It wasn’t going to be easy. But easy is not what I had in mind either. I had got a whiff of kosher food rules while at home emailing Israeli chefs and Chen (who is the director of F&B at Crowne Plaza Hotel in TA) about the strict parameters within which we had make our menu. Chef Nanniah and I were going to Tel Aviv to present south Indian cuisine to the Israelis. Kosher food has to be in confirmation with the Jewish law. For instance, a kosher compliant menu will not allow meat to be served with dairy products. Meat and dairy need to be consumed in a six hour gap and its religious blasphemy to combine them together in one meal. There are many other rules to this list. There is also a rabbi in strict religious kitchens dedicated to policing the food making and blessing the raw materials before they are wheeled out into scrumptious mouth watering delicacies. Yes, so while at work at the Crowne plaza kitchens, located on the scenic shores of the Tel Aviv west beach, I had to get used to prying eyes demanding compliance.
The fear of incurring the wrath of my new friends/colleagues at Tel Aviv, will keep me from being vocal about my silent trysts with non-compliance! You would agree with me that a hardcore south Indian style vegetable stew would be incomplete without that slight dash of asafetida just when the tempering is right, so that it gives the stew the right smell, flavor and attitude. Just the right doze of oomph to seduce and make love with the human taste buds. How would I explain this to our dearest food patrol? How would I, in the midst of all the chaos, sit him down patiently and explain its contents, or tell him that it’s impossible for me to get a kosher certified asafetida, that I was in a time bomb with limited people resources, trying to churn out 14 gourmet dishes for an Augustine guest list who I could sense were salivating for a delectable treat. That, I was carrying upon me the mantle of south Indian food hood on my barely 30 shoulders. Therefore, constraints = compromises.
On day one just after we arrived and freshened after a long haul flight and a longer walk in the canyons of the wondrous Petra in Jordan we proceeded. Like willing soldiers on a battlefield we went about in our chef coats to do a recce of our base camp for the next 3 days. Particularly, the kitchen. Unlike in the Indian and other five star hotels around the world, the crown hotels’ kitchen had an exclusive meat section. Its something I hadn’t seen before. So it only gave us an idea of how seriously and intensely our Jew friends took their law of kashruth. A young spirited trainee at the kitchen, a bespectacled teen with a black skull cap, sat us, me and my fellow chefs Nannaih and Yadav, through the kosher rules in person. That’s actually when the gargantuan task of having to tweak our fancy south Indian menu dawned upon us. Even though we managed the courteous grimace, our smiles shirked rapidly. Reality is more real at the ground level than from a distance, especially when you’re half a planet away sitting in the smug confines of your lazyboy conjuring a menu with a head full of hazy dreams with only Google as your reference point! Well, a chef has to do what he has to do. So like true blue south Indian men, braved by the Kodava amongst us, we set out on our food making mission ready to take on kosher and its army of cousins, head on!