In Conversation With the Executive Chef of Le Meridien, Kochi – Chef Pawan Pal Singh Maini
Undoubtedly one of the most distinctive properties in Kochi city – the Le Meridien, is the picture perfect destination for leisure or business. Its recent merger with the Marriott group has only stepped up its grandeur and presence! RITZ catches up with the property’s new Executive Chef, Pawan Pal Singh Maini who treats us to an exotic breakfast menu while giving us a sneak peek of the ‘Ember’ restaurant which is to be relaunched soon!
Text: Riya Sonny Datson
Photography: Binu Avarachan
I am pleasantly surprised when Chef Pawan reveals that it has been his long cherished dream to explore and experience South India. “When my career started out, my first mentor was a Keralite Chef from Calicut. His cooking methods and techniques were very unique and that’s what triggered my curiosity and liking towards South Indian food,” he fondly recalls. He has travelled across the country and abroad, experienced different regional cuisines but South Indian food and Rajma continues to top his list of favourites!
Keeping it Simple
Armed with two decades of experience in Indian and world cuisine, Chef Pawan is a seasoned connoisseur who goes by the philosophy of ‘Keeping it simple!’ Although he always had a passion for North Indian cooking, it is during his travels and food expeditions that he unravelled new culinary horizons. It is his belief that most cuisines are similar in terms of taste but the key behind each region’s delicacy lies in its ingredients. “Each ingredient has its own unique flavour and taste. When we combine too many flavours, we mask its identity and its soul is lost,” he explains. While Le Meridien serves a variety of world cuisines to its guests, it has also consciously tried to inculcate the ‘local’ cuisine and ingredients into its menu. “Securing high quality and fresh ingredients is one of the biggest challenges for us. Towards achieving this goal, we have started to revive the organic gardens in the hotel premises,” he says as he shows us around the organic vegetable garden.
Le Meridien is all set to relaunch its restaurant, ‘Ember’ and Chef Pawan is busy with food trials and menu planning. “We plan to relaunch Ember on the ‘North West Frontier’ theme focusing on North West cuisines like Pakistani, Afghan and Lucknowi.” Signature styles on the menu? “When it comes to traditional cooking, I believe in ‘going back to the roots’. No matter how much we try to modify these rich delicacies, the traditional taste is what lingers on.” I am curious to find out as to what inspires this gifted culinary maestro. “I think all mothers are great cooks and my mother has been my greatest inspiration as a child. As I got involved in my career, my guests and their appreciation became my inspiration. Now, my daughter is the inspiring soul who drives me!” he says with a smile.
East Meets West
Chef Pawan escorts us to the classy Latest Recipe restaurant that is buzzing with guests. He starts to explain that the signature breakfast dishes at the Le Meridien are a beautiful blend of the European and South Indian palate and just as he finishes, an impressive platter of poached quail eggs perched on traditional mini medu wadas arrive. The presentation, taste and texture of this delicacy is absolutely delightful – tiny soft eggs served on the crispy medu wada, topped with the creamy saffron moilee (which is rich concoction of onions, coconut milk, saffron and turmeric).
We are left amused by the quirky fusion of flavours when yet another signature dish makes it entry – the Uttappam Tartine chicken tikka, Smoked Salmon and Minted Zucchini feta! The miniature Uttapams serve as a base for the variant toppings of tandoori chicken tikka mixed with paprika mayo, smoked salmon and crunchy zucchini with feta cheese. The platter is not just pleasing to the eye but turns out to be an absolute treat to the taste buds. And for the grand finale, the seared Salmon with Charred Valencia Orange arrives, served with Lavash, a Middle Eastern bread. The Salmon is marinated with lemon, salt and pepper and seared to attain just the right texture so that flavours are preserved. The tangy smoked orange and lettuce salad served with it complementing it perfectly. Final verdict? A perfect fusion of flavours and textures served with charming precision! A breakfast indulgence that is most definitely a flavourful fantasy!