Recently-released Hollywood film The Hundred-Foot Journey is a France-set story about an Indian restaurant opening across the road from a posh French bistro. The film is filled with different flavours, features plenty of exotic dishes and gives a window into the world of great cuisine. Not surprisingly, the Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey-produced film has sparked an interest in Indo-French cuisine. With that in mind, Eastern Eye sent columnist Priya Mulji to learn about the finer points of cooking, good food and entertaining at top restaurant La Porte Des Indes in the heart of London.
“I was excited to develop my cooking skills and learn about food inspired by former French colonies of India. Within Indian cuisine, I basically tend to cook paneer, chicken, salmon and assorted vegetables,” said Priya.
“My interest in cooking has increased since I started living alone so I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to learn something new. I could impress my mother (who isn’t always enamoured with my cooking skills) and perhaps a man too, because they say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.”
I was greeted at the restaurant – run by Mehernosh and Sherin Mody – with a refreshing pomegranate, coconut and passion fruit drink with a pretty flower in it.
Create a welcoming atmosphere and make some exotic drinks before the main meal for guests to have, along with interesting talking points.
I was then given a tour of the La Porte Des Indes kitchens where we were shown how fresh naans are made in an authentic and very hot tandoor oven. They showed us how meats are marinated before being cooked and how certain foods are cooked before being left to marinate so they capture the flavour. We were then shown to the area where the cookery demonstration was going to be taking place and all the spices, vegetables and fish were laid out like a feast, so we definitely knew we were going to be in for a treat.
Know how to properly use what you have in the kitchen. Learn about the food equipment and spices you will be using during cooking, and make sure they are easily accessible. Laying them out in an orderly fashion before cooking reduces stress and enables you to concentrate on culinary creativity.
Chef Mehernosh Mody taught us how to cook some tasty dishes. The first was crunchy chard and waterchestnut beignets, a pakora-like delicacy that uses non-traditional ingredients which is twice fried to give the ultimate dish a crunchy, delicate texture.
We were then taught how to cook rougail d’aubergine, a baingan ka bharta type of dish served with naan bread; and to finish, cassoulet de fruits de mer, a rich seafood stew in a seasoned, spiced coconut sauce. The aubergine was served with a red Cabernet Sauvignon wine and the fish with a white Sauvignon Blanc. Each dish wasn’t overly spicy but tasty, delicate and melted in your mouth.
– Sunflower or vegetable oil are the best oils to use because they don’t have a strong flavour.
– The trick to a good curry is to slow cook it. You can’t hurry a curry.
– Market-bought chaat masala is great, so don’t spend too much time trying to make it.
– In the case of Indian spices, buy the best you can afford because price does dictate the quality
– It is always best to use a pestle and mortar to grind spices as a machine can over-grind them.
– Leave dough for naans to rise for a few hours.
– When a recipe tells you to cook ingredients in a certain way, don’t stray from that. There is a reason some recipes say to sweat onions and some to brown them. They all add to the ultimate taste of the dish.
We were introduced to Mandala wines, which are grown in the Napa Valley of India. Indian wine has evolved over time and, historically, Hindus used it many years ago in medicines as a painkiller. Uday Kumar, a director of Mandala wines, brought us some exquisite wines. During the course of the demonstration we learned about the importance of matching wine to your food.
– Although red wine matches better with dishes such as lamb, pork or beef-based creations, it doesn’t have to go with heavier meats.
– White wine should only go with fish and chicken. However, if you like red wine, there is nothing wrong with having it with fish.
– Wine is better than beer because it coats your palate and helps you savour Indian food.
Cookery classes are held every Friday at La Porte Des Indes, which is located near Marble Arch underground station. My intention to attend them wasn’t just to develop my cooking prowess, but to actually learn something unique and I did that. As a Gujarati, I’m expected to know how to make traditional dishes such as rotli, khichdi and shak, but there is so much more to cooking and that is what I learned.
I really recommend taking cookery classes not just for those who want to learn to cook, but also for those who want to try something different. There are so many different types of cuisines which we can incorporate into Indian cooking so go out there, be brave and experiment with these new ingredients.
You will be given a lot of information during the classes, so take a notebook along and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
The weekend after my cooking class I was preparing a meal for someone really special and decided to cook the seafood cassoulet. So I went out and bought the ingredients I didn’t have, got home, washed my hands and started washing, chopping and prepping. I wasn’t brave enough to attempt homemade naans, so made do with supermarket ones, along with rice I made, and a tasty dessert.
I used all the tips and helpful hints I got at La Porte Des Indes. Although the various dishes didn’t quite look as great as Chef Mody’s, I definitely noticed an improvement and the whole cooking process was less stressful.
I am happy to say my guest enjoyed his meal, and said that he was very well fed. It is definitely true that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach and reach his heart I did.
When you take the stress out of cooking, it becomes more enjoyable and motivates you to broaden your culinary horizons.
Read all about La Porte’s cooking classes here.