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Cooking up a storm

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TT Bureau   |   Published 06.07.08, 12:00 AM

Chef Javvaji is open to ideas and is
meticulous about detail

I first met Chef Ramesh Javvaji a couple of years ago. We were sitting at the teppanyaki bar at ITC Sonar in Calcutta, and eating and discussing food. I noticed that even while he kept talking about his Epicurean experiences in various parts of the world, he kept an eye and ear on the functioning of the hotel’s many restaurants. A whisper here, and a waiter would come scurrying; a quiet call on his mobile, and a guest’s problems would be solved.

But then, when you are the executive chef of a top hotel, you are expected to be in many places all at once. I enjoyed my talk with him — and returned to Delhi richer by a friend. Since then, I have met him a couple of times, and have had numerous telephonic conversations as well.

And I have always found Chef Javvaji open to ideas, meticulous about detail — and quite an imaginative master chef.

Javvaji, surprisingly, is a Canadian citizen. He went there after a hotel industry colleague urged Javvaji to join him in the North American country. He has organised food festivals in the United States as well.

Roasted banana ice cream with warm peanut butter sauce

That would explain his fondness for not just Canadian food, but also the Creole and Cajun cuisine of the southern American state of Louisiana. I too have long cherished an interest in Cajun and Creole food. The food has strong French influences, for the settlers were descendants of the French Acadians.

Chef Javvaji loves to use Cajun spices and seasonings — a mix of cayenne pepper, white pepper, black pepper, pap-rika, onion powder and garlic powder, sometimes seasoned with thyme, sweet basil and a bay leaf.

So I was not the least bit surprised when he gave me the recipe (six servings) for a great shrimp dish cooked with Cajun spices. Called Macadamia crusted shrimp with warm salsa, this is an easy recipe to follow — and one that promises great results. The chef holds that the fresh, fruity flavour of the warm tropical salsa makes a “spectacular pairing” with the crusty shrimp.

I would suggest that you start with the warm salsa. Take ½ cup orange marmalade, 1tbs fresh lime juice, 1tbs orange juice, 1tsp horseradish, 1tsp Dijon mustard, 1 cup diced pineapple (drained), 1tbs finely chopped fresh coriander. For four minutes or so, cook the first five ingredients in a small saucepan over medium-low heat.

Transfer it to a food processor, and blend for a few seconds, or until smooth. Put the mixture in a saucepan, and add mango, pineapple and coriander leaves. Keep it warm.

Macadamia crusted shrimp with warm salsa

Now, take 500gm unpeeled uncooked fresh shrimp, ½ cup all-purpose flour, ¼tsp coarsely ground black pepper, ¼tsp Cajun seasoning, ¾tsp salt, the white of 2 eggs, 1 cup grated coconut, one cup finely chopped Macadamia nuts, ½ cup breadcrumbs and vegetable oil. Peel the shrimps, de-vein and leave the tails on. Stir together flour, the black pepper, Cajun seasoning, and ¼tsp salt in a dish. Whisk the egg whites in a bowl until slightly foamy.

In a shallow dish, stir together coconut, Macadamia nuts and breadcrumbs. Dredge the shrimp in the flour mixture and dip in egg whites. Dredge in coconut mixture, pressing the coconut mixture onto a large baking sheet. Fry the shrimps for a minute or two, until golden brown. Drain, and sprinkle some salt on the hot shrimp. If you don’t get Macadamia nuts, I would suggest you use any other kind of nuts — even peanuts would taste good.

Your dish is ready — now place the warm tropical salsa in a serving bowl, and place the bowl in the centre of a serving dish, arrange the shrimp around the salsa — and serve warm.

Porcini mushroom tortellini with wilted greens

You’d think Javvaji was a born chef. Actually, he wasn’t. His father, he tells me, wanted him to become a doctor. But his brother insisted that he join hotel management. He did his BSc from Loyola College in Chennai, and after graduating in 1973, completed a hotel management diploma in 1976.

Chef Javvaji has often shared his recipes with our readers. He has a great formula for a roasted banana ice cream with warm peanut butter sauce. I am going to divulge this recipe in couple of weeks when I tell you everything that you wanted to know about the banana but were afraid to ask. He makes delicious buttermilk biscuits, and is rightly proud of his porcini mushroom tortelloni with wilted greens.

Prepare the tortelloni — that is by putting it in boiling water and draining it when it’s al dente. Cook bacon strips until crisp. Keep 1tbs of the drippings in the skillet, and sauté onions till tender.

Chocolate chimichanga with frosted berry

Add some white wine and balsamic vinegar to it. Now pour in some chicken broth, add peas, tomatoes, and tortelloni. Cook for a few minutes. Serve over salad greens, with grated Parmesan cheese on top.

But of course, like all chefs, Javvaji — born in Bangalore and raised in Chennai — likes home-cooked food and nothing gives him more pleasure than simple, south Indian fare. And I don’t think he wields the karchi at home — his wife, Jasmine, his former colleague in housekeeping — is the executive chef at home.

Chef Javvaji has pretty much seen the changing face of India’s food-dom. He was there at the Shatranj restaurant at Delhi’s Maurya when it turned to Dum Pukht in the Eighties. And his list of accomplishments and awards is almost as long as the Golden Quadrilateral. What’s not known is that he holds a private pilot’s licence. I always knew that the chef would fly!

Watermelon tomato sorbet

Ingredients

• 5 cups watermelon chunks • 1 cup sugar ¼tsp salt l6 ripe and large tomatoes, quartered • 2tbs fresh lemon juice • Salt (optional)

Method

Put the watermelon, sugar and salt in a big bowl. Strain the tomato through a wire mesh strainer,

extracting some three cups of tomato juice. Discard the pulp. Take half the tomato juice and half watermelon mixture and blend till smooth. Repeat with the remaining tomato juice and watermelon. Add the lemon juice. Put in the freezer till it sets. Scoop out and sprinkle each serving with salt.



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