Friday, August 11, 2017

JW Marriott, Chandigarh: On a culinary expedition

On the wheels: Road to London... A Gourmet Journey

When a group of adventurous Indians was planning to travel from Delhi to London they thought why bother with flights let’s just take the road. That’s precisely what they did and zipped through spectacular trans-continental terrain — IndoChina, Central Asia, Europe — logging miles and jotting experiences on the wonders of wander. These figures tell their story: 19,500 km, 55 days, 18 countries and 13 SUVs. 
Dilpreet Bindra (left) and Naveen Handa 
Among the trailblazers who took the road less travelled and accomplished the feat is Dilpreet Singh Bindra, General Manager, JW Marriott, Chandigarh. A passionate explorer, he is overwhelmed by the sheer scale of Road to London 2017, organised by Gurgaon-based Adventures Overland. 
“What an incredible journey this has been. We had planned meticulously for over six months and everything worked to precision. What made it remarkable was the cultural exchange, the thrill of traversing the Silk Route, the magnitude of nature, and the impeccable highways that made driving such a pleasure.” 

After flag-off from Imphal and clearing the customs at Moreh, the Indian border outpost, the self-driven expedition made its way through Myanmar, Thailand, and the rain forests of Laos, before entering China and being dazzled by the state-of-the-art Dragon country. What welcomed them next was the vastness of land and warmth of locals as they drove through Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. Further on Russia showed its gentle side while Latvia, Lithuania and Poland delighted them with East European generosity and courtesies. It was a breeze here on as the convoy manouvered through Czech Republic, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, France to finally cross the English Channel and let out a hurrah in London. 

Bindra wasn’t only at the wheel during the trip as the hotelier in him made sure he peeped into kitchens at restaurants and highway inns, cooked and ate (and even sang) with locals, gathered spices and collected an assortment of recipes. Once back to work in Chandigarh, cuisines were discussed with the F&B section at the hotel. Lead by executive chef Naveen Handa, the team worked for over a month to recreate what Bindra had tasted and the result is Road to London... A Gourmet Journey, a five-day food festival on the culinary trail of 18 countries, that commences today. At the preview on Thursday, I tasted a sample of what’s on offer and all I can say is the palette of flavours pleased the palate enormously.

Auksta zupa
Yall dib
If the deep pink auksta zupa, a chilled beetroot-cucumber soup from Latvia had a perfect blend of flavours, the gaeng kiew wan pak (vegetable green curry) and coconut jasmine rice showed the subtlety Thai cuisine is known for. From Laos, yall dib, which is fresh vegetable juliennes wrapped in paper-thin rice sheets and served cold was stunning in its simplicity. While driving through South East Asia, Bindra had found the cuisine of the region offered impressive vegetarian delicacies, and the selection presented at the food fest stands testimony to that.
Chengdu hotpot
Tasting sessions at China have brought in original Sichuan, Xingjiang and Yunnan flavours. The show-stopper on the table was the Chengdu hotpot, a Sichuan whole roasted fish broth flavoured with herbs. From places on the Silk Route, as Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, there is the baked somsa, a precursor of our deep-fried samosa, besides robust lamb stews and shashlik, prepared traditionally using minimal spices. In this section, standing in a league of its own is the tandyr nan, the Uzbek flat bread, so perfectly baked, that I enjoyed having it all by itself. Another star for me was cepelinai, Lithuanian poached potato and mushroom dumpling in sour cream. It looked wicked but bowled me over with its delicate texture and a burst of flavours. In the Europe segment there will be a lot more to choose from, as the popular bigos from Poland and bitterballon from The Netherlands. A wide choice of breads and flavousome dips complete the line-up of over 50 dishes which also includes fare from Lucknow, Assam, Bihar and Meghalaya. 

The desserts section is a medley of sweet temptations: cakes, tarts and flaky pastries. One that took me back to my trip to Poland was karpatka. Delicious!  Matterntaart from Belgium, xianhua bing, a Yunnan rose-flower cake, marlenka from Czech Republic, baumkuchen from Germany and klingeris from Latvia were some others in the irresistible club.

That it was a huge learning experience for the chefs was visible in their enthusiasm to explain culinary nuances of what they had laid out. For it’s not every day that a hotel gets to prepare Latvian, Uzbek, Krygyz, Kazhak or Polish dishes. This fest is an absolute must-visit, especially if to you passion means food. 
What: Road to London – a gourmet journey 
Where: The Café@JW, JW Marriott, 
            Sector 35, Chandigarh 
When: August 11 to 15, 2017
           Brunch: 12.30 pm to 3.30 pm, 
           Rs 1,550 plus taxes  
           Dinner: 7.30 pm to 11.30 pm, 
           Rs 1,950 plus taxes

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