Monday, 10 October 2011

Sodexo's International Flavours Make Their Way onto Campus: a Northern Indian Lunch

For some reason or another, it seems that food has recently taken on an evolutionary meaning for the Denison community. From searching for locally sourced ingredients to artistically representing sectors of the food industry and opportunities for food and culture programming (such as my farm to table cooking class in two weeks) as a direct correlation to our campus-wide theme of "Migrations," the interrogation and study of food seems to have been welcomed to Denison's table. This wonderful trend continued this past weekend with the arrival of Executive Chef Sathish Kumar who shared traditional preparation techniques with the cook staff over the weekend and is also on campus to direct the preparation of two authentic Indian meals for the campus community. In addition, Chef Sathish was available to meet students, faculty, and staff at the first of two Indian meals today for lunch, and naturally I had to meet him in person.

In my brief conversation with Chef Sathish and General Manager of Dining Services at Denison Niles Gebele, it was very clear to me how passionate and aware each of them are when it comes to food, foodways, and the necessity for culinary adaptability. In a very clear way, Sodexo's Global Chef program not only helps to translate and promote cross-cultural culinary awareness and practice, but further emphasizes the migratory and transnational experience of food. Truly, food brings an opportunity for everyone to gather at the table. This being said, it is no surprise that the migration of techniques and ingredients poses challenges to creating the "authentic" experience; indeed, intelligent global cuisine--including this meal--must adapt to the constraints of the culture in which it is being introduced. At the forefront of these constraints are the availability of ingredients; while he had initially brought spices from India, a series of events brought Chef Sathish to an Indian specialty store to seek out the spices he needed. Moreover, while techniques may be transferable, logistical constraints such as cooking vessels (such as heating and cooking food in clay pots versus in an oven) also impact one's sense of authenticity. This isn't anything new, as evidenced in my search for Filipino food or even in trying to learn and teach traditions often guarded by elders.

For lunch today, two proteins were made available, the first being Murgh Malai Tikka (char-grilled chicken marinated in yoghurt, cheese and cream with a hint of cardamom). Great flavour on the exterior, the drier interior is very well supplemented by an Indian mint sauce and mango chutney.

Both sauces were equally delicious with Fish Amritsari (tangy fish fillets deep-fried in a spiced chickpea flour batter). While I don't claim to be entirely knowledgeable about seafood, I found the flaky interior with a slight crunch to be fish done right.

Typically, roasted vegetables are good and preserve flavour, but today's Tava Subzi (curry stewed vegetables) did the same thing while allowing for Indian spices to add depth and warmth to the dish.

For the day's starch, Chef Sathish and the Denison cook staff presented Vegetable Pulao (basmati rice with vegetables) which was absolutely wonderful, especially with the cucumber raita. It's not very often that I find great cafeteria rice.

And if all this wasn't enough, we were also presented with Tamatar Dhaniya Shorba (a tomato and coriander-flavoured soup, tempered with spices).

Alas, for me one thing trumped all the other courses... dessert! Gajar ka Halwa (a traditional dessert from the North– grated carrots cooked with milk and dry fruit) was a complete standout (second to the combination of the chicken and mango chutney). The warm cooked carrots, dry fruit, and almonds, served with roasted cashew and a cool cinnamon ice cream, were all extremely well-balanced and refreshing while also being very comforting. And yes, it was definitely worth a second helping. With lunch being so great today, I cannot wait for the food Denison's Dining Services has planned with Chef Sathish tomorrow evening!

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