Out Of The Blue marked Eiffel Tower’s 130th anniversary by recreating the lost flavours of authentic French cuisine
Mumbai’s iconic European restaurant, Out Of The Blue, celebrated France with a 10-day fest that debunked various myths surrounding French food
Martin Farquhar Tupper, a 19th century English poet-philosopher, once compared French cuisine to a “muse”. That was apt because French food is often mysterious and layered (“with sauces so strange they disguise the lean meat… That you seldom, or never, know what you’re to eat’), and it leaves a lingering aftertaste. “Exquisite eatables,” Tupper called them.
In Europe, French cuisine is a big deal. “It is the mother of European food. That is what we learnt in culinary school,” a celebrated chef tells us.
But, down the years, French cuisine has lost its authenticity the world over, including in India, where an almost corrupted, diffused version is served by a handful of restaurants that do European cuisine. The popularity of French food, however, is still intact, and the gastronome’s curiosity is unfettered.
So, when Mumbai’s iconic European joint - Out Of The Blue - celebrated the Eiffel Tower’s 130th anniversary last week, YS Weekender trekked to the venue to sample its specially curated menu of artisanal French dishes that included crêpes, soufflés, croque monsieurs, charcuterie platters, vol-au-vents, petit fours, classic wines, draught beers, and more. “We had 22 dishes specially made for the festival,” says Vivek Swamy, Executive Chef, Out Of The Blue.
Vivek, who curated the menu, had just one inspiration behind it. “I am trained in French and Italian cuisine abroad, and was just waiting to get my culinary roots to India. So, this menu is not the contemporary French platter you would see in other restaurants. This is the traditional French food that is long forgotten. We tried to bring it back by cooking it the classic way,” he says.
Take soufflés, for instance.
The classic baked egg-based dish that dates back to 18th-century France was originally meant to be a savoury thing. But, in the post-modern world, most restaurateurs began serving sweet soufflés or dessert soufflés (mainly black currant or dark chocolate). To recreate the bygone, glory days of the soufflé, the restaurant featured two savoury variants (bacon-and-cheddar and the beet-and-asparagus) on the 10-day festival menu.
We tried the latter, and it was a work of art.
And, like most art, soufflés too are born out of pain and perseverance.
Chef Vivek explains, “I’ve done soufflés for seven-eight years of my life. But I am still scared that it might crack open any moment. It is a very peculiar dish. It has to rise from the container, and you cannot open the oven when a soufflé is inside. It is a challenging thing to make, and that is why restaurants do not have soufflés on their menu anymore. It is not possible to make it on busy days.”
Other artisanal dishes we ticked off the menu were: Calamars Farci a la Provencal (local squid stuffed with seafood and served with pomodoro fresco sauce), Poulet Fume au Crepe de Mascarpone (smoked chicken in a mascarpone cheese crepe), Agneau Bourguignon au Riz Sauvage (lamb shoulder served with wild rice pilaf), and Tarte au Chocolat (a crispy, buttery tart shell filled with velvety smooth dark chocolate ganache).
The meal was topped with Kronenbourg 1664 Blanc (a refreshing and flavourful wheat beer with a hint of citrus and coriander spice). If you’re someone who doesn’t relish the bitter taste of beers that dominate the market, Kronenbourg would leave you craving for more. Muse, anyone?
Chef Vivek is pleasantly surprised by the reception to the 10-day fest. Footfalls crossed 200 each day, and nearly 70-80 percent of the dishes ordered were off the special festival menu.
He says, “The response has been phenomenal. No one has come close to doing such a big fest on any European cuisine in India because people here don’t like much experimentation. They want to stick to safe options. But we wanted to bring core French food that we know restaurants don’t do here in Mumbai. That was the main ambition.”
Out Of The Blue plans to retain a few items on their regular menu going ahead. If there’s one purpose the fest has served, it is this that it managed to showcase the intricacies of French food to a clientele that was, until now, deprived of it. It established the fact that French food goes way beyond just wine and cheese.
The chef says, “One of the biggest myths people associate French food with is that it is bland. No, it is not. Italian food, if you have it in Italy, might be bland.”
Authentic French packs punches. It has nuances of taste in every bite.
Or, as American chef Julia Child writes in her autobiography My Life in France, “The best way to describe it is to say that I fell in love with French food - the tastes, the processes, the history, the endless variations, the rigorous discipline, the creativity, the wonderful people, the equipment, the rituals.”
We fell in love too!