Laurent Gras. Body fat 2 (t-w-o) percent.
© Taj Hotels
Varq's haute take on jalebis.
For our May travel issue, we polled chefs, sommeliers and food writers around the globe to come up with the 100 best new food and drink experiences on the planet. Varq restaurant in New Delhi made the cut, and it ended up being my most revelatory meal in India.
Chef Hemant Oberoi, the Taj hotel group's corporate chef and the visionary behind Varq, and his right-hand man at Varq, executive chef Ankit Sharma, have taken India's street foods and traditional regional dishes and modernized them by applying new techniques and introducing new ingredients, like scallops and foie gras--then serving those dishes on Thomas Keller–designed Limoges china in a very glamorous dining room.
Ganderi kebab, minced chicken marinated with spices, gets deep-fried on a sugarcane stick so that it looks like a corn dog and served in a shot glass with amchur chutney in the bottom. Atta raan, perhaps the most theatrical dish on the menu, is a supertender leg of lamb that has been marinated in mace, cardamom and red chile and baked in a saffron-dough shell. I adored his refined take on the street snacks that I'd been dubiously eating the past week. I'd become addicted to jalebi, a sticky, sugar-high-inducing sweet that looks like a mini funnel cake and has the electric orange color of Cheetos. On the street they are fried in enormous cast-iron pans, fished out of sizzling pools of oil and eaten piping hot. At Varq, they are perfectly shaped spirals of warm, crunchy dough, more yellow than orange (the result of less-sugary syrup), decorated with silver leaf and lined up side by side with a pistachio yogurt for dipping.
When I later met up with Oberoi, I asked him why I can't find that kind of Indian restaurant in New York City. He let me in on a little secret: He's planning a stand-alone Varq in NYC for the near future.
© Taj Hotels.
Nadesar Palace, Varanasi.
I became fascinated with Varanasi, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities on the planet and one of the world’s top pilgrimage sites, after reading Geoff Dwyer’s slightly mad book Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi. The city, off the River Ganges, is a chaos of cars, rickshaws, motorbikes, cattle and people bathing on the ghats, while just up the river, a burning body is being sent to rest in the same waters. It was the third stop on the Maharajas Express Celestial India itinerary and after a sunrise boat ride along the ghats, a rickshaw ride through the markets and a shopping binge on the city’s famed Banarasi silk saris, I was desperately ready for an escape from the city’s bedlam.
I found it at the new Nadesar Palace, set on 40 acres of mango orchards and jasmine fields. Originally built by the East India Company to house its officers, then turned into the Maharaja’s palace, it is now a 10-room Taj Hotel with marble bathrooms, four-poster beds draped with Schiaparelli pink netting and original art from the Maharaja’s collections. I spent the afternoon with chef Sanjeev Chopra, who took me on a horse-drawn carriage ride past his organic garden before taking me into the kitchen. Chopra has created a fascinating menu totally focused on local cuisine: He spent months visiting the villages, lanes, elite houses and royal kitchen of Varanasi to learn the ancient royal cooking techniques and find lost recipes. He then asked housewives, royal cooks and maharajs from Dharamshals to visit the Nadesar kitchen to cook and train his team. I ate my way across castes, sampling matar ki puri (green peas stuffed in a deep-fried wheat pancake) from the royal kitchen and the ubiquitous street sweet gulab jamun, cottage cheese dumplings soaked in sugary syrup. It was one of the most satisfying, and definitely the most enlightening, meal of my trip.
© Chris Quinlan
NYC Winner Chef Adam Kaye
Cochon 555, the 10-city tour that celebrates farmers and heritage pig breeds, was back in NYC on March 21 for its second annual cooking competition. New York star chefs Marco Canora, Gavin Kaysen, Adam Kaye, Mark Ladner and Corwin Kave competed for the Prince of Pork title, and a chance to cook at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. I was lucky enough to be in the judges’ room, where the Brooklyn Brewery Local 2 and K Vintners Syrah were flowing—including a special magnum from K Vintners, one of only 200 that winemaker Charles Smith (F&W’s Winemaker of 2009) bottles by hand each year and usually keeps for himself. Adam Kaye of Blue Hill at Stone Barns was the winner—I could eat his famous face bacon (a crunchy, lacy disk made from pig cheeks) at every meal! But I had a lot of other favorites as well, like Marco Canora’s arancini stuffed with heart and kidney and confited leg with fennel salad, and Mark Ladner’s gigantic lasagna—20 layers of pasta, shoulder, sausage, testa, belly, liver and kidney topped with spicy tomatoes and cracklings.
© Chris Quinlan
Chef Marco Canora's Dishes
Chef Bobby Hellen, one of my favorites from last year’s competition and a fellow judge this year, hosted a fantastic after-party at Resto. Not to be outdone by the swine crews, Hellen made Belgian waffles topped with pork whip (whipped cream infused with brining liquid) and cooked three whole lambs for the crowd. Next stop for the tour: Boston on March 28. Next stop for me: Weight Watchers.
“Participation in the UNICEF Tap Project is an easy way for restaurants to help save the lives of children around the world,” says Tom Colicchio, chef-owner of Craft restaurants—all of which are participating in the Tap Project. (As my colleague Kate Krader reported, he’s also a superhero activist in the effort to end childhood hunger.)
According to UNICEF, 900 million people worldwide do not have access to clean water, and waterborne illnesses are the second-highest cause of preventable childhood deaths. For every $1 donation, UNICEF can provide one child access to safe, clean water for 40 days.
For a list of restaurants in your city that are participating in the UNICEF Tap Project, visit http://www.tapproject.org/restaurants/.
© Con Poulos
Rice Pudding with Poached Rhubarb
Here are a few recipes for ramps, spring peas and rhubarb to help kick off the season. Plus, check out these 100+ recipes in F&W’s Guide to Fresh Spring Produce:
White Cheese Pizza with Ramps
Spring Peas with Mint
Rice Pudding with Poached Rhubarb (Pictured)
© Hotel Amano
Mario Grünfelder created the cocktail list for the bar at Hotel Amano.
For the last few days (and very late nights), I found myself restaurant-and-bar-hopping around Berlin with Mario Grünfelder, the star mixologist of the city’s coolest bar, Tausend. F&W’s European correspondent, Gisela Williams, had been telling me about a number of ambitious projects the Swiss-born spirits genius been working on. He already co-owns Tausend, along with W Imbiss and the superhip Café 103 (which he says will be transforming into something even cooler very soon). Mario is good buddies with the brilliant, semi-maniacal chef Christian Lohse, so we met for lunch at Lohse’s Michelin-starred seafood-centric Fischers Fritz to talk about potential collaborations, which included talk of a 24-hour bar-hopping bus.
Later, Mario invited us to Cantina, the new restaurant in a room behind the bar at Tausend. The former chef of Berlin’s popular Shiro I Shiro is turning out casual Latin-Asian dishes like Peruvian tiradito, tuna tataki wrapped in foie and Momofuku-rivaling pork buns. Over a second round of the stellar pork buns, Mario shared his newest passion, making his own spirits, including an unbelievably smooth wheat-based vodka he’s named Greenfield and Harter 73 (Greenfield being an Americanized version of his last name; 73 referring to his date of birth; and Harter the last name of Tausend co-owner Til Harter). I’m hoping we’ll see bottles stateside soon.
When Tausend gets too crowded late at night, Mario heads to his newest bar project at the chic, affordable new Hotel Amano in the Mitte neighborhood. The low-lit lounge serves late-night snacks and Mario’s cocktails, like the Grischenko (Xoriguer gin, cordial lime juice and Limettensaft bitters) until 4 a.m. The prolific spirits obsessive is now off to Barcelona. Maybe he’ll be opening his first project outside of Germany soon.
Food & Wine’s super-plugged-in European correspondent, Gisela Williams, is based in Berlin and has been taking me to all the hottest new spots in town. Here, a quick rundown:
Wahllokal is in a somewhat awkward location between the business and tourist sections of Berlin’s Mitte neighborhood. Everything about the space is playful, from the tasting menu (divided into Beforehand, Right in the Middle and Thereafter) to the bleacher-esque, stadium-style seating and the wacky basement bathrooms (with showers instead of sinks for washing hands). The food, however, is more straightforward and very well-priced. Highlights were an ever-so-lightly breaded codfish with ox-muzzle salad and Thai asparagus and the watercress risotto with coconut and pomelo honey.
Raffaele Sorrentino, the miracle-working concierge at the Hotel Adlon Kempinski, recently opened two Italian spots side-by-side. The more casual Antica Lasagneria specializes in huge slices of lasagna from a classic meat-and-cheese to a spicy-sausage-and-broccoli. The dining room feels like a wine store with great Italian bottles literally from floor to ceiling. Il Punto is a Berlin favorite that Raffaele reopened in a new location in June serving stellar Italian classics and top Italian wines.
Daniel Achilles is the incredibly young chef everyone is talking about since he was recently awarded a Michelin star for his cooking at the new Reinstoff. Achilles has designed two tasting menus: "Quite Near" is more classic (calf's tail ravioli) while "Far Away" is much more experimental (scallop tartare with brussels sprouts and oyster emulsion). The wine list highlights Spanish and German producers.
For some people it might make any kind of cheese seem unappealing, but it’s made me excited to try Daniel Patterson’s recipe for creamy ricotta—using cow’s milk!
Check out F&W’s awesome cheese guide for tips on creating the perfect cheese plate, strategies for cooking with cheese and our favorite cheese-focused recipes.
And tell us, would you eat breast-milk cheese?