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  • Michael Swamy

A Gourmand's Art


Rich and Great Stuff

“Everyone loves to eat, and enjoying what one eats is one of the finer points of life.” Peter Mayle

Regular cooking has become so perfunctory, almost bland and tasteless, that enjoying fine food can be a real treat.

We have all heard of Gourmet Food and have our own thoughts about what it is. What is gourmet for one may be everyday food for someone else. Take vegetables like broccoli and brussel sprouts. In India many consider them “elite” vegetables but they are staple fare in Europe. Samosas and bhajiyas, roadside fare in India are considered exotic savouries in the west.

Gourmet food is any food which is prepared and presented well; food of high standard which is liked and appreciated by those with discriminating taste. Foods which tantalise and excite the palate and signals adventure. Another gourmet factor is availability or non-easy availability which makes it “elite” or special at a very high price. What is finally put on a plate however must be the real stuff, choice produce, chosen with care, mixed and blended with a creative eye and soul, and presented with designer expertise for a genuine lifestyle experience.

The gourmet market is dominated by importers and small scale manufactures whose major challenge is to maintain consistency, quality and the price factor. The arrival of special commodities in India from faraway lands has a long history. Bananas, hot chilli peppers from the Caribbean, saffron from the Mediterranean, coriander from China and Middle Europe, cauliflower, okra (bhindi), pineapple, papaya, cashew nut, and the tomato have at some time or other been a gourmet food of the rich.

The arrival of the supermarket, the internet and travel has made lots of stuff and nonsense all accessible to today’s wised-up public. The knowledge of gourmet foods and what they are is expanding. Increasingly, the cultured palate of the old and young is on the look out for the finest in good taste, quality, and what might be different. From coloured peppers to asparagus, from foie gras to smoked salmon, you can have it at a price and also perhaps, caviar to suit any kind of budget. The past decade has also seen a wide range of wines and alcohol made accessible to the “common man”.

Just quaffing champagne, caviar or foie gras is an injustice done to themselves by the uninitiated who just want to appear hip and happening.

There are some foods which remain a category unto themselves and most certainly require a certain pizzazz and style to be truly appreciated. A cultivated taste in wines, cheeses, champagne and caviar, foie gras, smoked salmon, all require a certain grace in their consumption.

Cheeses: Speciality cheeses especially, are value-added products. Food adventurers are on the look out for cheeses with character, going beyond cream crackers and cheese when entertaining. The qualities that make a specialty cheese vary from origin, processing styles, supply, milk source, and extraordinary packaging. But the most common denominator is a constant high quality standard, making it unique.

The idea being not to eat more but to eat better, the boundless varieties of cheese such as cheese with herbs or peppers, smoked cheeses, mascarpone, and marbled cheese, cheese matured in wines, oils and vinegars, cheese wrapped around olives and aged. Eaten by themselves or with crackers and wine, cheeses are a protein rich meal. Using speciality cheese in cooking also adds a different dimension to tastes and presentation as with classical cheese fondue (hot cheese dip eaten with toasted bread) or pasta with blue cheese sauces.

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