It is a sign of our times that when our daughter thoughtfully announced a year or two back that she wanted to be a chef, we knew that that it was not a passing fad but something that she was dead serious about. She didn’t just want to be a chef, she was absolutely clear that she wanted to be a 3 Michelin star one. Kids these days are far sharper and clearer than when we were growing up, thanks to easy access to information. And parents are far more open to unorthodox choices they could make given the multitude of opportunities out there.
She had started with baking when she must have been about 6 or 7 years old and then progressively, over the next few years, moved to trying her hands at desserts, main courses, etc. All the while learning from content available online. Self-taught with no help or intervention from us. She would spend most of her rationed screen-time on researching foods, flavours, plating and watching Masterchef. She would read about cooking voraciously (we introduced her to Michael Pollan and the likes) and thanks to her research we discovered things that we didn’t know. That there were several ways to substitute eggs depending on what one was making. That there was something called aqua faba. That most cheese contained rennet, something that revolted the pacifist in her and got her to start making cheese at home – from first principles. That a green dot on a package was not enough confirmation to conclude that the contents were vegetarian – one needed to dig deeper into the ingredients to conclude. That it was not good enough for food to taste nice, one eats with the eyes first and so it had to be presented perfectly.
Last year in March, she decided that she wanted to put together a degustation for us. When she announced that, we had no idea what that meant and had to google to figure that out.
Dégustation is the careful, appreciative tasting of various foods, focusing on the gustatory system, the senses, high culinary art and good company.
She started planning out her menu on the white board a couple of weeks in advance and it kept evolving as she was tossing ideas in her head. In hindsight, I am kicking myself for not capturing the progression of thoughts. This is what it looked like when she was finally done with it.
We could see that this was going to be a lot of work for her to put together herself. But she was confident that she could pull it through. That in itself was commendable. Here she was, all of 12 years old, undertaking a complex project that involved lots of elements with nary a thought of failure. Nothing ventured nothing gained, they say.
I was designated her sous-chef and partner in crime for the project – I reckon that she thought that I was more indulgent of the two parents and more familiar with complex cooking. And my key tasks were to (a) be her sounding board for her evolving menu and (b) be incharge of making a consommé broth for her entrée. In the process, I learnt that it was not just a project about cooking. Plating, setting the table, choosing the right cutlery and napkins all came with the territory.
It was 3-4 days of preparatory work preceding the actual lunch and it is not as if we got all the elements right. And when something would go a bit awry, she would be unfazed by the set-back and make quick adjustments and menu changes on the fly. Here is a look at how the courses turned out.
The smiling faces at the end of that fabulous meal did make the little chef happy.