Fine dining with strangers: A unique new concept
Launched by Mumbai's online weekend guide Brown Paper Bag, Turning Tables is a unique event where strangers regularly converge at a private home to partake of a dinner together, served up by celebrity chefs. Puja Banta swung by for the experience recently.
Imagine a room full of 20 interesting people on a balmy summer evening , wine and conversation flowing in abundance and one of the top chefs of the city cooking a grand five course-meal in the kitchen only to impress you! Sounds like a dream? This dream came true for me recently as I attended an evening by Turning Tables .
Launched by Brown Paper Bag (bpbweekend.com) late last year, Turning Tables is Mumbai's underground kitchen club where for one night, a private home is converted into a family-style restaurant, complete with a celebrity chef and patrons, all of whom are strangers.
One of BPB's subscribers volunteers to host the event in her house and the twenty attendees are selected by the organisers from a long waiting list of people interested in grabbing a chair at Turning Tables. A proper screening is done before finalising the list, considering that the host is opening her house to twenty unknown people.
Pop-up restaurants exist internationally, but these are usually run by upcoming chefs who don't have restaurants. Turning Tables is the only such concept in the world that features accomplished chefs from high-end restaurants. So far chefs from the Tasting Room, Blue Frog, Novotel Juhu and Aurus have worked their magic at Turning Tables events.
The chef comes in early, bringing with him his small team and the ingredients. After that, all the food is whipped up from scratch in the humble kitchen he is given.
In my case the venue was a lovely abode on Napeansea Road and the chef Vicky Ratnani of Aurus.
As I stood at the doorstep of the charming house armed with my bottle of wine ( the event is BYOB -- bring your own bottle), I hesitated for a moment. And then I heard sounds of laughter and clinking of wine glasses from within. One firm stride planted me right in the middle of this lively group of strangers and within minutes I was laughing and cheering with them like I had known them for years ! The candles, the music and trees swaying outside the large windows gave me a high long before my first sip of wine.
Image: Salad with Jalapeno Alfonso Dressing
Photographs: Courtesy Chef Vicky Ratnani
The food cost a fraction of what it would in the actual restaurant
Our group was an eclectic mix of an ad film maker, a few investment bankers, a budding actress, a chef (who preferred being called a cook), a journalist, a photographer, a Thai food caterer, an NGO worker, a luxury brands marketer and some bright young entrepreneurs. The chef had been at work since late afternoon to dish out his best for us.
We got the first taste of Vicky's skills in the form of Cola and Gold Caviar that belonged to the art (or science?) of molecular gastronomy -- a culinary technique that is becoming increasingly popular in the top kitchens of India. As is the case with all molecular cuisine, I was taken aback by the texture and the flavours that explode in the mouth .Interesting is all I can say.
This was followed by Smoked Cottage Cheese Squares with Beet Carpaccio and Basil Snow. The smokiness added a whole new dimension to the ubiquitous paneer .
Next came the Mushroom Focaccia. The sprinkling of truffle oil on top made this a clear winner. The Pesto Balsamic Chicken Butter that followed was good but nothing special, while the Poached Mahi Mahi brought smiles to the faces of all fish lovers, including me. Barley Lamb Kebabs with Chipotle Salsa came in small buns and served as good fillers; the Salad with Jalapeno Alfonso Dressing was innovative, the Pan Roasted Vietnamese Bass, superlative and finally the Mango Gold-Chocolate Dome won all our collective hearts.
The meal did complete justice to the primary objective of 20 strangers getting together in another stranger's house -- great food! And the food cost a fraction of what it would in the actual restaurant.
Image: Cola and Gold Caviar
Offline social networking, anyone?
The chef here is only looking for appreciation and applause. Chef Vicky kept stepping out into the living room to interact with all of us and get our first-hand reactions to the food. He seemed to be enjoying the challenge of stepping out of his comfort zone and entering a small kitchen with the usual pots and pans to create an unusual meal. We were also told that we could mail him later and get recipes for whatever we liked from the evening's menu. Being big foodies, all of us were delighted to hear that.
The interesting company and conversation was a complete bonus for everyone. The journalist and I discovered that we work in the same building and live in the same neighbourhood; the actress divulged some details about her upcoming Bollywood project; the 'cook' and I debated the quality of Japanese and Italian food available in Mumbai; the entrepreneur discussed his exciting new venture with me and the pretty management consultant and I indulged in some girl talk. I realised that the fact that all of us had shown interest in a novel concept like this one, bound us with a certain experimentative streak and that's probably the reason that we all got along so well. Offline social networking, anyone?
As I walked out after a long session of byes and promises to keep in touch , I had a spring in my step and a song in my heart. That's what good food and great company do to you.
Turning Tables is a monthly affair currently held only in Mumbai. If you want to be a part of the next one, you can e-mail BPB at firstname.lastname@example.org
Image: Lamb Kebabs with Chipotle Salsa