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A delicious tribute to edible flowers

Friday, April 19, 2013Me! In words

Flowers are pretty - My mum has a massive garden full of them, I was decked with them at my wedding, my little one waits patiently for buds to bloom in our window sill garden... well you get the drift. So when I got an invitation to a chef's table that was going to use flowers in each of the dishes served, my interest was more than piqued. You ogle at them, deck up with them, decorate with them, gift them, but eating them would definitely be a first for me. So off to 12th Main at the Grand Mercure it was on a Saturday morning to witness Chef Vimal Vikraman, Executive Chef of Grand Mercure at work. 

Leaving home on a Saturday at 9.45 in the morning seemed well worth the effort and when we got there a lovely little table, decked with orchids, near the koi pond was waiting for us. The session began soon and chef told us how edible flowers have to be of the organic variety. You can't really go picking the flowers off your flower-wallah's cart for this. While abroad there are an abundance of organic flower shops, in India chef had to make do by plucking flowers from personal gardens for this demo. Prepping flowers for your cooking is simple - a cold water dunk to bring all those wigglies to the surface and you are good to go. 

Our table

All set for some cooking - this mis-en-place had mangoes, papayas, petals from varying flowers, salad greens, a berry compote and garnishes. 

Ice teas and lemon sodas to keep the heat at bay

Chef Vimal Vikraman, Executive Chef of Grand Mercure

The first dish was the Polynesian Salad with a base of wafer-thin cucumber slices. This dish was assembled before us and it was pretty evident that Chef loves to take his time to make your food look pretty (above). As you will see progressively, each of his plates have their own unique arrangement, with none of the ingredients used just for show. Each little element contributes to the taste of the dish.

So this salad starts with the cucumber and then has mango and papaya slices added on. Some crunchy salad greens, halved cherry tomatoes and a spoonful of the berry compote in the center, complete the main elements. Flower confetti consisting of a mixed marigold and rose petals with thin shavings of bell pepper made the dish complete. It was finished with some berry jus and balsamic vinegar (below).

I thought the salad may taste overly tart with the berry compote and cherry tomatoes. Instead, the mango and papaya cut through the tartness and brought out some really fresh flavors. Every bite had soft and crunchy textures and not to forget the flowers, well they did taste flowery (for want of a better word), and I am totally inspired to try something out myself now at home.

The Polynesian Salad

The Hibiscus was to be the star of the next dish

The next was a hibiscus veloute with a basil, coriander flower fondue. Chef began the soup by sauteeing together finely chopped onion, garlic, potato and shredded petals of hibiscus. Water was added and the concoction boiled to  get a nice stock. Before the stock was pureed, a bit of the white liquid was removed and whisked with some egg white to create a delicate foam. The rest of the stock is pureed with more of the hibiscus petals giving it a orange-pinkish look. Chef finished it with a dollop of the white foam and the stamen of the hibiscus flower. Yes you can eat it and it has a slightly okra like sticky taste to it, but all for a few seconds. The soup though delicious did not let a "flower" taste come through much.

Pouring with flourish

Hibiscus veloute with a basil, coriander flower fondue

There were two main courses in the making - a vegetarian and a fish one. They were the pan fried silver pomfret, braised lotus hearts, wilted spinach, marigold and warm jasmine vinaigrette. The vegetarian version was the roasted carnation vegetable tart, with sweet tomato. 

Chef began by prepping the spinach for something very interesting to be done to go along with the fish. First he sauteed some shredded spinach leaves with garlic, pepper and some onions till they were completely wilted. Next he blanched some really big spinach leaves, making sure he kept them intact. Once done, he opened out one of the large leaves with the spine facing the outside. Small shreds of marigold were added to the sauteed spinach and balls shaped out of them. This was placed on the open leaf and rolled up to give a nice, tight little bundle that you see below. 

Filets of silver pomfret were marinated with salt, pepper, garlic and then dipped in flour and pan fried. Chef mentioned that you could choose seasoning the flour or the fish before you pan fry it. And then of course chef took his time to assemble the plate. Besides the black grapes, scooped out cherry tomatoes and the marigold infused spinach, chef also drizzled on a bit of cucumber jus - very simple to make - blend a whole cucumber along with its peel and a few more peels thrown in for a good green color. Place in a muslin cloth and let drip to get a nice clear jus... never squeeze or you could end up with a cloudy liquid. The same can be down with blended pomegranate seeds. 

In terms of taste - though the fish did taste nice and fresh, it was the spinach and marigold that remained the highlight of this dish for me. Slice through the little package and the contrast of yellow and green are brilliant to look at and to taste as well. 

Spinach being sauteed
The ready spinach and marigold package

Pan fried silver pomfret, braised lotus hearts, wilted spinach, marigold
and warm jasmine vinaigrette

The vegetable tart was made earlier and used the basic vegetables found in a ratatouille - zucchini, bell peppers, carrots. The color is from the pink of carnations and the mix was ensconced in puff pastry and baked. Rather than go with the usual floral shape of a tart, chef decided to slice up the tart as squares and went ahead to plate them in a few different ways. 

The flavors again very like a "flower", but here a distinctly different one from the marigold. The vegetables were a bit mushy but that added to the flakiness of the pastry. 

The original plating of the roasted carnation vegetable tart, with sweet tomato

For an Indian touch - with roasted masala papad, roasted cloves of garlic and dry red chilies also with cucumber and pomegranate jus

With onion rings, rose petals and the jus
Dessert was a rose panacotta - rose puree was infused into a milk, rather than cream panacotta making for a nice airy dessert. The highlight were the sugar encrusted rose petals. Take nice, clean petals, give them a light egg white wash and sprinkle sugar on them and refrigerate. They make for a crunchy sweet addition to the mild panacotta. The sugar craft you see is made with isomalt sugar and a mix of color spread on a sheet, baked a few minutes and then cracked to create these beauties.

A moulded version of the dessert here and a martini glass version below

This was by far one of the most interesting meals I have had this year so far. Edible flowers - you need creativity and the right kind of treatment to bring out the right flavors and Chef Vimal was spot on. Its not really part of the menu right now at 12th Main, but would definitely make for a great festival to look forward to. Chef Vimal... are you listening. 

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