi’s hippest hangout zone — an aspirational watering hole for trendy youngsters with the spending power to live their dream.

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Friday, 20 September 2013

CHENNAI CHRONICLES: Gastronomic Tour of Five States in One Meal at Cafe Mercara Express

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

Cafe Mercara Express at the ITC Grand Chola has the look
of an opulent gentlemen's club, but its jukebox, milk shakes
bar and eclectic menu set it apart from the competition
A WINE, it is said, is as good as the intention that goes into making it. The word ‘grand’ in ITC Grand Chola, Chennai, expresses one such lofty intention — the intention to be bigger and better than the competition. Being bigger is the least of all challenges — it’s the job a builder of buildings can accomplish with the help of an architect’s drawings. Being better is what sets apart builders of institutions.
I will have plenty of opportunities to discuss the architectural marvels of the ITC Grand Chola, but I must begin with my impressions of Café Mercara Express, where I had a grand lunch in the company of the hotel’s Vice President and General Manager, Philippe H. Charraudeau, Atul Bhalla, who has moved to Chennai after serving as General Manager, ITC Windsor, Bangalore, and my dear friend, Richa Sharma, who’s the General Manager, Media Relations, ITC Hotels.
We conversed like old friends, with Charraudeau, Atul and I exchanging notes on Dubai — Bhalla had worked in Dubai in 1994-95, Charraudeau was at the Burj al-Arab in the early 2000s (he still remembers a young Rishi Raj Singh, now the F&B chief of ITC Maurya, as a newbie at Dubai’s landmark hotel) and I had been to the emirate with my Delhi Gourmet Club co-founder, Atul Sikand, to attend Gulfood 2013 in February. As our conversation at Café Mercara Express, the 24-hour restaurant that looks more like a fashionable gentleman’s club, veered from Chennai and Dubai, lubricated by a Gewurtztraminer from Chateau Ste Michelle at Columbia Valley in Washington, USA, selected by Wine & Beverages Manager Shaariq Akhtar, the food just kept coming in, wowing us with every bite.
Mercara is the old name of the lush green hill station now called Madikeri, and like the place it has been inspired by, the 24-hour restaurant has a languid pace. You can be there for hours and not know how time has gone by. Its tables have amusing decorative pieces with multi-coloured frolicking cows (including one splayed like a pasha in a tub spilling over with chocolate). That’s because this is one restaurant that takes its milk shakes seriously. But we weren’t there to have milk shakes. Our meal had a representative dish from each of the five southern states — and what a treat it was!
We started with the Madras Fried Chicken (juicy, slightly hot and deliciously reminiscent of Chicken 65) and Meen Varuval, or griddle-fried kingfish marinated lightly with red chilli, lemon juice, ginger and garlic (a delicately flavoured beauty). With the two getting our gastric juices racing, we couldn’t just wait to have the Mangalorean fish curry (gassi) that arrived on a bed of rice-batter string hoppers (idiappam). Believe me, I have not had a better gassi in a long time — not that you get anything half-way decent in Delhi, not even at Swagath.
Immediately after the gassi, Shaariq produced a 2008 E. Guigal Crozes Hermitage from the Rhone Valley — this plump red wine, critics say, is getting better with age; it’s certainly great value for money. Its peppery notes and spicy nose were just right for the trio of dishes that followed — Chemeen Mapas, prawns in a luscious coconut milk and green chilli curry from Kerala, which I couldn’t stop licking; Venchina Mamsam, the dry lamb preparation from Andhra Pradesh, which left a sweet and tangy aftertaste because of the caramelised onions; and the Keeral Kootu, a silken urad dal with spinach.
The wine danced with the food, but then came the surprise of the meal — a Indochine liqueur from Domaine de Canton prepared from baby Vietnamese ginger. It was a palate cleanser, Shaariq informed us. Well, it certainly set us in the right frame of mind for the divine Elaneer Payasam (sweetened coconut milk simmered with pods of cardamom). And for the evening, which promises to be even better (if it’s possible!). You’ll have to read my next blog post to find out about it.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Ex-Wasabi Chef to Roll Out Sushi-Sashimi at ITC WelcomHotel Dwarka’s Shanghai Club

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

Shanghai Club has opened at the ITC WelcomHotel, Dwarka
AFTER the successful opening of the notches-above-the-rest kebabs and curries restaurant, K&K, at the ITC WelcomHotel Dwarka, it’s the turn of Shanghai Club — and it will be different from the original at the ITC Grand Central at Lower Parel, Mumbai, in one important respect. It will also serve sushi and sashimi prepared by a gifted young chef who, the Indian Restaurant Spy has learnt, has migrated from Wasabi by Morimoto at The Taj Mahal Hotel, Mansingh Road, New Delhi.
That’s the second big ‘transfer’, to use Premiership League football lingo, from Wasabi — the first being the extremely talented Vikramjit Roy, who has catapulted the Pan Asian at the ITC Grand Chola, Chennai, to TripAdvisor’s No. 1 (out of 675 restaurants in Chennai). It has an overall rating of 4.5/5. Now, that’s a headline-making coup for a newbie in a city dominated by established heavy hitters, from the ITC’s very own Dakshin and Raintree to Annalakshmi and Hip Asia.
Coming back to Shanghai Club, I am told that the restaurant will serve good, old-fashioned Chinese food. Are we, then, going to see the return of the glory days of Bali Hi, which under Master Chef Liang used to rock the rooftop of the ITC Maurya? Your hard-working spy will have the inside story soon.
The big anticipated opening at the Dwarka hotel, though, is Ghungroo, which is set to return with a music menu being put together by the man synonymous with the nightclub — Sunny Sarid. With the Dwarka Vivanta by Taj, which has been placed under the charge of Anil Malhotra, who was till recently the general manager of Taj Chandigarh, on the road to completion in the next eight months, the ITC WelcomHotel is seriously turning on the heat. But before you bring out your dancing shoes, check out the Shanghai Club.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Indigo Delhi Opening to be a Part of Urban Renewal Project Across Hyatt

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

A PATCH of land across the road from the Capital’s Hyatt Regency hotel, skirting a busy road that’s called Africa Avenue, overlooking an old colony of government officials (where yours truly grew up, is transforming into a retail and entertainment zone where Rahul Akerkar’s celebrated Colaba restaurant, Indigo, will have its first outpost in Delhi.
Heritage real estate developer and chartered accountant Sanjeev Batra, who gave the cowlands of Mehrauli a new chic identity by turning around the stables of an old haveli into a restaurant space where Delhi’s first Olive Bar & Kitchen opened about a decade ago (and blueFrog more recently), acquired the patch of land from the Delhi Government about four years ago. Overlooking the busy Ring Road and Bhikaji Cama Place business district, it was a meeting point of anti-socials, with an open drain on one side, a sleepy Coffee Home run by the Government of Delhi-NCT not far from it and a beehive of car workshops behind it. It took Batra months to clear the area, but with the firm back of the Delhi Government and civic agencies, he was able to turn it around.
That was the project’s first phase. Batra had envisaged it as a recreated heritage zone, but then came his son, Samegh, after his higher studies abroad (University of Essex, UK) and turned the idea around to make it a contemporary space for young people to hang out. Apart from Indigo, the space will have fashion retail and handicrafts outlets, a performance area for art, fashion, theatre and music, and a park where families will be encouraged to have Sunday picnics with food hampers provided by Indigo and carts operated by the restaurant will sell hot dogs. There will also be a 200ft blackboard on the boundary wall for children to doodle on.
Rahul Akerkar makes his first foray outside Mumbai since
he opened his Colaba restaurant in 1999.
Image: Courtesy of
“We want to create a space for citizens to savour the open-air pleasures that we enjoyed as children before the mall culture overtook the city,” says Sanjeev Batra. “The project will set the pace for the proper use of public spaces and the government has really backed us on it.” Samegh, his son, is the Managing Director of the House of Sunrydge, the company steering this urban renewal project.
Sharing his vision for Indigo Delhi, Rahul Akerkar, the man who opened the widely acclaimed restaurant in Mumbai in 1999, says in a media release: “Just as in Mumbai, Indigo in New Delhi  will be a ‘back-to-basics’ address that will serve up eclectic modern European fare, coupled with an expansive bar and a private dining section.”
Sanjeev Batra at his first development,
One Style Mile, Mehrauli, where Olive
Bar & Kitchen opened a decade ago

On his food, says the self-taught chef and entrepreneur, who got bitten by the restaurateur’s bug when he was dishwashing at a French bistro to pay his way through college in the U.S.: “The food is fundamentally ingredient-driven and contemporary in construction with strong and distinct flavours, with Indian and Asian influences.” Olive Bar and Kitchen loosened up the city’s stuffy dining culture when it opened at One Style Mile, Mehrauli. Indigo will complete this process of transformation.
Significantly, Indigo’s Rahul Akerkar and Olive’s AD Singh were once working together, running Just Desserts many moons ago in Mumbai, where Akerkar met his wife Malini. They have since gone their own ways, but now, they are in one city, so look out for the wheels of change working overtime.

Brindco’s Aman Dhall Only Indian on Paris Match Who’s Who of Wine

By Sourish Bhattacharyya
Aman Dhall (left) is seen with Bernard de Laage de Meux,
visiting director of Bordeaux's acclaimed wine house,
Chateau Palmer, at a recent wine dinner hosted by his
company, Brindco, at the Indian fine-dining restaurant,
Dum Pukht, at ITC Maurya. Photo by Subhash Arora,
Editor, delWine, and President, Indian Wine Academy  

AMAN DHALL is acknowledged, even by his business rivals, as the emperor of the wine business in India. When the Modernite with the right degrees from Boston University and now Stanford tentatively launched Brindco International at the turn of the millennium, with a wine list that would make him laugh today (I remember Aman trying to talk me into believing that an American plonk named Franzia was the best in the world!), he was taking on the might of Mumbai’s Sanjay Menon, whose Sonarys Co Brands was the leading wine importer with all the prestige brands in its portfolio.
It’s been 13 years since the day I met a very respectful Aman at The Imperial’s coffee shop, only because the French Embassy had organised a junket for columnist and former editor Malavika Sangghvi, pastry chef and BBC2 cookery show host Roopa Gulati and me to visit vineyards across France. Today, Aman is the unchallenged leader of a market that is crowded with small and big importers.
He has worked very hard to grow the business, not only for himself, but also for the industry, and it has given him his market leadership position. There was a time when Aman and I have been kept waiting outside the offices of the top honchos of Bordeaux, despite calls made in advance by our influential mutual friend Mark Walford, and then cursorily taken on a winery tour by their minions. Today, the same honchos are falling over each other to stay on Aman’s prized portfolio.
I have been waiting for Aman to find his place in the wine sun. He has finally found it in the Wine Who’s Who published in its latest edition by the influential French magazine, Paris Match.  Aman is the only Indian on the star-studded list and he stands out in the group picture, which we will publish shortly, with his trademark white turban. He’s in fact in the company of the guardian angels of many of the prestige wines he imports.
The wine world stars sharing the spotlight with Aman are mostly from France, as would be expected from a who’s who prepared by a proudly French magazine. Some of the others featured on the list are: Marcel Guigal of the Rhone Valley wine house that bears his family name; Corinne Mentzelopoulos of Chateau Margaux; Philippe Sereys de Rothschild of Chateau Mouton Rothschild; the famous flying winemaker Michel Rolland (who’s better known in India for his association with Grover Vineyards); Pierre Lurton of Cheval Blanc and Chateau d’Yquem; Pierre-Henri Gagey (Louis Jadot) and Olivier Bernard (Domaine de Chevalier), presidents of the unions of wine producers of Burgundy and Bordeaux respectively; Melanie Tesseron of Chateau Pontet Canet; Christian Lopez of Chile’s top-selling wine, Vina Concha y Toro; Jean-Michel Cazes, boss of Pauillac’s Chateau Lynch Bages; Patrice Noyelle of Winston Churchill’s favourite bubbles, Pol Roger; and Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger of the champagne bearing his family’s name (and which Vijay Mallya bid for, only to be rebuffed by the French government).
Finding a place on this privileged list is not easy. Aman has got it because the wine world looks up to him as the key to the Indian market.