Chefs today cook pastas, crepes, grills, dim sums, a la minute, at live stations, just the way gourmets like it and offer them an eclectic food experience.
Picture this, a chef removing the crispy skin of a well-roasted, moist Peking Duck and artfully carving the lean meat, at a live counter at the Sunday brunch in a hotel, as guests watch him mesmerised.
For Your Eyes Only
The visual drama and theatrics by chefs, whether it is hand-pulled noodles, or rolling a sushi, or swirling the pizza dough in the air, adds to the dining experience for guests, igniting their appetites. And that is the power of live cooking today, which succeeds in luring customers.
The diverse range of food on offer at live cooking stations leaves one spoilt for choice. Pizza, crepes, dim sums, grills and chocolate fountains, are some of the live stations that wow gourmets today, at elaborate buffets and Sunday brunches.
Chef Vishal Atreya, Executive Chef, JW Marriott Mumbai Sahar, explains, “Live cooking enhances the freshness quotient of the dish being served. It also increases engagement and provides a fun and interactive experience, rather than just plain dining, as guests can see what is being prepared for them.”
Thanks to the surge of food shows on television, food lovers today want their culinary experience to go beyond just the food on their plates. They want a more wholesome and sensory experience, exploring cuisines, where the ingredients come from, how these are mixed, which techniques are used and how it is presented.
To witness fresh ingredients of one’s choice being transformed by the chef into a dish, spells magic. Karan Thakur, Executive Sous Chef, The Westin Gurgaon, feels, live cooking has been transformed into a stage act, where people love observing chefs cook and then serve delicately.
As You Like It
Live counters are about flamboyance and a treat for one’s eyes with the vibrant colours and fresh flavours. But what makes them hugely popular amongst guests is the fact that diners are allowed choices. Whether it is a healthy option of a pasta with no cheese, or a well-done meat grill, or a steamed edamame and water chestnut dim sum, a diner gets a dish just as he likes it.
Customisation is key in a live station and chefs willingly adjust spices, flavours and presentation, according to individual taste. Chef Karan reiterates that customisation from the doneness of meat to the addition of any special ingredient, can be incorporated at live counters and that is what guests prefer.
Additionally, guests chat freely with chefs, seeking his recommendations and even getting valuable cooking tips, as he prepares their favourite dish. The ease with which the chef connects with the guest, offers options, is what makes the experience memorable. Not only does the food look much more appealing at live stations, but the chefs also gently cajole the diner and one ends up trying a lot more than one would have normally done.
Centre Stage drama
Gone are the days when a chef was someone you never saw, as he was busy in the kitchen cooking. He is now the cynosure of all eyes where he holds fort at the live cooking counter. For the chef too, it’s a thrill and equally a challenge as he is ‘on-show’ where every move is watched by his audience.
Today, chefs get an opportunity to display their culinary versatility. It’s not only about tossing veggies in a wok or kebabs being flambéed. Desserts too offer opportunity for performance, whether with a chocolate fountain or an ice cream Teppanyaki.
Undoubtedly, chefs working at live stations also need to be great communicators, as involving guests and getting them hooked to various live counters is their primary objective.
An Array of Options
Live stations can be varied and range from any cuisine, Indian or global. Basically, anything that can be prepared live, looks attractive and dramatic, is converted into a live station. Pasta counters with stuffed raviolis and gnocchi being mixed in sauces, searing a steak on high meat to seal the juices, blow torching desserts like a fig brulee or a Baked Alaska, are some live cooking counters which chefs prefer, as these make for a stimulating experience.
Chef Karan Thakur explains, “Cooking is versatile and pretty much anything can be done live. The factors which are taken into consideration before deciding, are, in fact, not just the food, but the place and surroundings.
Stations involving large fires would be placed in an open space and comparatively delicate food items such as tapas or raw seafood bars would have to be placed in temperature regulated zones.”
Chef Atreya opines that anything that does not take too long to cook and is simple, like sushi, waffles and crepes, for example, should be served at a live station.
Live stations add to the aura of the meal as chefs whip up culinary delicacies and regale guests, deftly balancing the sizzle and the strong aromas of food.
Written by Mini Ribeiro