The annual culinary meet; ‘Chef’s connect 2013’ by WICA (Western India Culinary Association) held at Holiday Inn,Mumbai was a grand success and in line with the ‘Go Green’ theme for the year. WICA was formed in 2003 with a mission to promote cuisines and offer professional educational opportunities for its member chefs. Currently there are more than 300 members and going upwards. This event acted as a networking and an educational platform for members, industry partners and academia.
The conference began with the lighting of the auspicious lamp by ‘Padmashree’ Sunita Narain, Director of Centre for Science and Environment and publisher of a fortnightly ‘Down to Earth’, and WICA office bearers Chef Vernon Coelho; President, Chef Seetharaman Shetty; vice president, Chef Salil Fadnis; Secretary and Chef Sudhir Pai; the treasurer, followed by a welcome address by the president.
The keynote address by Ms Narain left everyone thinking about what to eat, what to serve and from where to source. She spoke about concerns like ‘honey laundering’ where cheaper variant were flooding the market. Bees being fed with antibiotics and sugar syrup for growth and better yield were producing honey which had unacceptable levels of anti-biotic and the saddest part being that there are no laws for distribution in India but there are stringent checks for honey export. She also spoke about the ads from food corporations (FMCG cos) claiming vague research figures and misleading consumers without much intervention by the powerless/purposely powerless advertising council. “First Food: Taste of India’s Biodiversity” was up on sale at the event and it could not get better than having it signed from the author herself.
Another eminent guest speaker was Chef Imtiaz Qureshi, a septuagenarian known as the ‘father of Awadhi cuisine’ and the man behind the revered restaurants ‘Dum Pukht’ and ‘Bukhara’ of the ITC hotels. Chef Qureshi spoke about his days in the 50’s when cooking was on firewood/coal to his stints serving royalty, state heads and celebrities. One thing he kept reiterating was the importance of hardwork in the formula for success. His humility despite all his pedigree definitely left a mark on all the chefs in the room as Chef Imtiaz happily posed for pictures.
Rahul Jain and Anmol Trikkanad the founders of doctormoo’s organic milk farms spoke about pesticides, adulteration, and free range and also about their unique tamper-proof packaging. Small scales at the moment, these zealots definitely have a plan to serve the whole ‘milky way”!
Naturopath Satish Pai took the audience through key ayurvedic concepts and mentioned that most of us in a quest to satisfy our 3 inch long tongue forget about the 33 feet long intestine!
Dr Vijaya Venkat the pioneer of holistic nutrition in India mesmerized the participants firstly with her aura and then food philosophy. She claimed humans are ‘fruitarians’ by nature and must eat raw food as far as possible. Dr Vijaya expressed and also got the participants to agree that as long as we were breathing, we are healthy, all we need to pray and work towards is better health!
Interspersed with these talks was a selection of food items on the buffet and at the participating company stalls. The Holiday inn Mumbai team did put in a lot of effort to set up a fantastic lunch buffet and they had to be even more careful when their guests were all gourmands. Pillsbury the main sponsor for the event had their stall displaying their newest selection of base gravies and readymade wrap bases. Nestle a co-sponsor had their chefs serving some creamy kadhai gravy and their newly launched Nescafe Gold coffee. I couldn’t help but to keep visiting the Morde Chocolate stall for their 72% dark chocolate.
The last leg of the event were the WICA awards, highlight being the achievement award for Chef Iranpur a loyalist who spent 42 years at the Taj hotels and was last heading the pastry for the Taj Group. He seemed overwhelmed and thanked legendary Chef Satish Arora who was also present at the event for being his ‘guru’ and giving him the break when he first interviewed him in 1971. The last set of awards went to winners of ‘The budding chef’ an inter-collegiate culinary competition organized by WICA.
‘Chef’s connect 2013’ came to an end with a thanking address by Chef Sudhir Pai and the announcement of ‘Chef’s connect 2014’ to be held on 20th September. Looking forward!
P.S: Yours truly also spoke on food, wine and sustainability of wines, wineries and grape farmers at the event.