The Date: Sunday Sept 16
The Venue: Junoon , New York City
The Event:The Junoon Indiblogger Meet-Up
First things first.. For those of you who are wondering who or what on earth Indiblogger is, its the biggest blogger network for Indian bloggers from across the globe. They've been up and running for the past four years and in that period have done wonders in bringing together bloggers from all walks of life. Discussions span relevant topics of common interest to bloggers, including that all pervasive scourge that hangs over all of us, the threat of plagiarism. (they exposed one such scumbag and its amusing to read the thread of comments including those from the shamelessly unapologetic culprit).
Back to the event. It was a varied group of bloggers, with graduate students, a lawyer, a photographer,
a couple of graduates from the Culinary Institute of America (the other CIA), All of us with one thing in common, we all blog, about life, food, arts & craft.
Junoon is a Michelin star rated Indian restaurant in the heart of New York City. Founded by Rajesh Bharadwaj with the culinary operations spearheaded by Executive Chef Vikas Khanna and Chef de cuisine Walter Rozario, It is unarguably one of the finest dining establishments for elegant, high-end Indian food.
|View of the entrance with the 'trees of life' aligned in the foreground
Chef Vikas Khanna needs no introduction to the Indian diaspora. One of the most recognized celebrity chefs in India, he's been a judge in the Indian version of 'Master Chef' as well as other culinary shows such as 'Throwdown with Bobby Flay' and 'Hells Kitchen' with Gordon Ramsay.
A native of Amritsar,Chef Khanna embodied the essence of the well known Punjabi hospitality. Warm and easy going, he welcomed us graciously to his establishment. (although we must have looked more like a bunch of students from IIT - Bombay -- I'm taking the liberty of quoting my alma mater here -- wearing our Sunday best, rather than the well dressed Wall Street and Park avenue clientele that the restaurant is accustomed to).
The Indiblogger team headed by Anoop ('the Zombie') Johnson and Diana did a fabulous job of arranging the details down to the fingertips. There was a small meet and greet/registration session set up in the elegant bar area of the restaurant (inspired by decor in a hotel of the Taj Chain that Chef Khanna was associated with, early in his career), followed by appetizers in the private dining area set up exclusively for the group. Of course, the food ..
|Murg Tikka Mirza Hansru. -- Didn't ask what the name meant, just know that it was chicken.
Lahsooni Gobhi - Crisp fried cauliflower florets in a garlicky tomato sauce.
And my personal favorite, Paneer Pakora, delicately spiced paneer, in a chickpea batter fried to golden perfection. Served with a chilled Chenin blanc. The Paneer is made from scratch daily at the restaurant and is spiced specifically for the dish. More on that later!
As the wine goblets were being filled and the appetizers set on the table, Anoop introduced us to a first hand view of what Indiblogger was and their passionate mission to bring together bloggers not just in India, but Indian bloggers from all over the world. Their enthusiasm was contagious. Just as he signed off, in walks Chef Khanna in person. He led us through a personal guided tour of the restaurant, explaining each and every detail that went into its planning, creation and execution, from the decor to the desserts.
|The tour of the spice room
This was followed by a trip to the temperature controlled 'Spice room', an olfactory feast with the chef personally sharing his spice wisdom with a bunch of us foodie rookies, in such a down to earth manner. The prevailing atmosphere was similar to a pre-wedding saree/ trousseau viewing session with family! And about family & loved ones it was, Chef Khanna speaking fondly of his grandma 'Biji' and how she was THE inspiration for his choice of career.
It was back to the table where a divine spread was laid out paired with a perfect wine selection of Malbec.
Nadru Kofte: Delicate dumplings of Kashmiri lotus root and Fresh paneer , shaped into quenelles and cooked in a fennel and fenugreek spiced sauce, with an exquisite garnish of a fried lotus root wafer.
The all time comfort food, Daal Makhani
and a Meat entree Murg Lababdar (which of course I skipped, being a vegetarian) served up in the most gorgeous Mauviel cookware, (Hey I can still drool at the pots and pans, can't I?)
All served up with a selection of Naan & Rice and Mint Raita.
There was a little culinary quiz which served as a palate cleansing course as much as it was an experiment in neuroscience (there I go again, You can take me out of neuroscience, but you can never take the neuroscience outta me..It adds a captivating dimension to my foodie passions). We were served tasting potions of a soup and asked to identify the ingredients and write them down without consulting each other.
It was exactly like that proverbial fable about four blind men trying to identify an elephant after touching different parts of the animal. Chef Khanna must have had a rip roaring time reading our lists, but the take home message was that once your memory systems latch on to a familiar dish, it ceases to think beyond the ingredients that are already imprinted in your memory. To me the soup reminded me of a 'kootu' that my mom made with Suran (Elephant's foot yam).
Dessert was a beautifully plated dish of Mango and 'Paan' flavored kulfi duo. Beautifully set into perfect cubes and frozen to perfection in a blast chiller.
And remember that awesome Paneer Pakora I was talking about??..
More of that in my next blog post with a review of Vikas Khanna's latest cookbook, 'Flavors First'
& needless to say, this was an experience I'll treasure for years to come! Thank you Indiblogger & Junoon for the beautiful memories!
|Thats ME with a Cheshire cat like grin standing with the Chef. (the spotless Junoon Kitchen in the background)