Pop up Chef Gauri Apte says flavours of her food are the winning elements

Coastal cuisine has always been very popular owing to its unique style and originates from the coastal areas of Maharashtra, Goa and Karnataka in India. The emphasis is definitely more on seafood even though vegetarians also have interesting options. Meat lovers can also enjoy several chicken and mutton based dishes even though Konkanastha Brahmin cooking involves fewer spices and is vegetarian. The highlight of this unique style of cooking is definitely the use of coconut and fiery spices. Like every other cuisine of a particular region, the locals use what is readily available in their region explaining the frequent inclusion of coconut and kokam in this cuisine. The most interesting part is that Konkani cuisine is divided into various categories such as North Kanara, Karwar and Malwani cooking. It is a known fact that Konkani women are some of the best cooks one can ever come across and have a detailed knowledge of spices, the right mix of ingredients using which they succeed in creating several masterpieces when it comes to dishing out delectable Konkani food which is relished by everyone.

I experienced a lavish selection of authentic coastal dishes in November last year when Spice Kitchen at JW Marriott Pune hosted Flavors of Konkan specially curated by pop up Chef Gauri Apte. Ranging from rawas kalwan(fish curry), colocasia cakes, prawns in green masala, prawns chutney, mushroom fried, kaju usal (cashews in a masala), kombdi kala masala (chicken in a black masala), mutton laal rassa (red curry) and much more.

Gauri Apte is from Bombay and it was her love for the coastal cooking of Maharashtra that led to her pursuing it fulltime and not just cooking at home. This talented pop up chef is enthusiastic about what she does and knows in depth about her food. She was born into a Saraswat Brahmin family from the Konkan region on the western coast of India and brought up in Bombay. She told me about how she grew up eating a vast variety of fresh seafood. What is amazing is her zest for life which is obvious when I got to know that she used to be a professor of economics and after teaching for 17 years she decided to pursue her passions including her love for singing

Hindustaani (Indian) classical music. Gauri realized that there weren’t too many places that offered authentic seafood and this led to her venturing out to talk about her interesting cuisine and sharing her knowledge with so many people in the form of such interesting food promotions. Now she is busy cooking authentic Saraswat recipes that were handed down by her mother and grandmother and has successfully managed to convert her passion into her profession. “The most overwhelming moment for me during one of my pop ups was when a British guest said to me that he never ate sea food as he never liked it. But after eating the fish and prawns that I cooked that day, there was no looking back for him he said he would come back for more!,” she said.

 

What inspired you to become a pop up chef?

My mother was a doctor, she used to lead a marathon life but I remember how therapeutic cooking would be for her, the ease at which she would whip up delicious food. As children she treated us to world cuisine back then. I grew up watching all this and fell in love with the whole idea. I just knew I wanted to cook for people.

 

When did you start cooking as a profession?

The idea of owning a restaurant had been tempting me forever. While that has been on my mind, I discovered the whole new world of pop ups. What an awesome way to put your skills on a platform. My first pop up at a renowned hotel, was where I did my professional stint!

What are the most important considerations when crafting your menus?

Menus need to be appealing to all the senses, the food should be good to look at; the aroma should be fantastic and the taste excellent too. My menus have thankfully been appreciated always as I plan meticulously considering the colours, flavours and texture, everything should be perfect! Especially if it’s a thaali…I need to make sure it’s wholesome.

 

What is your favourite dish to cook while at home?

For me it’s simple prawn chutney or some crispy fried fish with daal and rice, this is my soul food-wholesome and healthy.

 

Which is your favourite ingredient?

I love all the spices as the Indian palate loves spice. But then if I really need to zero in, then it’s pepper. I love the fiery flavour!

 

What do you love most about being a pop up chef?

I’m more like a gypsy, I set up, cook food and then I wrap up and leave. This gives me the freedom to work my way and with various people.

 

What food is your guilty pleasure?

My favourite food is rice. Would you believe it? I can eat it for any meal!!

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I am such a dreamer and I just love my spare time, I can sing for hours…but again cooking beckons!

 

What would you say is the key/winning feature of your cuisine?

The flavours I’d say are the key winning features, one would never go home disappointed!

 

What’s your signature dish?

My signature dish is the green chutney stuffed pomfret for sure!!

Recipe of Kolimbichi Chutney:

Ingredients:

½ kg prawns shelled and deveined
2 tsp red chilli powder
1 tsp turmeric powder
2 tsp coriander powder
A pinch of garam masala
2 large onions, finely chopped
1 tbsp ginger garlic paste
2-3 pieces of kokum
2 tbsp cooking oil
Salt to taste
Chopped coriander to garnish

Method:

1. Wash the prawns thoroughly
2. Make a paste using red chilli powder, turmeric, salt, ginger garlic paste and coriander powder.
3. Marinate the prawns in the spice paste for 30 minutes.
4. Heat oil in a pan, sauté the chopped onions till transparent.
5. add prawns, sauté for two minutes, cover the pan and cook till done.
6. Add the kokum and mix well.

Jyoti Balani