There’s a lot of whipping, beating, chopping going on.

Steaming, braising, oh-so-delicate sautéing, searing and roasting too.

Aromas drift around the kitchen like wandering minstrels while sauces are poured and tasted, delicate slivers of fruits, vegetables and meats glazed and basted, flavours checked and consistencies tested.

The chefs at ITC Gardenia are preparing for another evening at West View.

Meanwhile, Chef Madhu manages to steal away for a few delightful moments of ingredient-picking at a farm on the outskirts of Bengaluru.

It’s a friend’s farm, teeming with fruits, herbs and vegetables at various stages of ripeness, and a very noisy gaggle of outraged geese that have instantly launched into an ill tempered tirade against trespassing chefs and their band of videographers. Rajanna, the caretaker laughs indulgently at their complaint while he leads Chef around the farm.

The weather’s perfect. Last night’s shower has spruced up every leaf and all the plants are fragrant and well preened for a video shoot and happy pickings. Chef Madhu traipses about the farm with glee, discovering things.

It’s amazing, practically everything she touches could go into this compote or that sauce, make a great salad or the base for a marinade or flavour a farm fresh country style soup.

“I’m always thinking up flavours. Even while I’m at my desk” she says later as she works the muddle on a handful of fresh basil from the farm. “At West View, we celebrate the ingredient with a distinct Western perspective”, she explains.

While cheery farm visits on crisp post-rain mornings, cute cane basket in hand is the stuff ideal-world chef-dreams are made of, the kitchens at ITC Hotels receive their ingredients through a rather rigorous process that involves stringent supplier and storage criteria.

“We work with the best ingredients in the world” says Chef while she carves a fresh hunk of cheese for the Taleggio Cremacotta with Balsamic Beet amuse bouche. [For the complete recipe of the Tallegio Cremacotta amuse, please look below.]

It’s quirky and delightful really, this idea of a ‘mouth amuser’, or amuse bouche. Unlike items in a conventional menu, the amuse cannot be ordered. It comes to your table, a little bite-sized token of the chef’s creativity concocted with the ingredients of the day, served with a flourish.

Like the amuse, there’s nothing conventional about the dining experience at West View.

“We don’t have a menu. At least not in the traditional sense” explains Chef Madhu.

While there is a commitment to the concept of courses – the amuse, followed by the soup of the day, the cold buffet and then the much celebrate pièce de résistance – the Grill, followed by a delicious selection of desserts charmingly called ‘the Pudding Club’ and a final round of special teas and coffees with chunks of artisanal cheese, the idea is to be completely unbound by the tyranny of a menu or a stiff dining experience.

“You choose the order of your meal, and you select what meats, poultry, seafood or vegetables you want grilled and how, and the Girls at the Grill do it for you, right there.”

While she’s at her crafting station young chefs keep darting in with trays, platters, bowls and sometimes spoons for a tasting of this or that.

This time it’s shrimps on herb infused marshmallow.

“It’s too wobbly” says chef, sending a dismal little elf back into the kitchen for more body, less wobble. “But the flavours are good” she adds, casually, like a last minute garnish for that pearly cherry-on-top smile and a sprightlier gait with which the young chef springs back into the workshop.

Because there is no menu at West View, a lot relies on what is planned for the day – especially for the cold buffet cart selection and the desserts.

Yet, there’s nothing casual or thoughtless about anything that Chef and her team do.

Working primarily with fresh seasonal vegetable and fruits, every flavour is turned over the palate in varying combinations for a closely scrutinised balance, textures are rigorously tested and exotic crockery acquired for the final balancing act of exquisite presentation.

What emerges is nothing short of art.

Trays upon trays of startlingly pretty appetisers are elegantly paraded out in the evening and arranged on freshly packed beds of ice.

Meanwhile the Girls at the Grill fire up the live stations and await your order, as you decide whether it’s going to be a juicy T-bone steak, a bacon wrapped cut of pork, a tender lamb chop or a lemon butter and wine soaked lobster grill tonight, in between bites of delicate hors d’oeuvres.

But what really sets off the menu, and sets the experience apart is the astonishing collection of wines at West View, acquired from wineries across the world for the perfect pairing with every course of a perfect meal.

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For the West View experience in your city, please visit ITC Sonar, Kolkata; ITC Maurya, New Delhi; ITC Maratha, Mumbai and ITC Gardenia, Bengaluru.

For more on West View, please visit WelcomCuisine

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Tallegio Cremacotta with Balsamic Beet
Serves four

Cremacotta, essentially a cooked cream, is traditionally teamed with fruit coulis or poached fruits to make a simple, elegant dessert.

This recipe is a savoury rendition in which the richness of the cremacotta is set off by the tart sweetness of the balsamic beet and the flavourful crunch of the hazelnut baklava.

INGREDIENTS

Tallegio Cremacotta
250 ml High fat cream
100 gm Tallegio cheese
1 sprig Thyme
2 Egg yolks
Balsamic Beet
2 Beetroot
30 ml Balsamic vinegar
5 – 10 leaves Basil
20 ml Maple
Hazelnut Baklava
4 sheets Filo sheet
75 gm Hazelnut
2 sprigs Thyme
50 gm Butter
Garnish
5 gm Toasted hazelnuts
4 leaves Basil

Method:

1. To make the Tallegio Cremacotta, heat the high fat cream in a heavy bottomed pan to 70ºC or until it simmers gently, ensuring the cream does not come to a boil.

2. Remove the pan off the heat and whisk in the Tallegio cheese and washed thyme leaves. Allow the cheese to melt and add the egg yolks while whisking continuously. Strain this mixture.

3. Pour this smooth mixture into four heat resistant glasses or bowls. Place the glasses in a deep baking tray and add water to make a water bath.
Cover the entire tray with an aluminium wrap and allow it to bake in a preheated oven at 150ºC for 15 – 20 minutes. Once cooked, remove and allow it to cool.

4. To make the balsamic beet, peel and slice the beets very thinly.
Add olive oil and roast at 180ºC for eight minutes. Allow the roasted beet slices to cool.
To make the dressing muddle the basil, and then mix it in with the maple syrup and balsamic vinegar. Pour this mix over the roasted beet slices.

5. To make the hazelnut baklava, soften the butter.
Place two filo sheets on a clean work table, brush the softened butter onto the sheets and place the remaining two filo sheets on them.

6. To make the stuffing crush the hazelnuts and add thyme. Place this mixture at one end of the filo sheet and roll into a thin cigar-like roll. Divide the rolls into four equal parts and with a sharp knife make two gashes on the roll. Bake at 180ºC for 15 minutes. Once out of the oven, brush some melted butter on the baklava and allow it to cool and crispen.

7. To assemble the Tallegio Cremacotta with Balsamic Beet amuse bouche, place a portion of the balsamic beet in each bowl of cremacotta and garnish with a basil leaf, a stick of hazelnut baklava and toasted hazelnuts.

Enjoy!