Lunch in four acts
Leading Indian restaurant Gaggan combines modern cuisine with the best of New Zealand wines
Chutney and foie gras? Indian spices and red wine? That may sound unconventional, but that's the kind of modern Indian food being served at Gaggan, the progressive Bangkok restaurant famed for its molecular cuisine created by chef Gaggan Anand.
Teaming up with Ital-Thai's Food and Beverage Solutions, Gaggan recently hosted a special food and wine pairing that featured four New Zealand wines from Steve Bennett. A New Zealander, Bennett tasted 30,000 wines between the ages of 20 and 25 and in 1994, became the world's youngest Master of Wine. He's worked as a wine journalist and a wine distributor and importer. In 2008, he decided to launch his own label Discovery Point and started producing a range of wines. Over all, he's tasted more than 70,000 wines.
At the Gaggan event, Bennett waxed lyrical about New Zealand's wine industry and his own wine business. Today, New Zealand wines account for 0.8 per cent of the world's wine production and about 85 per cent of the country's wine production is sauvignon blanc. He produces 3,000 cases of Discovery Point wine, 6,000 cases of Stillwater Bay wine and hundreds of cases for the remainder of his labels.
"I was once one of the most reported wine journalists in New Zealand. As I produce my own wine now, I have to make sure it's the best. If not, I will start hearing about it," he says, adding, "if you're married, you need to stay faithful. With wine, you can be promiscuous."
We tasted his sauvignon blanc and pinot noir with the lunch, which was billed as a four-act culinary journey, each consisting of two to four dishes.
Anand says Gaggan does not do fusion food. "Fusion is confusion," he insists. His modern cuisine borders on the molecular, which has earned his eatery a great deal of fame.
Dubbed "Fun", Act 1 was composed of three courses. The first to come was Gaggan's signature yoghurt that looks like egg white. Next was Non-Fried Samosa (reconstructed chutney crisps with potato filling and fresh fennel seeds), which comes in a crispy chutney skin. I was amazed by Papa-Dams Two Ways. The papad, as they are called, are dried disks of dough made from legume flours. The two ways offered here are Thai jasmine rice crackers and a spiced glass of carrot crisps air-fried. We finished with lychee with rose gel.
The first act was partnered with Stillwater Bay Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2011. Its fruitiness and freshness with aromas of lemongrass and peach went well with the flavours.
Act 2 was more molecular and featured four dishes. The first was Umami Oyster (from the waters between France and the Netherlands) with chutney foam and some bitter leaves with lemon foam. It was served with Discovery Point Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2009. Made the French way, this is a highly concentrated sauvignon with herbal aromas of lemongrass, gooseberries and grapefruit.
"It has much more smell and much more taste. Its acidity causes you salivate, and has your system turned on for food," Bennett says.
Act 2 continued with the very foamy Truffle Air (pressurised truffle espuma with green chilli oil) and goose liver with spiced red onion chutney on naan, followed by spaghetti "Carbon" Nara. We had the foie gras, one of Gaggan's bestsellers, with Discovery Point Pinot Noir Central Otago 2009, which provided the softness and acidity to match the dish. "Served chilled at 12 C, the wine is very soft and feminine," said Bennett, adding, "The umami of the foie gras and onions are a bit too hard for the pinot noir. But the softness and texture works well with foie gras."
The spaghetti featured egg yolk, which was cooked at 62 C for two hours, iberico Joselito Reserva and Sauvignon Blanc. Anand says at that temperature, the egg's proteins are cooked but not solid. The egg yolk still looks raw but tastes like cooked egg. The accompanying ham was spicy and aromatic, but not salty. It was matched with handcrafted Kairos Pinot Noir 2009 from the warmer Martinborough, north of Marlborough.
Act 3 was heavy with free range New Zealand baby lamb chops sous-vide and tandoor finished, followed with Goa-style crab eat in spiced vindaloo curry. Bennett said the lamb could be paired with both the Kairos or the Discovery Point Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2009.
Act Four was dessert, which started with Garden of Eden, an Iranian pistachio, 50-second cake with mango and edible flowers. This was followed by chocolate crisps, milk chocolate mousse and cold chocolate power plus. The last was Wine Gums, made from the wines presented for the lunch.
It was a very long lunch, but a very creative and tasty one, complemented by food-friendly wines that match South and Southeast Asian cuisine.
"While the sauvignon blanc is good for flavoured food, the pinot noir has the acidity that complements the savoury dishes too," Bennett noted.
Both Discovery Point and Stillwater Bay wines are available at Gaggan. Check out the food at www.EatAtGaggan.com, and the wines at www.ItalThai.co.th.