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Food fests need to be creative, innovative: Experts

MUMBAI, Jan 25:  As food is increasingly being celebrated with much aplomb in the form of festivals, experts feel it has become a lucrative forum for everyone to jump on the bandwagon but stress that “innovation and creativity” has to be the focus of this ‘art’ form.
“Food seems to have become a lucrative forum so it’s only natural for everyone to jump on the bandwagon,” Farzana Contractor, Publisher and Editor of UpperCrust food magazine, said.
“I agree there are many food fests happening these days, some good, some mediocre. While the spotlight is on food and should be, it does get diluted due to commercial pressures and the tendency is to mix food stalls with artifacts and even fashion stalls,” said Contractor, who is hosting the UpperCrust Food & Wine Show from January 27-29 at the World Trade Centre here.
Asked whether such festivals focus on food innovation or are business events, Goa-based author and noted food critic Odette Mascarenhas said, “It depends solely on the promoter. There are many event companies who run the food festivals on a business/commercial basis. However, I am of the opinion that innovation and creativity in food preparations has to be the focus, if one wants to call it a ‘food’ festival. Otherwise it becomes just a ‘festival’.”
Contractor says the UpperCrust show, in its 14th year now, is “about all things food and drink” and it caters to both the business sector and general consumers – food lovers.
On the kind of food innovation seen in the last one decade, she said, “Well, the whole world is catering to the youth of today, who don’t know much about what contributes to good food. Neither do they really care.
“For them, good food is equal to good times. And good time could mean good music, good company, good atmosphere, beer and booze. So knowledge about traditional, regional food which is the epitome of cuisines, is zilch. Therefore, in India the play has been on popular world food and how it can be adapted to be serve as finger foods and quick bites or at best in small plates which can be shared,” she said.
She said over the years they had people not just from India but from all over the world coming to showcase their food and ingredients.
“Tea from Assam, rice from Punjab, spices from South India, sweets from the North…There was wine from France, Italy, South Africa, even Argentina and Israel,” she said.
On if food festivals are successful in encouraging food buffs to experiment with new cuisines, she cited an example of Japanese food.
“The aam junta did not know what this cuisine comprised. We had sushi being sold on a conveyor belt, like Yo Sushi! People tasted it and liked it and realised Japanese food is not just about raw fish. And for the first time visitors could buy Wasabi oil!” Contractor said.
Mascarenhas, who curated the food show at Serendipity
Arts Festival recently in Goa, said, “The focus was on showcasing ‘food as Art’. Art is usually appreciated by the senses…A painting can be appreciated perhaps visually and texture wise. But food? Aroma, taste, feel (palate texture), visual, sound (fish frying). All the senses are utilised making it a super art form.”
“We had taken all this for granted….We were brought up on the ‘eat to live’ paradigm.. Now we had to rework our thoughts on the same.
“In one part of the exercise at the Garcia d’Orta, we took the heritage of Goan food and the main preparation ‘rice’. As part of the art form…This simple ingredient was fashioned ‘noodle’ shape (dessert called sherveyos), flower shaped (modaks made during Lord Ganesh’s festival), Sannas (rice cakes in Christian Goan) accompaniment for the Vindalho. The rice dough transforms through the fingers of the home make,” she said.
She said as co-founder of the Goan Culinary Club, her focus is on preserving the heritage of the local cuisine.
Meanwhile, the Mumbai Press Club is also hosting a North Indian Food Festival to highlight the cuisines like ‘Litti Chokha’ and ‘Nimona ki Sabji’ of the region among the members.
“We organise food festivals to treat our cosmopolitan members to variety of food. Our focus is on providing basic popular dishes as well as innovative items from various regions. It’s not a business at all when it happens at the club,” club secretary Dharmendra Jore said.
“It’s all about bringing novelty to tables of the journalists who do not find time to explore options” he said.
This year, the UpperCrust show has recipes from both traditional and modern cuisine, like ‘Slow Cooked Chicken’, ‘Fig Compote with Cream of Onions’, ‘Kang Phed Ped Yang’- a red curry with roasted duck, ‘Tissreo Dangar’- clam cutlets and ‘Chocolate Salame’ – an innovative dessert.
At the UpperCrust show, Chef Francesco Francavilla- Head Chef at Vetro, The Oberoi, Mumbai, will be presenting his signature dishes like Beetroot Risotto, Burrata Cream and Crispy Ginger.
He says “food festivals are an opportunity for food lovers to meet chefs from various restaurants and experiment with different cuisines.”
Sudhir Pai, Executive Chef, Holiday Inn, who would also be presenting his cuisine at the show, said, “Today cooking demos are like fashion shows, it brings in a lot of excitement among the people, of course it is required for promoting business but it provides a great platform for the people to come and see what the real chefs who are cooking in their own kitchens, their recipes ,their secret tips, their styles and even get to taste.”
Sanjeev Ranjan- Executive Sous Chef, The Lalit Mumbai, is planning to present ‘Mushroom ki Galouti’ and ‘Kozhi Melugu Curry’ at the UpperCrust food show.
He says, “Food festivals primarily are focused on bringing to food lovers a unique platform where one is able to savour delicacies which have a blend of what the essence of the ingredient is and presenting in a way which appeals both to the taste buds and has a great eye appeal as well.”
Manav Koul, Executive Chef, Sofitel Mumbai BKC, says, “With high disposable incomes and outbound tourism flourishing, the demand for exquisite gastronomy experiences has increased.”
“Food festivals, food shows and expos, are one medium to explore the same, where chefs from different backgrounds come together; which enables the propagation of new ideas, culinary thoughts and also identifies possible future trends,” he said.
He said some of the food innovations seen over the last one decade include molecular gastronomy, DNA diets and sugar reduction technology.
Molecular gastronomy is “the physics and chemistry behind preparing a dish”. By using the technique, chefs can create new and inventive dishes through use of new equipment, techniques and get deeper understanding of food chemistry.
Explaining DNA diets, he said that as people become more aware of how their bodies respond to certain foods and diets such as the Paleo increase in popularity, so genetic tests are emerging that allow us to streamline a diet that’s best suited to our individual genetic make-up.
Regarding sugar eeduction technology, Koul said scientists are coming up with healthy alternatives to sugar, which give food the same palatability, appearance and preserving power.
“We are seeing the beginning of this in India,” he added. (PTI)

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