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SICA Europe Culinary Tour Day- 0,1

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The South Indian Chefs Association organized a tour of Chefs to Europe and I have tried to bring out the essence of this extraordinary tour in this series of daily diary writing. Of course we did not get time to write during the tour but with modern hand phones, cameras and our own memory I am penning  this and tried to put together the experience for benefit of those interested to know about the tour of this kind has been conducted for the first time in India.

I would love to start from day 0 and 1 though a lot of work was done behind the scenes by Chef Jugesh Arora the Chief Architect of the tour, Chef Sheetharam Prasad and Parthiban. The hard work that was done behind the scenes prior to the actual tour is being highlighted in the next article.

Day 0: Sept 10

The bags are packed to detail and Amuda (my wife) ,who accompanied me on this tour were all exited to go. We had one additional reason to get more excited than others as we would have a chance to meet our daughter in Germany either on course of the tour or surely after the end of the tour as  planned earlier. I was wondering just to pack our bags and align our documents it was so much of work and my thoughts naturally were about the organizers and their loads of work!!

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Bags are packed and ready to go,

As we exited the taxi and went on to check in our baggage at Bangalore Airport , a bit of wrangle there as we had to pay some amount for excess baggage! We were carrying pickles, papads , honey et all apart from the wonderful coats designed and executed  by Cuisiners Clothing , Chennai. Soon I bump in to Chef Selvakumar from Mysore and had great time catching up and reminiscing good old times as Chef Selva started his career with me in early 90s.  Soon other team members from Bangalore joined up, the youth Brigade of Chef Rana Dominic Gomes and Chef Gopal Jha. Chef Anver Zaki had left for Mumbai by earlier flight. One of the airline employees appear on the scene with an envelope and Chef Gopal appeared relieved to receive the same. It was Chef Zaki’s power bank that he had packed in the check in baggage and was removed by the airline and was nice of them to have passed it on to us, imagine a long tour without the power bank.

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Bangalore Chefs at Bangalore Airport

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Selfie @ Mumbai Airport

Day 1 /  September,11

Scene then shifts to Mumbai Airport where we joined the team of chefs from Chennai and after all formalities we were off to Frankfurt. We were warmly received by Mr.Jagdish Prasad  of Blanco ( the hosting company in Germany, Blanco manufactures some top of the line fine Kitchen equipment)  and after a small bus ride we were at this quaint medieval town err village of Bretten. This place has preserved the old heritage buildings and it was a sight to behold for us. Off went the cameras and chefs were busy clicking away pictures. Oops! then I realized my folly of leaving back my hand phone with the charger in bus. This was a bit of dampener and spent some time in making others a bit anxious and a few frantic calls were made to alert the bus driver about the same. I was assured that something will be done. We were  at this small but beautiful hotel Krone.Welcome Tea ceremony German style was on offer that included some well thought out mini brunch with some freshly baked breads , smoked salmon, fruits et all.

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Frankfurt to Bretten 158 Kms Courtesy Google maps

Tea At Bretten

A bit of wash and change and  then went for a small guided tour of Bretten by venerable Mr. Schmitt who was in a medieval dress and he then went on to explain the heritage and culture of the place. The square behind  Hotel Krone was a beautiful venue and walk through the town was the one that set the mood for our tour. The weather was quite chill especially for part of the group that is accustomed to weather of Chennai.

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Mr.Schmitt – our guide in Bretten

After couple of hours of the tour it was time for dinner. By this time the coach had come to transport us to the dinner venue and along came back my much missed hand phone!! What a relief to get that back, you seem to be nonexistent without the phone in your hand and that’s modern day life. For dinner we were at the Lowenthor.  A Lovely place  and we were transported back in times with the dinner experience. With some aged fine beers that came out of sparkling wine bottles was really a treat. To know that the place has a tradition dating back to 1701 AD was a story by itself. It was time to curl up and catch some sleep!

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@Loewenthor , Bretten since 1701 !

Prelude.

A tour and more so such a professional tour requires immense amount of planning and execution. Series of mails that we received from Parthibhan is a testimony to this activity. Travel Plans, accommodations, tying up with sponsors, getting visa, arranging professional uniforms etc was a momentous task and team headed by Chef Jugesh Arora did this to perfection if I may say so!16195845_1414969231886486_2892360691827667595_n
Parthiban

The first taste of tour came at The GRT Grand hotel hosted by Chef Sheetharam Prasad where in all chefs had assembled to complete the pre visa formalities of assembling the documents and measurement for our chef coats. This meeting also gave an opportunity for the chefs to get to know each other a little better. Visa center in Egmore, Chennai I am sure would not have seen so many Chefs under their roof on a particular day. With the amiable guidance by the VFS global associates all went well and smooth.

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For me it was a bit of a different experience though because I planned for an extended stay to meet my Daughter hence separate return tickets, change in Visa application and similar activities were to be incorporated. All through this Parthiban was epitome of patience and coordinated with zeal and enthusiasm.

The Chefs Team that was on the tour (Courtesy FB profile).

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SICA Europe Culinary Tour Day -16

Day 16 :Sept 26

Basque Culinary Center and Narru

 The day was organized by Salva at Basque Culinary Center. The institution was founded by chefs of San Sebastian in 2009 and is the second of its type in Europe. San Sebastian having the concentration of Michelin star restaurants that it has, there is no place better for aspiring culinary students to learn the fine art of culinary and cooking.

After a tour of the center and walk through the kitchens we were at the dining room for lunch prepared by students. Cod salad with beetroot, roasted mushrooms with spinach cream and spirulina, duck with peaches and chocolate curd was the lunch fare.

After this we were at one of the demo theaters where we witnessed a master class in baking. Chefs Eduardo Jimnez, Javier Amilbia and Edorta Salvador kept us thoroughly engaged with fine art of baking.

Science behind ‘W’ factor or strength of flour was explained well. `W’ or strength factor for flour is an important indicator for professional bakers.  Higher strength flour has ability to retain the carbon dioxide and hence softer bread. Weak flours are traditionally used for biscuits and cookies as it does not require retaining the carbon dioxide as compared to breads.

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`W’ Factor being explained by Chef Javier

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Varieties of bread were made, displayed, tasted, and analyzed in the master class. The end of the class was followed by now familiar recognition of chefs by SICA for one final time on the tour.

We were back at the beautiful city of San Sebastian and another round of shopping at Zara and walk around the Bay of Biscay followed. The dinner was at Naaru by the Bay of Biscay. Hake (fish) was the highlight of the dinner. Another specialty was the non spicy Spanish Chilies-‘Padron Peppers’.

While we were happily munching the chilies we were gently reminded in jest that one odd chilly in the batch may surprisingly be hot and the persons who has bitten in to that usually settles the restaurant bill for the group !  A round of toast for Salva, Sandeep and Andoni was followed by Chef Jugesh Arora summing up the tour and thank all who supported the tour.

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Chefs in somber mood L-R -top-Achal, Bangera & Padmanabhan.  Bottom Gopal,Ramu and Makwana

The bus ride back to hotel saw bit of somber mood as the tour was coming to an end. Chef Soundararjan and Chef Sheetharam Prasad addressed the chefs and spoke eloquently about the entire tour. For one last time on tour was Chef Himashu Sahoo too was there with his emotional connect talk.

SICA Europe Culinary Tour : Day-15

Day 15: Sept 25 

Visit to Salva and Maria Cristina

Mr. Andoni of Salva was on hand to show us around the factory. We also saw the new yet to be inaugurated show room. A product tour was done after a short presentation by Andoni and Sandeep. The quality assurance, the specialty of Salva heating elements for oven, the cost differential reasons between competition and Salva was explained in detail to chefs during the factory tour.

This was followed by recognizing and honouring of Salva team with Ponnadai and Thanjavur plate. The SICA team also presented the chefs with participation certificates as we were almost at the end of our tour. What followed was a short ride to our lunch venue Atalaia restaurant. Here we had a chance to choose from a Table d’hôte (menu with some choice) menu. Salmon, Lamb stew and Cheese mousse is what I preferred.

It was back to Hotel Jauregui for a wash and change and we were back to San Sebastian and to dine at Maria Cristina Hotel. I had the misfortune of missing out Arnold Schwarzenegger as I had had to relieve myself. He was there to attend the famous annual San Sebastian international film festival where he was also promoting the documentary ‘Wonders of the Sea’. I never knew sometimes the bathroom break could cost a miss like this, though many chefs bumped in to him in the hotel lobby. The dinner was welcome break in form Asian food at Saigon Restaurant in the hotel Maria Cristina.

Photo courtesy Vikram Cotah

It was Chef Sheetharam Prasad’s (General Secretary of SICA and Corporate Chef of GRT group of hotel), birthday and a cake cutting ceremony with birthday wishes song marked the celebrations.

SICA Europe Culinary Tour Day- 14

Day 14: Sept 24 

San Sebastian and Paella 

We had a gentle reminder that it was a Sunday and the plan was to visit San Sebastian, which one of most famous tourist destinations in Spain. The city which is on Bay of Biscay offers some scenic settings.

We had a guided tour of the city. We strolled around the Bay of Biscay and along the pathway that featured ‘concha’ motif bearing wrought iron grills fence. The city boasts of highest concentration of Michelin star rated restaurant per capita/ per square meter in the world. As per our guide the number stood then at 16!. It is also considered as a center for gastronomy. The week after our visit was the Gastronomika (http://www.sansebastiangastronomika.com/en/) event that would bring together chefs across the world to the congress and the restaurants of San Sebastian putting up their show for the visitors. The great news that the partner country for 2017 event is India and many Indian chefs will show case the mystique Indian food at Gastronomika this time around. We also had a shopping break here and chefs ventured out to scout for mementos among various items on their bucket list of shopping.

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Chefs in their casual best !!

At lunch time we were off to Mount Igueldo, to enjoy Spanish typical paella( Spanish rice dish with various combinations). What awaited us on top was an incredible view of San Sebastian Bay.

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View from Mount Igueldo

The lunch was a Spanish Paella that had some choicest shell fish and was full of flavour. Some fine Spanish wine and local beer accompanied the lunch.

After somewhat leisurely lunch we were back to Hondarribia discover the local culture. The town faces France across the bay and had its own breathtaking views of the coast. The guide was proud of the fact that famous golfer Jose Maria Olazabal was from Hondarribia. It was time to retire after a quiet dinner at the hotel Jauregui.

Dinner at Hotel Jauregui

SICA Europe Culinary Tour Day- 13

 

Day 13: Sept, 23

Ongietorria (Welcome) to Basque, Spain

It was an early 3 AM departure to Geneva airport to embark on our last leg of our tour, to Basque region in Spain. Ground work of printing boarding passes and e check in was ably done by Chef Gopal Jha, the previous day.

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L-R Santosh Singh of Electrolux, Gopal Jha and Abdul getting the Boarding passes ready

It was around 250 km by road to Geneva and our flight to Biarritz in France was at 830 AM and hence the early morning departure.

Courtesy Google Maps

We flew across France and after a short immigration procedure we were received by Mr.Andoni Catalán Salsamendi and were off to Hondarribia across the border in Spain. This part of the unique region of Spain and is called Basque Country and is an autonomous region with in Spain . It is also economically forward as the average per capita income is higher than European Union and Spain. The culture and Cuisine of the Basque region is also unique.  This part of the tour was coordinated and supported by Salva – one of the leading companies in the world known for their Bakery ovens and other equipment.  The Lunch was at our place of stay Hotel Jauregui.

Lunch at Hotel Jauregui

The evening at Hondarribia was at the square behind the hotel where in we experienced Pintxos gastronomy in famous bars like the “Gran Sol”, “Senra” and “Ardoka” . A few words about Pintxos- or called Pinchos is a snack where filling are usually placed on bite sized bread and can be picked up with a tooth pick.

PINTXOS

The significance is that it has a socializing quotient, where in people gather in the bars and catch a conversation and enjoy Pintxos.

Pintxos- Photo Courtesy Rana Domnic Gomes

The chefs in company of Sandeep Chanana of Salva got in to the socializing act over Pintxos and a local band was at attendance at the square adding up to atmosphere.

Photo Courtesy Vikram Cotah

One has to mention the pleasant weather at Hondarribia; we could finally keep our jackets in the hotel room and venture out in our T shirts after two weeks in Europe. The Pintxos had its effect as we were filled up to the brim and time to retire and look forward to the next day.

SICA Europe Culinary Tour Day -12

Day 12 : Sept,22

Visit to Thermaline Electrolux at Sursee

A short bus ride from Semapch to Sursee we were at the Electrolux Thermaline factory set in scenic surroundings. Here we saw top of the line modular cooking equipment.

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L-R  Selvaraj, Himanshu, Litwin, Vikram Cotah, Soundararajn, Alberto Mettai, Deepa and Jugesh Arora

Chef Helen Kunz was at hand to demonstrate the use of equipment. Chefs cooked alongside- lamb chops, fish, Prawns, grilled vegetables for lunch. Chefs were seen busy grilling, braising and of course some were sipping wine too.

After the lunch we were in for a surprise performance by Chef Helen Kunz. She played a traditional Alphorn, an instrument made of wood and the length normally is 3.5 meters. It has a cup shaped mouth piece. She played a melodious “D’Sonne Chonnd “. Some chefs tried their hand to play the instrument. Mostly we could hear only the air coming out of the instrument! Of course it required some expertise to play the Alphorn.

After this unexpected twist, we were back  on the factory floor and finished with presentations and honouring of Chef Helen, Santosh and Alberto of Electrolux by SICA. The dinner was at  Michelin star Sempacherhof Restaurant near the hotel. Coconut soup with lemon grass, fish and sweet dessert with plums were the fare at dinner. Chef Hanspeter Muller looks after the restaurant and accommodation( Mr. Vikram Cotah was staying at this place) and was kind enough to accommodate some last minute changes in the menu.

 

SICA Europe Culinary Tour Day -11

Day11: Sept 21

Bye Bye Italy, off to Switzerland

Chefs were looking forward to the day as we were traveling to the beautiful country of Switzerland. The bus ride took us to Lucerne, Switzerland. The journey of 550 km was dotted with some breathtaking views and we passed through many tunnels, one of which was 17 km long.

The lunch stop was at Autogrill and chefs enjoyed some pastas, sandwiches, grilled meat and crunchy salads. Evening in Lucerne was free and some chefs chose the cruise  on the lake.

Our choice was a bit different though, as we visited Church of St. Leodegar, which was built in 1639. We also strolled through the banks of the Lake Lucerne and walked  to the famous wooden Chapel Bridge across river Reuss. The bridge was a restored version as it was partly destroyed in fire in 1993. Many interior paintings dating back to the 17th century  dote the ceiling of the bridge.

 

The dinner was at Wildenmann hotel. A nice lounge awaited us at the restaurant with welcome beverages and snacks. Flavourful steaming Lemongrass cream soup with smoked salmon was very welcome to counter the chill of Switzerland. This was followed by Poulard (Chicken) with mushrooms and vegetables and mousse of chocolate.

Dinner at Wildermann Hotel

At all the dinners  one thing in common was the toast raised by chefs. The toast ceremony always recognised the contributions of partner establishments and people that were associated on the tour on that particular day. Today’s toast was to acknowledge Alberto Mettai and Santosh Singh of Electrolux. The night stay was at Birdland Hotel, Sempach.

Birdland Hotel, Sempach, Switzerland

SICA Europe Culinary Tour Day- 9,10

Day 9  –   Sept 19

Here we Come Electrolux Professional!

Day 9 started with check out from Al Tezzon hotel and off to Electrolux professional (a well known brand name that also manufactures  fine professional kitchen and laundry equipment) that was around 90 km away. After a coffee break we went around the company show room, understanding the products.

Chefs Bottega and Zedeimeier were the hosts in the Electrolux professional cooking studio.

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Cooking studio

Methodology of ‘Cook and Chill’ for breads were dealt with in detail. Cook Chill system for those not familiar with involves cooking of food , rapid chilling and storing at safe temperature ideally at 3 C. The food can be reheated safely so that the core temperature of food reaches the prescribed temperatures. One has to refer to special charts that show reheating temperature requirements for different types of food.  It was nice to see some Ciabattta bread that came out of the ovens .Wonder why Ciabatta (airy and crispy outer crust bread) – Italian for slipper named for bread!  I understand it was named by the Chef Favaron (Chef who made the first Ciabatta);  made in response to French Baguette and it reminded him of his wife’s slippers.

 

Lunch was of course with some Ciabatta, squid salad, vegetable pancakes that were made by our chefs at the workshop, roast leg of lamb et all ,it was of course elaborate.

 

Chefs Deepa Arora and Ajit Bangera in action

Hard for one to keep awake after such a sumptuous lunch but it was not for Chefs at Electrolux. They kept us interested in the kitchen with Modular cooking presentation and demonstration. We also got to experience the Electrolux speedelight, high speed cooking equipment that combines contact, microwave and infrared technologies in single equipment. This Electrolux speedelight can dish out hot snacks like grilled sandwiches at super speeds.

We checked in to Best Western Hotel, Pordenone in the evening.

The dinner was at La Prosciutteria, Pordenone.  Bruchettas( bread topped with tomatoes),Smoked salmon, and some fine wine were on fare.

 

Dinner time and lighter moments !

I have to mention that our care taker Santosh Singh of Electrolux India was a gracious host and was a enthusiastic coordinator.

Day 10: Sept 20

Back to Venice

Chefs were back at Electrolux to visit the factory and the show room. In the factory we witnessed high precision equipment that was being used to fabricate the equipment. One common machine we could see in all the factories was Fiber laser machine from Salvagnini. This machine is an automated laser cutting high precision manufacturing equipment. We could also see ware housing, inventory management, metal folding, quality check and other manufacturing process and that they were impeccable. Back at the show room we witnessed the functioning and salient features of food processors, vegetable slicing machine and planetary mixer. It was back to Venice for the day trip. However a few chefs chose to stay back at our hotel in Pordenone. Venice by day was a different sight though ,Full of people and buzz.The cruise in the Grand Canal offered some fodder for the camera. The visuals were dramatic enough for screen savers and calendars.

 

Venice by Day- Rilato Bridge and Grand Canal

After a light lunch with pasta and pizza it was time for some souvenir shopping.

 

Photo Courtesy Vikram Cotah

Back to Podenone and to Alla Catina restaurant for dinner. Here we could savour some sea food platter, octopus with baby tomatoes, pasta and because we were in Italy some Prosecco.

 

Dinner At Alla Catina (picture courtesy Vikram Cotah)