Chennai, April 14 (IANS) Fifty-nine-year-old celebrity chef R.C. Willson, alias Chef Willi, currently hosting a festival of his signature dishes at The Residency Towers, agrees to the description that he is a chef without borders.
Well, that is not without reason. Born in New Zealand, Willi has worked in the kitchens of star hotels in several countries and is in India for the past two decades as the team leader.
Now he runs his own business as a consultant to hotels/restaurants for designing or upgrading their menus.
Though Willi is now out of hot kitchens he agrees to the maxim of “Once a cook, always a cook”.
Though these days, Indian chefs specialise in global cuisine and foreign cuisines are Indianised to suit the palate, Willi says there is still a need for an expat chef in Indian hotels.
“It is not possible for a foreign chef to give an authentic Indian dish and the same holds true of an Indian chef in the case of foreign cuisine,” Willi told IANS.
“Expat chefs fall under the niche category. It is also a challenge to balance a foreign dish’s authencity with that of the market’s taste palate,” he said serving the creamy-yummy mushroom soup.
As to Indianising foreign cuisine, Willi agreed that Chinese cuisine in India is nothing but Indo-Chinese food at the mass-market level, but in the case of fine dining outlets one can get authentic dishes.
“In hotels I used to launch new menus once in six months. Now, I am doing that once in six weeks. It is challenging as well as interesting. I also train the people,” he said.
By this time the appetiser – fritters of zucchini with polenta and baked mushroom in cream and wine – arrived at the table.
The tasty zucchini and the mushroom dishes vanished from the plate in no time. While the taste buds craved for more, the grey matter in the head decided against it as the main course was on its way.
The non-vegetarians can go for pasta squares with smoked chicken or calamari in tomato butter.
For the past several months, Willi has been advising The Residency Towers on upgrading their menu and other aspects.
Over a period of time Willi has built a sizeble number of dishes as his speciality and the hotel decided to host a festival called Chef Willi Signature Dishes at the Crown restaurant.
The around 110-cover eatery is among the nicest and tallest rooftop food joints in Chennai.
Enjoying the cool breeze and starry night, one can also see the flights taking off from Chennai airport located several kilometres away.
It was time for main course. The trio of vegetable cups (three flaky phyllo pastry cups filled each filled with different coloured sauces with vegetable laid on herbed rice bed) is not to be missed.
Similarly, the savoury cabbage rolls (bulgar filled cabbage leaves, topped with pangritata, roasted beetroot, with baby potatoes) was not only different and interesting, but also tasty.
As one was savouring the asparagus and boursin pasta with eyes closed, Willi said it was a challenge for a chef to anchor a food festival out of an unaccustomed kitchen.
“The equipment and layout will be different. One has to acclimatise to the new environment,” he said.
While the kitchen is the place for the cooking range, refrigerator and other equipment, it is not possible to make all kind of food in all kitchens with the needed ingredients.
It is not possible to make authentic tandoori roti/chicken without the traditional tandoor or the clay oven fired with charcoal.
For seafood lovers, risotto bisque with king prawns is suggested while chicken lovers can go for baked chicken florentine.
Willi is married to a Russian woman, Marika, and is eagerly waiting for the day that she would join him here.
“I met her in Chennai and got married. She is now in Russia and waiting for proper papers to come back here,” Willi said.
Willi began his career in horticulture at the age of 17 and then moved into cooking for the New Zealand armed forces. After that his cooking took him to countries like Australia, England, Germany and China, Bali in Indonesia and then to India.
Outlet: The Crown (Rooftop restaurant) at The Residency Towers, T.Nagar
Duration: April 7-17
Timings: 6.30 pm till 11.00 pm
Cost per couple: Rs.2,500
(Venkatachari Jagannathan can be contacted at [email protected])