Chitra thrives on excellent cuisine. In her quest to taste the best ethnic foods, she has dragged me across time zones, even countries.
As the president of GC7 (Gastronomic Club of Seven), Chitra gets invitations from all over North America. GC7 is made up of seven members spread out in North America who regularly correspond by modern communications. Aspiring chefs clamour for their attention to earn a nomination for the GC7 Chef of the Year award.
The season opened in late September at a friend’s place in Scarborough. The evening flitted around music shows in India, finger food, solid food, and light bantering.
Mrs. Yanee’s biryani
What set the standard for the 2008 GC7 charts was Mrs. Yanee’s Eid lunch. Before the gastric juices settled from Saturday’s dinner, Chitra and I set out for Sunday’s lunch. Mrs. Yanee opened the door and a heavenly smell wafted out.
Mrs. Bhir Yanee had floated the invitation to GC7 members well in advance. She sent a sampling of the menu to GC7 headquarters in early September. Another member of GC7 from Hamilton also joined the group around the formal dining table.
Every GC7 culinary submission is set in stages. GC7 points can be earned from innovation, table setting, description, display, aroma, texture, and, finally, taste.
The dining area opened on one side to the formal living room; on the other, to the sun room. The eight-seater dining table was set to perfection with floating candles and flower vases hovering over sterling cutlery and bone china. The clouds had moved in and plunged the room in semi-darkness; candles provided a sensual atmosphere and lit up the room subtly.
Chitra took her seat at the head of the table with her spouse to the left. On her right seated another G7 member Mrs. Yaou Shah with her spouse. Three invited guests lent weight at the other end of the table leaving the chair at the foot of table empty for Mrs. Yanee. Mrs. Yanee moved her chair and stood facing the table. She began her presentation.
“Madam President, GC7 member, honored guests. I am deeply honored to have been given the opportunity to present my culinary skills. As you may know, this is a celebration for me in two senses of the word; the end of holy month of Ramadan and a nomination to GC7 Chef of the Year Award.
“My cuisine today centers around chicken biryani. Biryani is said to have originated from Persia and made popular by the Mughals. In India, there are over 26 varieties of biryanis. Today’s recipe comes from my mother and I will pass it on to my daughter who, hopefully, will excel at it.
“Good biryani has to be enjoyed with all the senses. Close your eyes and let go of all your thoughts.” Mrs. Yanee’s voice trailed off as she entered the kitchen through the sliding doors at one corner of the living room. In a moment, a heavenly smell filled the room and teased the senses of everyone seated.
“Please give me a moment to transfer the dishes.” Mrs. Yanee’s voice seems to have taken the smoothness of a gifted presenter. “You may open your eyes now.”
Holding its own
The flower vases had moved; in its place two serving dishes heaped with chicken biryani sent steaming signals of delight. In the candle light the rice looked golden brown. Mrs. Yanee proceeded to serve Chitra first. She wheeled the food cart holding a giant dish from which she served everyone. “Biryani can hold its own fort. After you have tasted it, I will serve raita and pineapple pickles.”
The room fell silent. Chitra felt the texture of rice. Each long grained rice fell apart from the other; the consistency just right. Although she distinguished touches of spices such as cardamom, bay leaves, cloves, and mint in the aroma, they were not evident. Mrs. Yanee must have painstakingly removed all traces. Chitra proceeded to taste the rice and chicken separately. The masala had drenched the boneless chicken. No doubt, at some stage, the chicken was slowly cooked with the masala and rice. The second and third courses of chicken biryani were served with raita and pickles.
Chitra realized that Mrs. Yanee, in serving just one main dish, brilliantly trashed any competition that she may come up against. It is still early in the season, but Chitra had to admit that the standard for the season was already set to the highest.
Chitra’s search continues… Check back for “Pretender from East tries to woo Chitra”.