Vikas Khanna: Young Chefs

DK, R499

As children of the ’80s, some of us grew up making, what was back then, a particularly decadent dessert. Store-bought Marie biscuits would be dunked into a pool of melted Dairy Milk chocolate. The chocolate-covered biscuits would be stacked on top of each other and then left to set in the fridge. The result was a rudimentary frozen chocolatebiscuit cake that had the best of both worlds – biscuits and chocolate. Children today are surrounded by more sophisticated desserts ranging from macarons to tiramisus; and gananches to tortes of all sorts. Many urban kids know their gnocchi from linguini and can pronounce quesadilla and bruschetta (it’s kay-sa-dia and brusque-ta). They watch MasterChef Australia and, going by what the show’s junior version displayed, some children can easily put our cooking skills to test.

Feeding that frenzy of junior masterchefs-in-the-making comes chef Vikas Khanna’s book, Young Chefs. Khanna is the author of Khanna Sutra, a collection of his Valentine’s Day menus, and has hosted MasterChef Indiaand been awarded a Michelin star for his upscale New York restaurant, Junoon. In the introduction to Young Chefs, Khanna writes, “I grew up learning to cook as my grandmother’s little kitchen helper. I ran to her kitchen at every opportunity I got, fascinated with all the smells and action in the kitchen: rolling, baking, chopping, stirring, and whisking”. He goes on to talk fondly about memories in the kitchen and then expounds on “healthy eating, balanced diet and fresh ingredients”.

Khanna’s kids’ cookbook is a lavishly produced one, with tasteful photographs and black-and-white illustrations. The beginning of the book has some handy tips about kitchen hygiene and an illustrated guide to different foods such as proteins, fats and sugars. Khanna goes on to explain the metric and also the imperial measures he’s used in the book, even though most Indian kitchens don’t use ounce and pound measurements. The Cooking Tools guide would make any home cook envious given the gorgeous display of utensils. The chef also gives a pictorial guide to cooking methods such as boiling, simmering, and deep-frying.

The cookbook is divided into Breakfast, Lunchbox, Main meals, Sweet treats and Drinks. The range of recipes includes Indian and international ones, each with a step-by-step pictorial guide. Some recipes are simple, like boiled egg, fruity cereal, and tomato & couscous salad. Others are more complex, such as basic bread, bbq chicken and chicken tikka masala. What we liked about the book though was the fun and simpler recipes such as carrot butter and beetroot raita which find resonance with Khanna’s outlook of healthy and fresh ingredients. We can also see kids enjoying experimenting in the kitchen with some of these recipes.

We were dismayed to find that most recipes required cooking on the stove (though there’s a sign to show adult supervision required. The book’s for a slightly older audience, aged 11 and above.) Further, some of them called for ingredients that are either not easily available in supermarkets such as crème fraiche or readymade shortcut pastry. Going by the photos, in which kids from different nationalities are doing most of the cooking, it’s evident that the book is meant for an international audience.

Keeping these thoughts aside, we decided to give two recipes a whirl, one from breakfast and the other, of course, from dessert. Khanna’s Eggy Bread is basically French toast, and he explains that it’s “popular around the world… eaten in Portugal at Christmas and in Spain and Brazil at Easter”. We whisked four large free-range eggs in a mixing bowl along with milk and cinnamon. And then soaked the white bread for about 30 minutes. Then we fried the bread on both sides until golden and the result was a crisp yet spongy French toast. The recipe suggested accompaniments such as blueberries and maple syrup. Given the price of those at gourmet stores, we ditched that and chose the second suggestion of butter and jam. A perfect Sunday morning breakfast.

Next up, we wanted to try a dessert that didn’t require an oven. We picked the creamy pista ice cream – a sinful combination of condensed milk, pistachios and cream boiled together. Our end result looked like Hulk’s back – greener and gloopier than the photo in the book. We popped the ice cream in the freezer and suddenly found ourselves back to our 12-year-old self when our mother would put her hand-churned strawberry ice cream into the freezer. We had to restrain ourselves from opening the freezer again and again to see if the ice cream had set. But the patience paid off, the pista ice cream was creamy and tasted of summer and childhood. We couldn’t have asked for more.

By Bijal Vachharajani on January 03 2014

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