An Interview with Praveen Anand, Dakshin, Chennai, India | Vijaysree Venkatraman

from Gastronomica 12:4

Praveen Anand is chef at Dakshin, named by the Miele Guide as one of the top twenty restaurants in Asia. His embrace of traditional South Indian food is significant in a nation that has begun discarding some of its food customs in a headlong rush into modernity.

Vijaysree Venkatraman: Tell us about the idea behind Dakshin.

Praveen Anand: The word dakshin is Sanskrit for “south.” Our goal is to present authentic culinary creations from India’s four southern states: Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, and Karnataka. The larger goal is to revive the disappearing culinary heritage of these regions.

VV: How did you get interested in food?

PA: My father worked with the Indian Railways and was constantly getting transferred, so I grew up in my grandparents’ home in Hyderabad. My grandfather was a policeman and a yoga expert, the author of books on this ancient practice. Thanks to him, I got into sports and physical activities. He also inculcated in me the habit of reading. K.M. Munshi’s seven-volume mythological series, Krishnavatara, on the life of Lord Krishna—that’s where I started.

My grandmother, who is ninety now, cooked for us all. I would accompany her to the market and carry all the heavy bags. I also tended our backyard vegetable garden. Because my uncles hadn’t married yet, there were no women in the family to help her in the kitchen. So I volunteered to be her assistant. She only gave me simple tasks like peeling garlic or shelling nuts. But being her helper meant I would get a little more than my share of the good food she made—that was my motivation, nothing nobler!

To me, she was like a magician—whatever she touched was perfect. Her cooking was in the traditional Andhra style: hot, with lots of red chilies. We had a separate pantry to store the dazzling variety of mango- and lime-based pickles she made. Food was vegetarian except on weekends, when we would gorge on chicken, mutton, or seafood. Her simple chutneys, dals and rasams, fish curry and mutton khorma—all were wonderful.

I became the family’s official taster. If I declared (even jokingly) that a dish was not up to the mark, no one would touch it. I wielded a lot of power!

VV: And you went to catering school as a young man?

PA: When it was time for college, I gained admission into two programs: aeronautical engineering and hotel management. There was no pressure on me to start earning but I wanted to be independent as soon as possible. Going to catering school meant I would be a professional in three years instead of five. So I came to the Institute of Hotel Management, Catering Technology and Applied Nutrition here in Chennai.

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Colombian Grace, Key West, Florida | Nancy Klingener

from Gastronomica 12:3

Key West, Florida, has had a number of identities over the last two centuries. It has been a shipwreck-salvaging town, a cigar-manufacturing town, and a military town. Now it’s a tourist town, catering to visitors who pay top dollar for hotels, fishing charters, and meals, and to vacationers who pour off the cruise ships that dock nearly every day. Most of Key West’s restaurants are found along Duval Street, the main tourist drag. Twenty years ago, a restaurant called Ricky’s Blue Heaven opened several blocks from Duval, on Petronia Street in Bahama Village, the island’s historically black neighborhood. Serving mostly Caribbean dishes, Blue Heaven quickly received a rave review in the New York Times and has been unstintingly popular with tourists and locals ever since. More recently, other quality restaurants have opened nearby. Two years ago, Colombian Grace, the island’s first restaurant to feature food from Colombia, joined Blue Heaven on Petronia Street. The proprietor is Zulma Segura.

Nancy Klingener: How did you arrive in Key West?

Zulma Segura: My sister lived here, and she came to visit me in Bogot.. She said, why don’t you come? You’ll like it; it has bicycles; it’s small. She likes big cities, I like small places. Here in Key West, you can be anywhere in just five minutes. I love the size of the island. I love that it’s multicultural. You can meet people from everywhere. And there are bicycles, bicycles, bicycles! When I first arrived, I worked as a waitress at Blue Heaven. I had no experience. I didn’t speak English. But I worked there and I learned English. I saved pretty much everything I made.

NK: How did Colombian Grace come about?

ZS: It was a crazy decision, an impulse. After five years at Blue Heaven, I was like, oh my God, what am I doing now? I have a degree in marketing and public relations, but I didn’t want to go back to that field. At Blue Heaven I discovered I was good with people. I like taking care of customers and spending time with them. When you add food service, I just love the combination. But this restaurant is the hardest thing I have done in my whole life. When I decided to open the restaurant, my mom came here to train the cook. After the first year, the cook left, so I had to start cooking myself. The recipes are my mom’s and my grandma’s.

Zulma Segura at her family’s coffee plantation in Colombia. She selects the beans and roasts them to serve at her Key West restaurant, Colombian Grace. Courtesy of Zulma Segura

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An Interview with Daniel Humm, Eleven Madison Park | Anne E. McBride

from Gastronomica 12:2

Anne E. McBride: How would you describe the culture of Eleven Madison Park?

Daniel Humm: When we first started here [in 2006], Moira Hodgson at the New York Observer gave us three and a half stars out of four. At that time, that was way too good. But one of the last lines was, “I wish this place would have a little bit more Miles Davis.” We always want to learn from reviews and articles what we can do better, what we can improve. That line really resonated with us, and we started to research Miles Davis and try to figure out what Moira Hodgson meant by that. We learned how amazing Miles was, and his music, and we came up with a list of eleven words that were most often used to describe him and his style, such as “forward-moving,” “endless reinvention,” “collaborative.” Five years ago these eleven words became our guiding light, and the list has been hanging in our kitchen ever since. If you want to create something unique, I think it’s important that you take inspiration from something outside of your own world. Because otherwise, you’re just going to become like any other restaurant.

AEM: How do you define Eleven Madison Park’s point of view?

DH: I think one thing is important to us: We want to almost invite people to our home. And although the execution of every step needs to be intentional and perfect, we also want there to be a human quality to it, a really friendly quality, and a fun quality so that people have a good time and enjoy being here—both the employees and the guests. We’re really trying to blend coming home and going out. When you walk into this room, the high ceilings, the china we’re using, the silverware, the glassware: everything feels like “going out.” But the human interaction should feel like coming home. That’s why there’s always somebody at the door to open it for you. That’s why you’re not walking to a podium to get to your table. The cooks come to the table and explain the food. They might not be as perfect as a waiter is, but we believe that a cook has a certain passion because he created or prepared the food.

AEM: How important is a cook’s comfort with guests in terms of your hiring?

DH: It’s part of it. The dining room has to start in the kitchen. It’s good for the culture; the cooks also find out what it’s like to have a difficult table, and they know how to react in the kitchen. It’s really important to us not to have any separation between the cooks and the waitstaff. We used to call it the back of the house and the front of the house. We stopped doing that. It’s now the kitchen and the dining room. It’s these little things that culturally are really important, I think.

Daniel Humm in his kitchen. Photograph by Francesco Tonelli © 2010

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Magnolia 610, Louisville, Kentucky | Edward Lee

from Gastronomica 12:1

If you type the word slaughterhouse into a search engine, you get a scroll of Web sites exposing the evils of animal torture, authored mostly by animal rights and vegan apologists. The images of bucking cows and blood-stained pigs confirm your deepest fears about the steak you just ate. But you already knew that, didn’t you? How else did that tail-swishing cow turn into last night’s rib eye? It had to wind up at a slaughterhouse, a place so abhorrent that the word has become synonymous with torture. But you don’t hear “slaughterhouse” in the farmer’s vernacular. You hear euphemisms like “harvest my pigs” or “process my cows” instead. Stockyard signifies mega-processors like Swift or Smithfield. Small, independent processors are called abattoirs, which sounds so much more civil. Now, if you believe, as I do, that search engines reflect our social mores, it’s funny how easily you can find animal torture sites but not one link to an actual slaughterhouse. It’s as if they don’t exist. As if killing animals is so reprehensible, so misunderstood, it needs to remain invisible.

Chef Edward Lee slices a slow-roasted pork shoulder that has cooked sous vide for fourteen hours. Photograph by Dan Dry / Power Creative © 2011

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Taberna Ideal: Lisbon, Portugal | Frances Baca

from Gastronomica 11:4

Frances BacaCan you tell us exactly what a taberna is and how it differs from other restaurants?

Tânia Martins: A taberna is a place where people play cards, talk about politics, and sing fado. It’s not a typical restaurant where you come in and someone is only serving food and wine. It has a different atmosphere. Everyone is talking and laughing; you can play chess; you can sit down at a table and talk to someone. It’s like a family restaurant.

FBSusana, you’re the head chef, and Tânia, you’re the sommelier. Do your roles ever overlap?

Susana Felicidade: When I’m cooking, I talk with Tânia about the new things I’m creating, so she always participates in the process. We do the same with the wines.

TM: I don’t know anything about the kitchen. Susana, she’s the alchemist. She doesn’t measure anything. We call her the magician.

SF: Because if I measure, it will be not a mystery to me. I don’t want to control things. Sometimes people come to our restaurant and try the chocolate cake, and they say, “Oh, this is the most delicious chocolate cake!” And next time the chocolate cake will not taste the same. It never tastes the same.

FBSo tell me about yourselves. Where are you from and how did food influence you growing up?

SF: I’m from a place in Algarve called Praia da Arrifana. My grandmother had a taberna on the beach. Every summer I worked at the restaurant for twelve, fourteen hours a day. I loved it because I practiced French and English with the tourists who dined there. Later, I went to Lisbon to study law.

TM: She went through college cooking for everyone.

SF: I rented a house in Lisbon, and my friends always came to visit. They studied while I cooked. When I was thirty I went back to Algarve. My grandmother’s restaurant needed help, so I went there to cook. I stayed for four years, and Tânia joined me there during the final summer.

TM: I’m from Lisbon. I have a degree in publicity and marketing. I was the manager of twenty-three wine brands, but I got fed up with it, so I quit. Then a friend told me that Susana needed help in her restaurant. So I said okay, I’ll go and help organize her wine list. I never thought that it would grow into a partnership because it was only a summer job.

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