'eclairs dairies' with Chef Johnny Iuzzini and Le Meridien

Last week was a whirlwind of sorts in many ways. Some new experiences, some discoveries and a few lessons in finding and developing flavours for recipes and products. Sometimes it helps when you see the same old world with the eyes of someone else. Great learning.

The week started with a food trail of Delhi with celebrity Chef Johnny Iuzzini that covered places like Azadpur subzi mandi (the wholesale fresh produce market), Chandni Chowk (old Delhi market), Khari Baoli (the spice market) and street food around the area. These are the parts of old Delhi that feel quite overwhelming for a first timer, the chaos on the streets, the heady aroma of spices and people dressed in all possible hues.

This tour with Chef Johnny Iuzzini was a part of the #Eclairsdairies that the chef is doing to create new flavours of eclairs inspired by local ingredients from all over the world as part of Le Meridien Hotel's program called 'unlock the destination'. The hotel has created concepts like signature breakfast and eclairs flavoured with local ingredients and spices etc in all their Indian properties. I feel a touch of local flavours brings much value to any hotel or restaurant chain that is doing business all over the world. A traveler always looks forward to an experience that brings forth the true character of a place being explored.

It was so good to see the chef being enthusiastic about tasting everything that he could see being cooked in makeshift stalls. He had bread pakodas being fried by a teenage boy, tossed some jhalmuri by himself and tasted it immediately. Just as I was thinking it must be a sensory overload for him he also tasted roti subzi being hand rolled and cooked by a similar vendor who feeds hundreds of vegetable vendors everyday. He even shot a video of the rotis being rolled and puffed up on direct flame and posted on his instagram profile. Oh he kept clicking pictures of everything he ate and kept instagramming all this while. What fun it was to get ginger tea made by a pink clad woman tea stall owner in ginger market of Azadpur mandi and then the tea being served by the chef himself. All this surrounded with huge sackfuls of aromatic ginger piled up high on all sides. He tasted the fan (plain puff pastry), the mathhi and jeera ajwain cookies that those vendors keep in their jars as accompaniments for tea. I just couldn't believe how open he was to taste just everything he came by.

There is a popular Delhi street snack called 'ram laddu' made of mung beans batter which is soaked in green chutney and served along with some grated radish and chaat masala etc. Chef tasted that and found it just a little hot although the ram laddu accompanied huge green chilly fritters (pakodas) too. Flavours that make you forget about the surroundings.

This ram laddu stall is a good example of how nifty such vendors are. See how an iron pan full of these fritters is perched over a live charcoal angeethi and there are jars of chutney and spice powders arranged on a huge circular tray that is again perched over a bamboo khomcha. Serving hot ram laddu with all the yummy accompaniments in a crowded market so efficiently. Jhalmuri khomchas are evn more minimalist, doling out the yummiest snack a few pennies can buy.

Next day was spent tea tasting at Mittal Tea Store, food tasting at a food truck called Kobri by four young business partners and some more food talks and food tasting at Hauz Khas Village where chef Iuzzini met some young chefs from Delhi and exchanged notes about spices and their uses. After that the troupe moved on to Agra for a day to shoot the Chef on his motorbike and taste some more food on the way. The days passed in a blink and all this while I had to type numerous meal plans for my clients as I do in my normal routine. With the day shorter in winters it is so difficult to keep pace with the commitments but meeting such energetic people fills you up with a new burst of energy for sure.

I have little interest in the new eclairs flavours to be honest, my intention is more into tapping the possibilities of creating new flavours for food in general. When one works on a flavour bouquet in a recipe it is always a good idea to reinforce the flavours of the star ingredient of the dish. That can be achieved either by building up a more complex flavour from the same family of aromas and taste or by adding a hint of the opposite to enhance the character and depth into a dish. For instance we like the extremely sweet caramel with a hint of salt and many curries include some sweet element or sugar added to enhance the deep flavours of spices and chillies etc. 

Even Chef Iuzzini talked about reinforcing the flavours when he demonstrated a sweetcorn paste filling of eclairs that had hints of honey and was garnished with toasted almond flakes, bee pollen and fresh pieces of beehive. Now that was something very interesting to begin with. But it is a fact that all recipe and product developers work several times on the same recipe to achieve something that works and associates with the taste buds of people.

I was very pleased to hear Chef Iuzzini say that if a pastry or a dessert tastes more like sugar or is too sweet for the other flavours to shine, the pastry chef is a failure. The desserts should be flavourful to begin with, sugar just enhances the natural flavours of a dessert. I have always believed in very mildly sweet desserts, the main ingredients of a dessert is not sugar as I always say.

I know my regular readers are nodding in affirmation. Desserts should always pack natural flavours and not sugar as I have always written here. It is great to see a celebrity pastry chef say something I believe in.

I am waiting for the flavours Johnny picked up from India to infuse into his new eclairs for Le Meridien hotel. Since he took the spice route in Delhi, I am guessing it would be something like ginger-cloves-nutmeg kind of garam masala flavour or a fiery red chilly paired with bitter orange marmalade. I wouldn't mind a few of those eclairs even though I was never interested in eclairs per se. :-)


  1. Old Delhi never fails to amaze. I am scared of crowded places and try to avoid them as far as possible. But somehow I love Old Delhi and always find some excuse to go there. I hope you do a post on the treasures of the wonderous land that is opposite the historic Red Fort.

    1. Will try that sometime Aparna. I go to old delhi to experience a word that i feel will be lost sooner or later.

  2. I am almost embarrassed to admit that this man tasted more variety of old Delhi food in one day than I have done in 10 years of my stay here!


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