Culinary Voyages with Minnie Menon : The Flying Elephant

The launch of the Flying  Elephant  at the Park Hyatt over four  years ago will be forever imprinted in my mind’s eye as the most spectacular restaurant launch Chennai has seen. Trained Mumbai artistes sang and danced to Broadway songs and had  the guests on their feet begging for more. We , the 600  invitees  had never experienced  a night like it.

The Executive Chef of the Hotel Teuku Syafrulsyah who hails from Indonesia and the head of Culinary Operations for Flying Elephant Vamsi Krishna took me on a Saturday night voyage of discovery. Chef Teuku comes to Chennai as a true blue  Hyatt loyalist of 20 years with an  innings in  Zanzibar, Dubai and other international cities. Chef Vamsi Krishna’s last stint was in Dubai. The Park Hyatt’s emphasis on their seniormost Chefs having international experience is an indication that ‘the  times, they  are a- changing’. “Our guests are  more aware and therefore more demanding, so that keeps us on our toes” said Chef Teuku .

This dynamic duo make a very formidable team because of their multi cuisine expertise. A basic requisite  if you are heading an outlet  like Flying Elephant. Knowledge is Power … and these 2 chefs displayed oodles of it.

What makes the Flying Elephant so special? Elementary my dear Watson .

Six different cuisines are showcased every night in this multi–level restaurant. The  elevation is quite unique  as is the cuisine. Asian, Mediterranean, Italian, Continental, Indian, Grills with underlying Turkish undertones. Which station is most popular I quizzed “It’s an even spread” responded Chef Vamsi. Some of the live counters have great customer interaction, especially the wood-fired oven pizzas. The orders  are served à la minute (like à la carte)  he added  with a smile. The night also gave me an insight into how the operations have changed over the years. I learnt from Chef Teuku that  there were more than 100 dishes on the menu when he arrived 5 months ago. “I  immediately went on a downsizing exercise and today there are 60 items over 6 food stations. And the guests still feel they are spoilt for choice” he added smugly.

My starter arrived . A traditional Mezze platter with 3 all time favourite Mediterranean dips and pita bread. The evergreen Hummus, Moutable with  pomegranate kernels beckoning invitingly from the smoked eggplant puree and Muhammara,the hot pepper ,walnuts ,breadcrumbs blended to perfection with olive oil. I opened my innings well I reckoned  like a classic square drive.

Then arrived the Burrata cheese salad laced with honey drizzle and lemon and citrus dressing. The Burrata was surrounded by seasonal cherry tomatoes. No not all rosy  red  but also in shades of green .They looked  very environment friendly. These tomatoes are sourced from Pune. Maharashtra is into vegetable cultivation in a big way as I understand. The result? Mmmmm!

And then  I spied with my little eye  the ‘oh so tempting’ Lamb Adana Kebab accompanied by Turkish bread and garlic dip, straight in my line of vision .I was reminded of my dinners in Istanbul. It was a celebration for the senses tinged with nostalgia as I  delved into the succulent dish .

The pride and ownership that these chefs took in their cuisine came shining through. Little wonder that during my dinner some regulars who came in asked to meet  either  Chef Teuku or Chef Vamsi  to give  them dinner  recommendations .

The Sea bass en pappillote on a bed of  mushroom, Arugula salad and cherry tomatoes was my grand finale. “I am not a sea food person at night so I will  have a spoonful  just to taste” I said  apologetically . Many spoonfuls  later I  literally had to  eat my words. I had become  an ardent fan. Chef Teuku and I then got into got into a ‘fishy’ discussion. I was happy to learn  that ‘Basa fish’ is an absolute no-no at Park Hyatt.“Basa is not even served at our employees’ canteen said Chef Teuku a trifle contemptuously .Ha aren’t we uppity !

And of course we then had the mandatory ‘Flash Bomb’. Members of the Hyatt team  stationed at different levels of this amazing restaurant sang and danced with the music to the song Tippy Toe El Chevo. It is the current anthem at Flying Elephant and guests look forward to this interlude at dinner every night and some of the bolder  ones participate. I was chicken, haha .

It is quite amazing how inthe span of one evening a coffee shop, changes into a multi- cuisine restaurant and then morphs, yes morphs into a most happening nightclub . And that’s how Saturday nights unfold.

But then came my piece-de- resistance. The dessert was chocolate and  more chocolate. It is known as the Flying Elephant signature chocolate cake with a chocolate drink and soft vanilla ice cream. After a generous helping I signed off.

I heard the Flying Elephant Sunday brunch is among the most popular in the city. Why ? Because apart from being  a magnificent spread it is also child- friendly . Now that warrants  another story for sure was the thought that crossed my mind, as  I said adios while happily tippy- toeing  out to the music.