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In India, people eat four meals a day, said Vikram Garg, executive chef of the Halekulani, who was born and raised in India.
“Breakfast is eaten early, lunch is served by noon and in the evening there’s a huge culture of going out and eating. Then there’s a late-night supper,” he said.
All this chowing down has created a long tradition of street food, presented at open stands that offer one or two quick-prep items, ideal for snacking, a grab-and-go lunch for a busy businessman, or that late supper. These are the specialty of the cook, who’s often executing a family recipe passed down generationally, or after apprenticing with a master cook.
Amazingly, “nothing is written down,” said Garg. “In fact, many of these cooks don’t read or write.”
The chef is presenting some of those delicious morsels — from kebabs and chaat to vindaloo and uttapam (see the sidebar for descriptions) of various regions of India— at a benefit dinner Jan. 31 for the Hawaii Culinary Education Foundation. The grazing dinner, with separate food stations offering dishes, will reflect the concept of street food in India.
Garg, 45, spent some 20 years creating gourmet food across the globe, in such locales as Dubai and the Caribbean as well as both coasts of the U.S., before arriving in Hawaii. Yet he is not formally trained in Indian cooking.
“There is no school in the world that teaches Indian cuisine,” he said. After training to become a chef, “in Indian kitchens I cooked French cuisine.”
In contrast, with no recipes to guide a student, learning to cook Indian food means paying close attention, with both eyes and taste buds. “You learn by technique and tasting. You watch and taste and taste,” said Garg.
A steep level of knowledge of spices is required for the successful Indian cook, from quality and varieties of individual spices to blending them. This involves particular proportions and cooking temperatures to achieve specific scents, flavors and textures.
“It’s like choosing a perfume and how it interacts with your body chemistry,” said the chef. “It’s about how the mixed spices interact with your palate.”
The operative word here is balance.
“There’s a misconception that Indian food is spicy. It is, sometimes, but it still must be balanced. The tongue should be able to taste each spice,” he said. “It’s not about the heat, but about the nose and the palate.” Read More >>