Thursday, January 31, 2013

Going The Whole Hog

Last week I received an invitation to a barbecue demonstration by a famous British chef, followed by cocktails and dinner.  I had recently bought an American charcoal grill and I thought I might have been put on some kind of mailing list by mistake.  But, when I wrote back to inquire, it turned out that I had a 'press invite' as the event manager had been reading my food blogs.

It seemed like a good opportunity to watch some new ways of using grills, and I gladly accepted.  The barbecue was held outdoors, on a terrace of Movenpick (a branch of the Swiss chain that has recently come to Bangalore) and was organised by Weber (the American grilling company).  There was a scattering of people present - hotel invitees, media, foreign visitors and the organisers, sipping some fizzy drinks and milling about.

I walked to the grilling area and took a look at the chef's card - Andy Annat of Crackerjackbbq.  It showed a pleasant and plump pig under a blue cloudy sky.  The kind of pig that might give Lord Emsworth a few anxious moments and the Empress a real run for her medal.  Thereby undoubtedly, would hang another tail.  Unfortunately, this being modern age Bangalore and not ye olde Wodehousian Market Blandings, nothing much happened.  The pig remained calmly standing beneath the clouds and I moved quietly backstage to view the goings on.

There were three chefs in action.  Andy, who immediately grinned at my camera, an Italian chef who was calmly and efficiently peeling pineapples and an Indian chef who was putting together bits of apparatus.  There were four grills (two gas and two charcoal) set up for the demonstration and I nodded to the Weber service man (who had helped me assemble my grill at home); he was busy heating charcoal for the gigantic grills (Andy later told us he had cooked about 35 chickens on one of them for a party).

I found myself a conveniently shaded chair and sat happily beneath the blue cloudy sky, much like the pig (I hoped the similarity ended with the blue sky and contented look).  Things began to move and soon, Andy was on stage (just a few feet away), being introduced as a celebrity chef.  He began by spraying the air with tiny wood fragments (that would cost the earth in Weber shops) like confetti, getting a whole goat onto a grill and then fizzing it with some beer he had opened to help get the show on the road.

Soon after, he threw the silicon basting brush in the air (and it landed one knows not where), pulled out a brush made with a tuft of herbs tied to a wooden handle.  This is apparently what is used by Those who know how to Grill.  Of course, a few minutes later, the silicon brush was needed to glaze some bread and on being asked, the Italian chef (in true Jeeves style, without raising even a fraction of an eyebrow) informed Andy that he had just thrown it away.  Oh well - hard luck.  Stiff upper lip, old chap and all that - and the show went on.

My interest began with lighting the fires  - how much coal to use, how hot it should be and, of course, different ways in which one could cook with direct and indirect heat.  Andy was more than happy to have me come up to see the fires at close range and to answer all kinds of questions that I (and some others from the audience) had about methods and recipes.

The hotel had laid out many different foods for grilling - meat and fish on a bed of ice, vegetables and fruit, paneer, bread dough - and the chef did go the whole hog by showing us how to cook all this and more (throwing in extras like Yorkshire puddings and naans, which tasted wonderful just by themselves).  Andy Annat has a flair for keeping an audience involved and entertained, which is always helpful at events like this.  He breezed through the session with a wacky sense of humour and showed us how to cook a whole goat, three kinds of chicken, three kinds of fish, fruit, vegetables and various breads without any apparent effort.

There were some nice accessories and pans that were used in versatile ways - an arrangement to retain some liquid at the bottom of the pan and have things cooking around it - which would turn out a good roast chicken as well as a very nice batch of brownies with chocolate sauce.  Loads of possibilities conjured up with a grill and a little flick of imagination.

What I particularly enjoy grilling are vegetables - they taste sweet and smoky (and caramelize beautifully) and these are perhaps the simplest things to cook.  We had smoky red peppers, sweet yellow ones, small tomatoes, zucchini, onions and a very interesting concoction of pineapple doused with rum, brown sugar and cinnamon.  I have never tried grilling desserts and realized that very interesting possibilities lay in this realm.

The fish cookery was quite fascinating as well - Andy used soaked cedar planks (which can be used many times over) to support the fish.  In India we would use banana leaves but they are more fragile and harder to work with.  Very little seasoning went on the fish (and on most things, by Indian standards) but when one has good ingredients and a perfect fire, very little is required, I think.  I have once eaten a freshly caught fish that was sprinkled with a little salt and roasted (by the fisherman) on a tiny wood fire - it tasted heavenly.  Here, we had fish basted with olive oil, lemon juice and a little fresh fennel, and it was very good.

Finally, as dusk approached, Andy put down his gear as the local chefs took over.  People (many who seemed to know each other) flocked together over clinking glasses and the party began.  Waiters hovered around offering some of the grilled foods.  Belgian beers on a promotion sale were opened and tried, they were filled with delicious flavours of wheat and malt.

As the stars emerged, dinner was served.  It was a nice meal though we had been expecting to taste more of the barbecued food.  Some of the things we had seen on the grills mysteriously vanished before we could sight or taste them.  I made friends with a couple of Korean girls who have been living in Bangalore for aeons and who greeted me like long lost friends though we had never met before.  The chef graciously handed me a bbq cap for all my persistent questioning and suddenly swung me up in the air for a fairly dramatic picture that my husband clicked.  It was a fun evening.

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