“Anything I see or something that I read can inspire me. Like comics; comics inspire me.”
When Gresham Fernandes, Group Executive Chef - Fine Dine Division of Impresario Entertainment & Hospitality Pvt. Ltd. (IEHPL), nonchalantly made the above statement at the very beginning of our conversation, I was dumbfounded. We were, after all, talking about the Sense of Sight and its interplay with the food served and the fact that comics and food could be linked got me curious.
Chef Gresham Fernandes
He sensed my amazement and willingly began to break his thoughts down, “When it comes to Comics it is all about the colour, the drawings – all these help give me plating ideas. For example, according to Calvin (of Calvin and Hobbes) only those cornflakes should be had that turn milk purple! So stuff like that gets me thinking. Jamun will help add that purple colour to a dish. Now, cornflakes – can we serve these in a fine dining restaurant? May be we could try mushroom cornflakes, perhaps that would be a workable concept and so on. If the concept works, we could present the comic strip along when the food served. That way a link between the food and its concept is built and a ‘conversation starter’ is served.”
Calvin and his Chocolate Sugar Bombs
This initial glimpse into the food-wired mind of this Bandra boy told me that he is not your run-off-the-mill Chef. Well, then what kind of a Chef is he?
I took our tête-à-tête forward, not just to get all the material I needed for this piece, but with a will to locate the answer to that question in his passionate talks.
Talking about how he pairs the Visually Spectacular with the outright Delicious, he gave me the example of a Biryani that looks like a Prawn Cracker! (PS: My mind went ‘whaaaaaaaat’ and my taste buds started to salivate when I heard that.) The point, he said, was to serve the Biryani, with all its local aromas and richness intact, in a way that it resembled a fine-dine dish. The process of cooking, pureeing, dehydrating the flavourful rice concoction is long and tedious, but the end product looks classy, tickles your Sense of Taste, leaving you wanting more. Just like the classic Fish & Chips, he added, where the batter could be made with vodka instead of water, which not only alters the final taste but adds to it.
With sight and taste dealt with, the Sense of Smell was next in line. “To recreate the whiff of a feeling or an emotion, to recreate nostalgia that goes with the food (like the traditional ‘halwai’ smell that you get when gorging on jalebi by the road-side) is the probably the hardest part of the entire dining experience. It is all about looking into the finer details and bringing the essence out,” he muses.
Twenty minutes into our conversation, and his energy and excitement were nowhere close to dimming. He animatedly spoke about how he likes to keep the texture of the food untouched. The Sense of Touch should not work as an alienating agent; the food must feel familiar when touched and the real magic happens in the mouth anyway, he proclaims.
The thriving centre of Gresham’s Food that Speaks to your Senses philosophy is Smoke House Room, New Delhi. It is here that he invents and discovers the unheard of for the experimentalists (like the porcini ice-cream with coffee marshmallows), while also cooking the more relatable dishes for the conformists (like pasta/risotto).
Chef Gresham's play-kitchen: Smoke House Room
At the end of this inspiring and gastronomically stimulating conversation with Chef Gresham, all I wanted was to visit Smoke House Room ASAP and try all those masterful creations. Needless to say, a food-trip to the capital is now on the cards.
As to what kind of a chef he is, well, I’d say he is as creative as he is a realist. He loves experimenting as much as he loves to retain the authenticity of what he serves. He makes food that talks to his senses and yours, making eating what’s on your plate not just a reflex action but a compulsive one.
Disclaimer: The food images so used are for reference purposes only
Hilonee Furia is a compulsive thinker, an American TV addict and a fiction fanatic. She believes travel helps widen perspectives and cupcakes help solve problems. She also happens to be a freelance writer and you can connect with her here.