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Delhi Wine Club
Exec Chef Sandeep Kalra of Trident

Posted: Friday, 26 July 2013 17:31

Star Interview: Exec Chef Sandeep Kalra of Trident

July 26: We enjoyed a 7-course dinner of the Delhi Wine Club at the Cilantro at Hotel Trident, Gurgaon with wines from Tyrell’s (Australia), Champy (Burgundy) and Ta Mata (New Zealand) last Friday when we had the pleasure of tasting the hospitality extended by EAM Rohit Das Gupta and his team and the culinary skills of Chef Sandeep Kalra, write the foodies of the club Anil and Renu Malhotra

Photos By:: Adil Arora

Click For Large ViewWe were warmly welcomed by Exec. Chef Sandeep Kalra, whose quiet, self assured and yet polite and dignified demeanour was an immediate and ample testimony to the old world, blue-blooded hotelier charm of a Taj, Imperial and Oberoi hotel thrice trained and pedigreed product.

Spanning 17 years, Chef Kalra's career has thus far been a quest for knowledge and experience in his field of gourmet cuisines, whether Italian, French, Spanish or  Garde - Manger Cuisines that require complex marination, sauces, garnishing and presentation skill.

Armed with a diploma in Hotel Management, Catering Technology and Applied Nutrition from IHMT Delhi, Sandeep took off straight into the skies with the Taj group of hotels in 1995 in its flight catering and landed into the seas a year later, in Miami on cruise liners as Chef de partie taking care of Hotel Gallay's dining hall.

He says that this was followed by a stint at the Imperial in Delhi with a team of qualified Chef-de- Parties and cooks, where he was instrumental in setting up a fine dining Italian restaurant in January 2001. He started from the very scratch - from planning the menu, kitchen structure, selecting equipment to organising the kitchen and décor of the restaurant. Today, San Gimignano stands as a very popular and highly rated fine dining Italian restaurant in India with the best saffron risotto with porcini mushrooms!

In 2002, when Sandeep took over as Senior Executive Chef of the Oberoi hotel in Delhi he was responsible for drawing up a new menu for their French fine dining restaurant 'La Rochelle', which took him and his team four painstaking months to complete and resulted in “La Rochelle” being recognised for delivering the finest food in a fine dining restaurant, securing a rare 9 out of 10 on cuisine score by HT.

With several awards in his pocket, Chef Sandeep has toured the world in his quest to acquire a wholesome knowledge in his field right from Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong and Singapore to other South East Asian Countries. He stayed at the finest hotels and dined at the most acclaimed restaurants to observe the International standards in Food and Beverage viz. service standards, food presentation styles, buffet set-up and layout, in-room amenities, restaurant designing and themes, menu designing and compilation etc.

"The aesthetics of the ambience and the flavours and smells come from giving attention to fine details and this more often than not can be achieved through dedicated observation and a sincere interest in learning about the product," says Chef Kalra.” Little wonder that with an attitude like that he played an instrumental role in the opening of the new 160-cover all-day dining restaurant Threesixty°, serving international cuisine. The restaurant has gone on to win several accolades.

Click For Large ViewHe has had extensive culinary exposure with a number of renowned Michelin star chefs in Belgium, Holland, France and Italy. He worked with 3-Michelin Star Chef Christian Denis, owner of Clos St Denis at Kortessem in Belgium, a traditional French restaurant where he picked up his finer taste for the oh-so succulent and delicate French food. With 2- Michelin Star Chef Yves Mattagne at Radisson SAS in Brussels in “Sea Grill” he found doors opened into a new world of modern packaging and presentation of culinary delights. He also trained at the kitchen of Louis XV, run by the legendary 3-Michelin Star Chef Allan Ducasse at “Hotel de Paris” in Monaco and found it a complete eye-opener to the new-age operating procedure behind the scenes.

Sandeep's strengths in various essential nuances of the hotel F&B industry, like designing, planning and pricing new menus, standardising production recipes to ensure quality, establishing presentation techniques and also ensuring discipline and enhancing staff performance has earned him his present position of Executive Chef at The Trident, Gurgaon where he is responsible for Cilantro - all day dining, Saffron the Indian Restaurant, Konomi the Japanese restaurant and The Bar and Pool Bar.

We were served the Tyrell’s bubbly with hors d'oeuvre that tasted even better with the accompaniment of live and serene music on flute in the background. The spinach quiche was very appealing, the right balance of fillings, creamy and flavorful inside and nicely crusty outside. Fish fingers were excellent when crispy and fresh. Meatballs were delicious but a little drippy and not bound firmly enough on the inside to hold on to the toothpicks - one even flew off the plate!

At Cilantro, once you pass the superb water body outside the double-height doors, you're in another world altogether, experiencing a sort of relaxed, lazy and friendly elegance. As we took our seats on two long tables laid out in front of us with high backed chairs, we felt the tingling of anticipation of the feast we were about to partake!

Click For Large ViewThe first surprise turned out to be the humble bread that I would not even give a second glance in any other establishment; but Sandeep’s basket included a bunch of interesting looking, differently shaped breads in different shades of baked brown colours. It included corn bread which actually tasted like cake, a twisted roll of potatoes and rosemary stuffing, some freshly baked focaccia and the thinnest and finest ever soup stick I have ever come across. I munched happily at all the goodies in the basket, fearing with each bite that I may not have any space in my stomach to actually enjoy the courses that were to follow - though that did not put a stop to my actions!

The first course, inspired by Gordon Ramsay, was a pave of watermelon marinated with sun-dried tomatoes along with rocket leaves and feta foam. To get the freshest sundried tomatoes, fresh tomatoes were marinated overnight with aged balsamic, extra virgin olive oil, sea salt and cracked black pepper and then left to dry under the sun for 3 days.

‘This slow drying process gives the tomatoes a distinctive natural sweetness and intensifies their flavour. They are then crushed and emulsified with vinegar and olive oil to prepare vinaigrette for the salad. Feta foam is the real froth collected by emulsifying Greek feta cheese with warm water. The process is quite a trick-the emulsified water is heated to 53°C and then foamed with a blister with some soy lecithin. This foam is then collected and quickly decorated on the salad and plate just at the time of serving,’ explained Sandeep. The pine nuts sprinkled over the salad completed the visual and gourmet effect of the cool salad done to perfection!

This was followed by the delicious and creamy Lemon and Mint sorbet; it had the most unusual and distinctive flavour, nostalgic and reminiscent of the original Wrigley’s chewing gum that we all enjoyed in our childhood! As my friend next to me on the table said - only this time you are allowed to swallow your chewing gum!

The interesting fact was that Sandeep's sorbets were creamy rather than being icy. The trick lies, he says, ‘in the cooking point of sugar and the churning of the sorbet. It is aerated in between and that voids the ice crystals formation. Plenty of homemade mint clear extract is then added to the sorbet mix to get a brilliant white sorbet rather than green.’ Confit of sweetened orange zest on top of the sorbet worked like magic with the mint flavour.

Click For Large ViewWhile the wine flowed rapidly and our taste buds got tuned to the epicurean delights that were being presented on our plates, we prepared ourselves for the entree - The finely crafted Thai steamed Tasmanian barramundi with Oriental vegetable slaw and stir-fried vegetables. "This is a buttery salt water fish with excellent textures and juiciness”, Chef Kalra explained. He marinated the fish overnight with fresh lemongrass, kafir lime, Thai red chilies, hot basil and fish sauce. It was then steamed in sealed bamboo leaf to preserve its aromas and cooked on slow fire to preserve the nutrition and taste. The fish was outstanding, delicately coming apart layer by layer as we consumed it. Glazed to perfection and cooked to give you a delectable bite on the palate, it would be an understatement if I said that the fish was wildly delicious!

I dare say, though, the grassiness of the grated carrots on top of the fish took away some of its sheen and appeal.

The second choice for the entree was the English farmhouse cheddar and mushroom filled chicken with potato puree, haricot verts and olive dust.

The chicken retained its succulence, Sandeep explained, due to a cooking process called 'sous-vide', where the meat is cooked for almost 2 hours in an air-tight or a vacuum polybag immersed in water at a temperature of approx. 140° F, resulting in an evenly cooked meat that retains not only it's juices but also the nutrients. The combination of the mashed potato purée with the right choice of greens was devilishly tempting, and the daintiness of the chicken with the cheddar very admirable. The chicken was really tasty and a good portion size, perhaps it could have been browned a little more for a better visual appeal.

Click For Large ViewThe chocolate mousse was almost perfect, I ate it all, which is usually not the case as it does pile up all those inches on the waist; fortunately this was just right. To perfect it even further we would suggest that it be chilled a tad more on the inside!

All in all a scrumptious meal from start to finish! Sandeep's conceptualisation and presentation, not to talk about the actual preparation of the fare was par excellence! So was the service by the staff - so smooth, effortless and each guest getting individual and immediate attention. Rohit Dasgupta, the EAM of the hotel who was on his toes throughout the evening, was a shining example of an excellent host.

One could not help but appreciate him coming around the table at the end of the meal for a genuine feedback with a very positive and an open outlook. Of course he got a thumbs up all the way! Regarding the wines- Tyrrell’s Moore's Creek Sparkling Brut NV, Te Mata Woodthorpe Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Maison Champy Bourgogne Chardonnay 2009, Te Mata Estate Gamay Pinot Noir 2011, Tyrrell’s Brokenback Shiraz 2010 they were great accompaniments, well matched by our President Subhash Arora who will write about them separately

Anil and Renu Malhotra

The authors Renu and Anil Malhotra are widely travelled food and wine enthusiasts. Renu is the President of the Culinary Club at the Imperial and laughs that Anil's enjoyment Index of any place in the world is a direct derivative of how he enjoys his experience of the local food there. Not the least of his recognitions is the fact that a hardcore, no- nonsense Chana Bhatura shack at Sadar Bazaar keeps his photograph on their wall as a preferred customer!!


Tags: Sandeep Kalra, La Rochelle, The Trident, Gurgaon, Cilantro, Tyrell


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