Mind boggling choices here. Should I take a class in it’s most legendary cooking school? Feast in the Michelin starred uber luxurious restaurant? Dine on traditional brasserie classics? Or take a sip of history in my favourite author Ernest Hemingways favourite bar ? Not to mention that it has the city’s best swimming pool (perfect to burn calories and build up an appetite) Over the years I’ve been doing it all. One step at a time. For sure this ain’t no mere Parisian hotel. It’s a global legend. It is over a hundred years old and still in line with the times. It has not only been witness to history but has even rewritten history, inspired trailblazers and blazed many a trend itself. Beloved of literary geniuses (Hemingway, Proust et al) movie stars, fashion legends, this is the only hotel in the world whose name become part of our vocabulary and has even inspired the song “Putting on the Ritz” ( dress fashionably). Founded in 1898 by two of the worlds greatest names in hospitality, Cesar Ritz and the greatest French Chef Auguste Escoffieur it was the first to have lifts, electricity and private bathrooms. A few years ago it went through renovations but preserved its period furniture and paintings à la Louis XV et al. Christian Boyens who helms this landmark ensures that it continues to be the queen of hotels and hotel of queens.
THE GREAT TABLES OF THE WORLD
Whoa! So many stars in the afternoon? A few days ago, at the iconic Ritz, I attended the elegant and exclusive launch of the prestigious Les Grand Table du Monde 2018 (the great tables of the world).Only Michelin starred chefs present at the launch of this guide established in 1954 to “defend the values of great gastronomy and the art of living” covers 26 countries, across five continents and features 172 restaurants. President David Sinapian, presented the Guide and the ten new members in the salons of the iconic Ritz Paris. My co chairperson of the Worlds 50 best restaurant academy. Nicolas Chatenier flagged off the delicious afternoon with his welcome speech. And a memorial tribute to Paul Bocuse, caviar, oysters to Baba au rum and DomPerignon sparkled the afternoon. It was the brilliant starred chefs who lit up the afternoon. Three starred Alain Ducasse, George Blanc to Pierre Hermes and Yannick Alleno. And playing the perfect host was Chef Nicolas Sale. Ritz’s Michelin-starred restaurant L’Espadon (swordfish), shimmering with mirrors, chandeliers, Louis XV chairs, porcelain and silver cloches continues to provide the perfect setting for his imaginative creations. Fresh from a two-star restaurant in Chamonix, he brings a contemporary vision to luxury ingredients, as in his three-stage starters (lure, raw, cooked) like langoustine with caviar and a main course of Bresse chicken for two.
Named after the noble prize winning author (and my hero) Ernest Hemingway, this charming iconic bar weaves magic. Heres an excerpt from my book “A vegetarian in Paris” (A Times Publication).
“Just what do you think the renowned American author Hemingway did in this bar which he loved? Knock back martinis ofcourse, but, the unverified story goes that its thanks to his boozing ways that the “Bloody Mary” was invented here. “Make a drink which I can drink all day and which doesn’t stay on my breath” he boomed at the Ritz bartender “so that when I go home, bloody Mary cannot smell it”. Mary was the third (or was it fourth wife?) of this colorful, lovable author. Infact, after the World war and the German occupation of this hotel, it was Hemingway who was the first to bring in his buddies and “liberate” the hotel. The award winning mixologist, Colin Field helms this masculine, cozy warm wood paneled bar with leather chairs and high stools studded with his photos and of famous authors were regulars here (Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce to name a couple). On the menu are a few veggie dishes (artichoke platter, risotto) and many a Hemingway favorite cocktail too.”
And this time at this star among the bars (done up with original photos and letters from Hemingway) I once again elbowed my way into the packed space to chat with brilliant bar chief Colin Peter Field and request him for his Bloody Mary recipe. Should you want it, please email me email@example.com
It was an amazing dream come true…I attended a cooking class by the world famous Japanese chef Nobu at this legendary.
Ritz-Escoffier School of French Gastronomy in the Ritz. The ethos of the school is based on Escoffier’s words, “Good cuisine is the foundation of true happiness.” It offers training courses and workshops for amateur and professional cooks and I never miss a chance of attending one.
Please take a look at the accompanying photograph (shot amid mountains, an hours drive from Paris.) I’ve shot it on this snowy morning after having just taken an invigorating dip in the outdoor hot Norwegian tub. Had a delicious organic breakfast (with the home made jams on freshly baked yeasty bread). It’s all part of “Echo” the philosophy of well-being which runs through it’s beauty and lifestyle organic products and food in Chateau de Sacy, this beautiful castle on a hill in the midst of vineyards. Chef Nicolas Christoforretti, infuses his cuisine with the culinary richness of the Champagne district. And the lovely Tiphaine Brossier ensures a seamless experience. I get high on this whole new aspect of wellness as I do on nature, art, history, culture and ofcourse champagne. After all I’m reporting from France’s Champagne district where not only is the king of wines and the wine of kings made, but where thirty three French kings were crowned in the UNESCO heritage jewel of a gothic cathedral. Sante!
Im celebrating. Im saluting the trailblazing culinary revolution focussing on health, vegetables, naturalness that is taking place here, in Paris, the gastonomique capital of the world. I’ve been researching vegetarian restaurants around the world ( China, Russia, Japan too) and here in Paris I find paradise. This Parisian landmark is synonymous with Dior, Dietrich and diamonds. This is where icons and trends are born since 1913. And it is here in Plaza Athenee that the very best of the best, the Michelin starred maestro Alain Ducasse’s shimmering temple to gastronomy is blazing trails. He serves up the trilogy…vegetables, cereals and fish. It goes without saying that the brilliant chef in the restaurant Romain Meder, ensures that the technical base of French haute cuisine remains intact, including expertise and absolutely precise detailing for vegetable preparation, cooking and seasoning.
NO GARDENER, NO COOKS
Its amazing that here in this temple to high gastronomy the gardener is being given as much importance as the chefs. And there are several reasons for it.
Head gardener of the Royal Grand park de Versailles at the behest of François Delahaye who helms Plaza Athénée have established an exclusive partnership with the Palace of Versailles for the vegetables and fruits supply of the Alain Ducasse restaurant.
The freshest of seasonal Sorrel, squash, broad beans, zucchini, to shallots, rhubarb… dazzle. Also artichokes introduced centuries ago by Catherine de Medicis and were a runaway success at Court because of their hypothetical aphrodisiac virtues .
Needless to say, all these fruits and vegetables are never exposed to phytosanitary chemicals etc. Picked in the morning and in the kitchen with hours. The ever helpful Isabelle Maurin translates whenever I need explanations in the kitchen.
Starting off with the refreshing tomato water flavoured with hibiscus, a parade of masterpieces dazzle, black current in black rice, the kiss of beetroot flavour in amaranth seeds, the crunch of flax or sunflower seed and so on. This approach infuses the work of the talented pastry chef, Jessica Préalpato too.
What do Liz Taylor, Marlene Dietrich have in common with the Parisian landmark Plaza Athenee? Plenty. For sure, they along with legendary figures of the world of glamor and royalty loved to stay here but there is also a deeper connect: a delicious salad dish. I tasted this Salad Mc carthy for the first time in Los Angeles, in Polo Lounge, Hollywood’s most beloved and historic dining institution, when it had just undergone a subtle Tihany-style revamp to celebrate it’s 100th year .It was in Beverly hills (also part of the Dorchester collection) The Polo Lounge that Charlie Chaplin had a standing reservation, Marlene Dietrich, eradicated the “no slacks for women” dress code and dined here. And the gorgeous beauty Liz Taylor honeymooned here four times . Her daily favorite used to be the McCarthy salad . I loved it then and requested for the recipe too, Imagine my delight when the dapper Francois Delahaye (who I met just by chance thanks to my old friend Paul Roll) shows it to me on the menu and has it made too. Ofcourse here in Paris it has been adapted by Ducasse and diced bigger and softer. But I reproduce for you my Hollywood Polo Lounge recipe.
Beverly Hills Hotel McCarthy Salad
1/4 head iceburg lettuce
1/2 head romaine lettuce
1/2 cup grilled, diced free-range chicken
1/2 cup diced roasted red beets
1/4 cup free range egg yolk
1/4 cup free range egg white
1/2 cup bacon
1/4 cup diced tomato
1/4 cup diced avocado
Balsamic Dressing Recipe
1 c. Balsamic Vinegar
1 T. brown Sugar
3 cloves roasted garlic
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
salt and black pepper
Place all ingredients in a blender and drizzle in the vegetable oil to emulsify. Check seasoning
Arrange salad in bowl. Toss with balsamic vinaigrette tableside. You can vary ingredients according to your preferences.
Haute cuisine and haute couture are being seamlessly celebrated here. And Im overjoyed that “naturalness’ cuisines’ vegetarian masterpieces are not only being created in Michelin starred maestro Alain Ducasse’s shimmering restaurant located in the iconic couture landmark Plaza Athenee, but even our very own book “A vegetarian in Paris” (A Times group book publication) is being appreciated.This by the dapper Francois Delahaye who helms this landmark and the charming Isabelle Maurin. Ducasse’s “naturalness cuisine” with the help of his chef Romain Meder is not only healthier and more natural, more respectful of the Planet but it dazzles with flavour and taste. Therein lies its memorable magic.
Yoga and Thai salad? What does our very own yogic tree pose (Vrikshansana) have in common with the my most favorite spicy, sweet, sour Thai “Som Tam” (raw papaya salad)? I’m getting a taste of both inside a stunningly beautiful restaurant (Yes! You read that right). That’s only for starters, not only did I get the most authentic and delicious recipe for “Som tam” , the correct way to do the Vrikashana, but also learnt more about rejuvenation and the deep and abiding connection between food and health. I ve been writing about food and wellness for over three decades (including a weekly health column for 15 years and 52 episodes of a TV show on Health) but the “Asaya” experience here, in the stunningly beautiful Rosewood, Phuket is incomparable. It’s a hands on specially curated unique concept. It is rooted in self-discovery. Along with it Im feasting on Rosewood’s “Sense of Place” philosophy and delicious food too. And getting re-energised too!
SOM TAM AND THEN SOME
Ive dined at the finest Thai restaurants of the world (including Michelin starred ones) but none comes close to the experience here at Ta khai which sprawls under ancient trees beside the shimmering Emerald bay . Here aunty Yai and uncle Nun, the most lovable accomplished chef couple cook to authentic recipes..
And they cook here in this alfresco restaurant with it’s
open kitchens and live cooking stations. Ta Khai, which means “fishing net” has not only the most beautiful setting under trees bust also the most authentic food that ricochets in a myriad flavors and textures on my palate.A kitchen-to-table herb and vegetable garden and live fish pond adds to the magic. Many an authentic Thai dish such as Poh Pia Sod (fresh Phuket spring rolls) to KhanomTuay (steamed pandanus and coconut milk custard). They are generous enough to share the authentic vegan version of the Som tam and Yam som tam (Pomelo salad) too.
Som Tam Vegan
Quantity Lts 1 portion
40ml Lime juice
60gr long bean
40gr palm sugar
(Dressing )Mixed sugar ,lime and salt well in the mixing bowl
Pound chili and garlic in the mortar then put tomatoes and long bean and pound again
Add papaya ,dressing and peanut and mixed well
Yam Som O
Quantity Lts 1 portion
40gr White sugar
30gr Roasted grated coconut
20gr Deep fried shallot (Sliced)
30ml Coconut Cream
2gr Chilli powder
50gr Shallot sliced
5gr Coriander leave
10gr Birds chili sliced
4gr Deep fried dried chilli
30gr Tamarind juice
50gr Cashew nut
Shred the Pomelo and set aside
Place the lemon juice,salt,Chilli powder and sugar in a bowl,Mix well
Add thegrated coconut,peanuts, cashew nut and coconut cream.Continue to stir
Add the Pomelo and toss
Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle with fried shallots
HEALTH & FOOD
The knowledgable resident wellness practitioner, holistic wellness expert Steve Harvey has his own reason for making me eat “Som Tam”. This is the first time that I learn what food helps me when I travel a lot. “Sweet and spicy food will keep you grounded” explains Steve Harvey. This is just the beginning of my self-discovery journey. It truly is very exciting. And eye-opening. I experience their first Asaya, an innovative concept in holistic and integrative wellness journeys. It begins at Asaya’s beautiful “Wellness Atelier” with a consult with Steve Harvey. Here, the garden’s red and sweet basil, kaffir lime, lemon balm,murraya koenigii (Thai curry leaf) and pandanusingredients are crushed and blended into individual recipes for use in customized scrubs, wraps, masks and herbal compresses. The fresh Thai healing herbs are also incorporated into powerful aromatic oils used in Asaya Atelier Body Path rituals of therapeutic massages that give me deep relaxation, energy, mental clarity and relaxation. And then energy rebalancing with Himalayan singing bowls ritual follows.
Not only is my energy being rebalanced through food and therapies but even the environmentally sensitive architectural style that blends organically with the natural surroundings soothes. Through it all Im rejuvenating. And celebrating!
A TASTE OF THE DIVINE
Surprise of surprises. Here, in this spiritual retreat of a heaven- on- earth, I am being exposed not only to life-changing philosophies but also blowingly new perspectives on food.
Here I am in Isha Ashram. It sprawls below the majestic Velliangiri mountains, Coimbatore. The crisp, cool air of the 200 acre ashram is fragrant with flowering trees and plants. Champa and jasmine weave their heady magic. God paints his canvas with a riot of vivid colored flowers and fruits.
And in this paradise too, the fruit trees are heavy with smooth-cheeked papayas, fresh green lemons, glossy mangoes, plump custard apples and more. Each fruit bursting with goodness and flavor and color. Aptly enough, it is here that my perspectives on food get overhauled.
FOOD AND SELFLESS LOVE
Sure! Its through three decades of food writing, that I have learnt that there are some universal truths…gifted chefs skilled and experienced in the art and science of cooking produce great food. Tried and tested recipes are paramount. But I had no idea that selfless love can result in such tasty fare. Selfless love alone which drives total novices and amateurs. Here in this ashram Annadhanam ( An offering of food) is served to almost 2000 persons daily. It is totally free and is for the ashrams residents, volunteers & guests. Sattvic, positive pranic and 100% vegetarian food (a variety of salads, cereals, vegetables, fruits and porridge) is cooked here. Here’s the riveting part,
all the food here is cooked by volunteers.
Even more interestingly, these residents and volunteers in the center are from US, UK, Europe, Lebanon, of course Indian, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia and many more countries. I trip out on the delicious flavors and textures of many a cuisine here and the salads surprise with their cheeky ingenuity of combinations and then they seduce. I eat them in the cool winter-sunshine, and request the two volunteers Sriram Kumar and Bharathi.V. (who have made the salads) to pose with them.Please see the photograph. They’re both full time volunteers at Isha Yoga Center and both have lovingly cubed and chopped and mixed and matched fruits and vegetables, nuts, coconut and more and produced an astonishing symphony of tastes and textures. They generously share their salad recipes with us…
TANGY, CRUNCHY SALAD
Cucumber – Pineapple Salad:
– 1 cup cubed cucumber
– 1/2 cup cubed pineapple
– 1/4 cup pomogranate
– Little finely chopped Corriander
– Salt and pepper to taste
SWEET BLISS SALAD
Carrot Chikki Salad:
– 1cup grated carrot
– 3/4 cup apple ( Julian cut)
– 2 table spoon Grated coconut ( add more if needed)
– Pomogranate for colour
– 2 table spoon of broken groundnut chikki
– 1 tablespoon honey
– cut pieces of cashew nut, Raisins
– 1 teaspoon roasted white sesame seeds
RED RICE SALAD
– 1/2 cup cut Orange pieces
– 1/2 cup cut Apple
– 1 cup torn Spinach
– 1/2 cup semi boiled red rice
– 1 cup cut cucumber
Dressing: make a paste of the below mentioned ingridients in a blender
– 1/4 cup orange juice
– 1/2 cup peeled apple
– 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
– 1 teaspoon honey
– Salt and Pepper to taste.
MICHELIN-STARRED CHEF GORDON RAMSAY IN THIS ASHRAM
When the celebrated , revered and feared London based chef Gordon Ramsay’s team approached me to be his South India guide for his Channel 4 TV show “Great Escapes” I insisted he go to Isha ashram, Coimbatore and pick up not just spiritual principles but also great vegetarian cooking tips and recipes. Having done that, the committed carnivore that he is , Gordon came back to Mumbai totally impressed and converted.
He couldn’t believe how tasty the vegetarian fare was in the ashram and ofcourse he was bowled over by the erudite and enlightened, (fluent in English) Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev.Here its not about vitamins, minerals or proteins. Here, food is categorized as positive pranic food ( increases vitality in the body), negative pranic food,(drains energy) and zero pranic food. While Negative pranic food comprises of Garlic,Onion,Asafoetida,Brinjal,Chili and
Coffee / tea.everything else is positive or zero pranic.
Interestingly, lime and all citrus fruits, as well as coconut are highly prized positive pranic foods.
Needless to add all the salad recipes given above are positively pranic. What is it that the hardened carnivore, globally acknowledged Michelin-starred chef Gordon Ramsay got bowled over by? It’s the high-voltage combination of positive pranic energy and spectacular taste that is unbeatable. And addictive!