Atul's Curries of the World

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Posted by James Whiting on Thursday 26th of September 2013




There are definitely worse ways to spend a Sunday morning than attending a
masterclass with one of the country's finest Indian chefs...

Atul Kochhar's reputation and mastery of the spices is well known, as is his
Michelin starred restaurant Benares, the scene for the morning's
demonstration. However, the focus on this occasion was not on deconstructed
dishes with an Indian twist, the likes of which would be a daunting
undertaking in the confines of a home kitchen. Instead his new book "Atul's
Curries of the World" was the theme, and the group were treated to watching
him prepare four dishes of the two hundred plus recipes from around the
globe listed within.

Considering Benares is shut on a Sunday the hospitality shown by the staff
from the outset was excellent. Coffees, orange juice and breakfast pastries
were offered round, not to mention a long list of all sorts of variety of
tea. With this on board it was into the kitchen to watch Atul run through
the dishes. He was friendly and encouraged questions and conversation
throughout - although some of the group ran with this and went into
question-overdrive. However, this was handled by Atul with patience and
humour, which only added to the experience.

Spread amongst the instructions for each dish were anecdotes of Atul's
travels researching the recipes for "Atul's Curries of the World",
highlighting that curries appear the world over, in the well known places
such as India and Thailand, but also East Africa, the Caribbean, Canada and
South Africa. He did mention South America during the class, although a
recipe from the region is conspicuous by its absence from the book.

There were also invaluable tips on spicing. The care and attention that you
would give to fresh produce should also come into your thinking when it
comes to spices. A sin I would imagine most home chefs have committed is
using a jar of spice well past its best - think of the abandoned cumin
sitting at the back of the cupboard. Atul preached a couple of months as an
absolute limit in terms of shelf-life. Another tip was stainless steel
containers as opposed to glass to prevent the spices being affected by light
or oxidising. He spoke with great passion whenever the topic came round to
spice, which it did predictably often, and the passion was infectious. I
would imagine most, if not all those in attendance will have gone straight
home and cleaned out the spice cupboard.

Back to the cooking! The smells of roasted spices cannot be given the
justice they deserve by a just few superlatives. Each of the dishes we were
shown had its own distinct flavour profile, and this was reflected in how
Atul selected, prepared and blended his spices each time. However, nothing
seemed too difficult, and all worth a bash at home.

Once he had finished all four demonstrations, without even breaking a sweat,
it was time for him to head home. However, that meant we got to eat all four
of the curries, accompanied by bowls of rice and lightly fried paratha. To
pick a favourite is tough, but it was a toss up between the mango and Sea
Bass fish stew from South India, or the courgettes with poppy seeds from
Bangladesh. That said neither the Kenyan Jeera chicken, nor the East African
prawn curry would be turned down in a hurry...

In terms of an experience the masterclass was excellent, the food was also
exceptional. The whole process from start to finish was very relaxed. It is
not the norm for a group of ten diners to sit in Benares just passing round
bowls of curry, but this was not trying to be Michelin starred experience,
they were great tasting dishes you want to attempt at home.

We were presented with the cookbook on the way out. This is not just a flick
through and admire the gastronomic pictures book, this is one that will get
splattered in sauce, getting the attention it deserves right next to the
hob. I suggest you check it out for yourself.

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James Whiting has cooked with Michelin starred chefs and was the brains behind the All In London Top 100 Restaurants List. Read his blog about the London restaurant scene here.

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