Now picture this – a few years ago, ‘Vaportrim’ allowed you to inhale your favourite dessert instead of eating it. Last year when Ming Yang at Taj Land’s End re-opened their doors, their ‘ice spheres’ infused with herbs and spices that accompanied the cigar ‘smoked’ cocktail were the toast of social media.
With Delhi’s Farzi Café opening up in Mumbai (Bangalore’s next), I’ve found myself getting bowled over by their Bailey’s Lollipop! But before we delve further, what exactly are ‘fusion’ and ‘progressive’ — the terms almost everyone seems to be using for food these days? Chef Sahil Singh, Executive Chef – Modern Pan Asian, Massive Restaurants (the entity that owns Farzi Café and Masala Library amongst others), breaks it down for us. “Both Fusion and Progressive are two very different concepts. It is widely believed that whenever you mix two things together it is considered “fusion”, while that may be theoretically correct; there is a thin demarcation between Fusion cuisine & the concept of Progressive cuisine. For instance, Fusion cuisine combines elements of various dining traditions while not fitting specifically into any and has been in existence for many years, whereas Progressive cuisine focuses on the traditional aspects of a country’s cuisine, while using modern cooking techniques and presentation styles, showcasing the food in a whole new avatar and is a relatively newer concept.”
But for a lot of diners, the words “progressive” and “molecular” are nothing but gimmicky, while others are enthralled by it. A couple of months ago, Mumbai played host to Mariki Sayles, mixologist from the 3 Michelin starred ‘Le Bernadin’ in New York. I posed this question to her while she was working on flavour combinations for a pop-up in Mumbai. “I can see both ends of the spectrum, sometimes people do resort to gimmicks, but for me, it’s taking elements of one and adding it to another – something that you wouldn’t have ordinarily thought of as working together. Like tamarind and sesame in cocktails,” she told me as she experimented with flavours for the pop-up in Mumbai.
However, getting diners accustomed to something new wasn’t always easy. “When we started out in 2013, there was some apprehension and a lot of questions among our guests. Many mistook the concept to be rather synthetic, unhealthy and unnatural; truth be told, the “chemicals” and “processes” used in this concept are all of biological origin,” says Chef Saurabh Udinia – Chef de Cuisine, Modern Indian, Massive Restaurants. He elaborates, “Today, we don’t have that challenge and on the contrary have a lot of guests asking for more. In fact, since we used similar techniques of molecular gastronomy in our beverage innovation to bring in a sense of surprise to the overall dining experience, we are witness to this concept spreading across the country as well.”
If like me, you’re wondering whether change is on the anvil, Chef Sahil Singh sums it up when he tells me, “Times are no longer changing, they have changed!” Indeed, they have. Molecular, Fusion, Progressive… these aren’t just restricted to food anymore, but are the buzzwords in mixology too, and clearly, people can’t seem to get enough of it.