Wondering which dessert it is in the image above? Hold your breath…its coconut espuma and coconut sorbet topped with coconut crisps. Yes…a white dessert made entirely from coconuts. And it’s an absolute chilled creamy delight. We relished dollops of it at the end of our meal, but we could never imagine how the team behind it could innovate and turnaround as bland an ingredient as a coconut.
This tropical fruit is highly popular in the subcontinent and in South East Asia. In Southern India, coconuts are available in plenty and used lavishly in spicy curries, mild gravies and delectable festive desserts. But the humble coconut is never really used in its entirety. It’s either the soft and succulent flesh, or the divine water, or the creamy milk or its crunchy shavings that are mostly used. But for this white dessert, everything from the milk, flesh, water to the desiccated shavings was utilised to the fullest. As we dug deep into its rich whiteness, we could feel the purity of the coconut in each bite of the sorbet, each swirl of the espuma and in the crunchiness of the crisps. The addition of the right dose of sugar, cream and eggs did enhance its velvety appeal and presented us an experience which we were yet to cherish in our gourmand journeys. As we licked the dessert off the plate, we encountered the enquiring eyes of Chef Hari Nayak. Although based in New York City, Chef Nayak was on a brief visit to Bangalore, and we were at Alchemy, his one-year-old chic, rooftop restaurant at the Chancery Pavilion in the city’s CBD. Somewhat reading our thoughts on this coconuty dessert, Chef replied, “We pay homage to what is local and use techniques that are contemporary to create newer dishes.’’
Chef Nayak is the brain behind Alchemy, as he is with restaurants spread as far away as Dubai and NYC. He loves working and experimenting with Indian cuisine and ingredients and giving them utterly unique twists with a dash of global ingredients.
Before we relished the white dessert, which Chef named ‘Nuts over Coconuts’, we were taken on a cheerful gastronomic journey which started with fish kebabs. Although kebabs are ubiquitous in Indian restaurants, these were different. The inclusion of kaffir lime, a citrusy fruit native to South East Asia and China, had lent the kebabs a subtly sour taste. The sublime flavour of the fish kebab was soon washed off our palates with the spicier chicken sukka bulgogi, served in mini appam cups. ‘Sukka’ is a classic blend from India’s western coasts, consisting of spices, coconut and red bydagi or Guntur chillies. But in this dish, Chef had used fermented Korean chillies instead! And the chicken sukka was fabulous, as the fierceness of the spices and chillies went especially well with the mild and soft appams, a type of crepe. The table was laid richly with a variety of Chef’s creations, amongst them the spanakopita, a Greek filo pastry stuffed with spinach, cheese and Indian cottage cheese…something like the ever-present Indian samosas; and the kulchas or Indian breads stuffed with chicken and green peas. While each presentation was delightful, we couldn’t help but ask Chef his take on fusion food.
“I’ve no problem with fusion. What is fusion today becomes a part of the staple diet tomorrow.” And we couldn’t agree more to this as we thought of the chillies, potatoes, tomatoes and many more products which are today essential in Indian kitchens, but were once considered ‘foreign’.