The Delhi gastro scene is coming of age and how. With three recent food events held within a span of a month, foodies in Delhi-NCR couldn’t have asked for anything better. Gourmet shops thronged by customers, Michelin star chefs flying to India, people enjoying their drinks in the open, etc. were a farfetched thought some time ago but kudos to some of the individuals who made this a possibility. Not surprisingly, there were teething troubles and the scale and facilities could be improved. However, the efforts can only be applauded.
Fortunately I had the privilege to visit all the three events, and here are my views on them.
BBC Great Food Show: Held at The Grand Hotel, New Delhi, the event was well executed on the ground. There were enough interesting stalls to attract people apart from the Masterchef classes conducted by the experts. However, while I enjoyed as a customer by getting attention at each stall, stall owners complained of lack of footfalls. The reason was simple – visibility and marketing – better pre-event activities would have ensured more people knowing about the event. Also, it was difficult for me to relate to a completely vegetarian fare at a Gourmet event and surely I wasn’t the only one. Most stalls were reasonable priced and dished out great food, especially the Kayastha food by food critic, Anoothi Vishal and the amazing makke ki roti-sarson ka saag being served by Punjab Grill but it was beyond my understanding as to why The Grand Hotel was selling 4 small pcs of veg momos for Rs. 400. Perhaps, these were the most expensive road side style served momos in India I ever had.
Palate Fest: This fest got the most eye balls not only in terms of crowds but also the revenue. A first time initiative where Nehru Park buzzed with activities and all well-known restaurants participated with beer and wine freely floating around. People who keep complaining that Delhiites do not know how to behave post few beers were surprised to see the most well behaved crowd. Hardly any instance of eve teasing was reported. Nor was there any issue of littering even though the dustbins were limited. However, as a foodie my expectations weren’t met. To wait for over 40 minutes at each outlet with no seating space and dust trying to find its way on to the plates, eyes and mouth is anything but gourmet. Stall owners, given huge crowds (thanks to no entry charge), acted brusquely and treated customers with a frown. I got a taste of this at the Made in Punjab/Farzi outlet as they just wanted to shoo away people or offer them anything that gets them the most margin or could be easily assembled. I was there to taste different dishes from each outlet but huge waiting crashed my expectations and given that I was hungry, I settled for anything that I could lay my hands on but the food turned out to be substandard. This coupled with the naked electric wires, lack of toilets and water facilities convinced me that I am better off trying dishes at a restaurant unless the crowd is better managed the next time.
The Gourmet High Street: Look at the list of stalwarts- Chef Manish Mehrotra, Chef Vikas Khanna, Chef Kunal Kapur, Australian Chef Sarah Todd, Chef Saransh Goila, Chef Anahita Dhody and Chef Nishant Chaubey amongst many others. Getting all these stars under one roof was a task in itself. Add to that the air conditioned comforts of Epicentre at Gurgaon, handpicked crowd, gourmet stalls, free tasting of most products including Chilean and Italian wines, wine training at “Sipping Turf” and Master classes by the experts……it was a complete paisa vasool event for all gourmets. The Sipping Turf section has been held for the first time at such a large scale at any event in India – this event was the one that segregated the masses from the classes. I would have liked many more stalls but then this is just the beginning. The response was encouraging and I couldn’t but help notice a young budding Chef Tejasvi Arneja, an IIHM student, who kept taking notes and was one of the most enthusiastic participants in the show. He was just one amongst many others who had come from far to attend the show and understand the nuances from the maestros.
These are the early days of maturing of the food industry in India and though some may say it has a long way to go, I say the journey has at least started and has already covered some distance. Bring it on!