By Vatsala Mamgain Oct. 04, 2016
It’s not easy marching to the beat of the extra-virgin, cold-pressed, tea-smoked gourmet drum. But you got to try.
With all the excitement going on in the world at any given point these days, I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to notice the new wave of foodie culture that has crept up on everyone above a certain age, income, and social status, and below a certain level of mental stability. It’s what I like to call the gourmetfication of India.
This seems to have happened while I was stuffing my face with regular non-gourmet food, which is perhaps why the buses with epicures have rolled right past me, leaving me at the arse end of the brave new world of food appreciation and cooking. This tribe doesn’t display a mere enthusiasm for food, but operates at an amped-up melt-sugar-and-spin-caramel-baskets-out-of-it temperature levels.
It’s not easy matching up to these levels and marching to the beat of the extra-virgin, cold-pressed, tea-smoked gourmet drum, but I’m going to tell you how to get your gourmet-fication game on fleek.
The law of opposite polarity is the first calling card of the true gastronome. So whether it’s ingredients or finished dishes or cooking styles, the first trick is to either go super global or hyper local. If you don’t believe me, consider this: Why do you think quinoa has taken over the world? It’s because it’s the ultimate super global food. Quinoa is native to Peru, which is far away from every other country in the world (including Peru itself) and is therefore considered totally exotic everywhere.
So remember, the chicken dish that you rave about CANNOT be from Thailand, which is practically Bangladesh; it has to be at least from Papua New Guinea. Conversely, the marinade for the squid you just made. That has to be a Koli recipe, in fact known just to the specific Koli, who lives three stops away from you on the 161 BEST bus route. Anything further away is simply not hyper local enough to cut it.
Everything infused is better and costs ten times as much as anything mixed.
To be absolutely safe on this opposite polarity front, every global food reference you make should ideally be to Ecuador, because it is the farthest country from India as the crow flies (if a 17,000- mile flying crow can be found). And locally, to micro-greens which are native to and grow only in your next-door neighbour’s window box. Anything else and you’ll be taking your chances.
Second to the law of opposite polarity is the law of inverse obscurity, which states that the more obscure an ingredient or dish or even cooking tools are, the better they get. This should be self- evident. Red chillies can never be sourced from the old turban- wearing dear at MDH. Get off your non-gourmet arse and source some Byadgi chillies from Karnataka or raja mirchas from Nagaland. (You will know you have reached the ranks of the cognoscenti, when the mirchi you use in your alu gobi because it has such a “warm yet palate cleansing flavor” is shichimi togarashi from Japan.) Nimbus from your local sabziwala bhaiya? You’ve got to be kidding. They can only be gondhoraj from Bengal or jaamraas from Uttarakhand until you can actually fly to Capri and come back with a sack full of lemons every time you want nimbu pani. In case you are unclear how obscurity adds to social status, you may want to hear what I routinely tell people looking for dosa tavas. “Don’t bother with Lohar Chawl or Sarojini Nagar. There is a tiny village 163 hours by bullock cart from Bengaluru where there is just one blacksmith whose family has been making dosa tavas in an unbroken line for 14 generations – he’s your man. Tell him I sent you, he’ll give you a good rate.”
Now while all this food procurement is going on in full swing, go shopping for tools with the vengeance of a Japanese knife forged from ancient Samurai swords. A few necessities in your kitchen are: some ceramic tweezers from Sweden to pin bone fish, a hibachi grill, a cooking range that is vast enough and efficient enough to stew a rhinoceros if the need arises, a KitchenAid that can whip up an entire poultry farm full of eggs into stiff peaks and a blow torch that could more easily set fire to your table cloth than caramelise sugar for your crème brûlée.
And the last, but certainly not the least, is boning up on the key words so you to can adopt the same lingua franca of gastro knowingness as the true gourmets. Here is a list to get you started.
A) Artisanal: Anything that looks wonky and inexpertly made. This is a good word. It means that evil machines haven’t touched your food, but unclean hands probably have.
B) OMG, delish, food-gasmic: They all mean yum, which is unfortunately used by food peasants like you and me, and simply won’t do when gourmets describe things that are er… yum.
C) Deconstructed: Anything that looks like it fell off the plate from the kitchen to the table and was hastily scooped and splattered back onto the plate again. Just so we are clear – deconstructed is good, and better than the original. (I know this is not the way things would seem like to you and me, but Gourmetistan is a foreign country, they do things differently there.)
D) Harvested: Used along with locally, by hand, and ethically. You don’t need to know what it means, just say it with a small half- smile and it can mean anything you want it to. (“This salt is ethically harvested by hand from a tiny cave in the Himalayas. Totally locally of course.”)
E) Single origin: This is the best thing. It means that not only are you a gourmet, but you are also very discerning and very rich. In all sorts of random conversations, be sure to skillfully drop the fact that the vanilla pods you use for your signature pork braised in vanilla apples are all sourced from a single estate in Madagascar. But be sure to follow it up with, “I mean, who does blended vanilla any more?”
F) Infused: Everything infused is better and costs ten times as much as anything mixed. So never say uncouth things like you mooshed up some garlic in butter, say instead, “I just infused the butter with the dewdrops of wild garlic plants. That’s what gives it that mellow flavour.”
Other words and phrases to drop that prove beyond doubt that you are a gourmet are “done two ways”, “mouthfeel”, “taken to the next level”, “succulent”, “I’m a pretentious wanker”, etc.
Ok maybe not the last one. That you can safely leave for others to deduce.