What started out as a passion to cook for the family turned into a full-time profession for chef Raji Gupta. But she did not start her culinary journey in her early adulthood. It was in her 30s that she enrolled in a culinary school. “There is something called second-innings in life and for me, cooking was that. I call it my second marriage and this happened when I turned 32. When I started out, my only intention was to put good food on the table for my family. Not the conventional Indian food but something new,” she says. Hailing from a coastal belt in Karnataka, Raji has always been good with preparing seafood specials, spicy chicken curries and coconut milk-rich stews. But when she got married to her North Indian husband, a different set of palate-associated expectations were upon her. “I had to change my style of cooking and learn new things. I went for a couple of short courses. But then I thought, if I have to make it big in this field, I should enroll in some great institutes. From the age of 36, I made it a point to do at least one course every year in a new school. Now, I am 41,” she says.
From Le Cordon Bleu, Rosalind Miller cake school in London to Blue Elephant in Thailand and Ballymaloe Cooking School, Raji has been to some of the top culinary schools in the world. “It was a show on Netflix—Somebody feed Phil—that took me to Ireland. I would call Darina and Rachel Allen (founders of Ballymaloe Cooking School) my culinary inspiration. Their school is in a 100-acre area where they grow their supplies. It is my dream to live their life,” she says. Although she got into cooking professionally late, Raji has always been working in the food industry. “I used to work in the backend of food export department in my husband’s company. Even if I did not take up my passion of cooking, I would have still worked for something in which food is involved,” says the culinary expert who prefers the titles ‘wife’ and ‘mother’ over ‘chef.’
She started Beyond Dining Co as a way to channelise all her culinary knowledge in the right manner. Raji’s magic initially took form in her outdoor kitchen where she started out a concept of inviting 10 guests for a unique culinary experience. This not only included food but also the ambience, music and other intricate details which awakens one’s organoleptic senses. “If I was doing a Mediterranean-themed meal, then I would not just serve some hummus and call it an evening. I would try to bring things that are not available in the country. One dish that I am proud of is the Mediterranean rice that I make; it is called ‘zereshk polo’. Made with barberry rice, which is not available in India, it is both visually appealing and flavoursome,” says Raji. From 10, she went on to invite 30 and then more to her Greek-themed setting. “My husband always wanted a house in Greece. But that was not a place I wanted to live forever. So, we decided to give the studio a Greek theme,” she says.
Raji also puts a lot of thought on the art of plating and the use of the right tableware. She calls tableware the USP of a culinary brand. “We take a picture before we bite. So, it is important to like what we see,” she says. When asked about her signature dish, she takes a pause and says, “I would say dal-chaawal (rice and lentils) is the signature dish of every woman in our country.” Despite the fact that she loves experimenting with different cuisines, the Mumbai-based cook enjoys her dal-chaawal. “My children prefer baked stuff, French, Italian and other foreign cuisines over Indian food, but there is a point where they get tired of it and ask for the simple rice and lentil meal,” she says.
Her go-to treat is a chocolate fudge cake which she says is also a family favourite. On a blue day, which is almost never according to her, she prefers to do some elaborate baking. It is true what they say about the therapeutic effects of baking. “The chocolate fudge cake takes a lot of effort and time to bake. I purposely engage in baking it, the moment I feel like I am about to lose my temper or patience. I have even taught my daughters how to bake it,” she says.
With her new project coming up in Goa, Raji is busy with the setup and its operations. “I was supposed to launch another project in the beginning of this year. It is the concept of customised candy clouds in different flavours and colours. This is something that is associated with everyone’s childhood. My idea is to provide the setup for different events, be it a wedding or a themed birthday party. Our carts with the candy making machines are ready; we are just waiting for the right time to launch it,” she says. Apart from all these projects, Raji also plans on writing a new kind of culinary book with dining set up tips, entertainment ideas, tableware and plating ideas apart from recipes.
The main objective of Beyond Dining Co
To provide a distinctive gastronomic delight that stays with our clients for long.
Three things you picked up during the lockdown.
❖ Learned to spent more time with family
❖ Discovered some new different cuisines
❖ Discovered my inner self for good
5 must-haves for every chef
1. Personal chef knife
5. Instant yeast
Your top picks for crockery
❖ Tejashree Sagvekar
Common mistakes that home chefs make
I would not call it mistakes but it is all in the path of trial and error.
❖ Number one is assuming that fancy food pictures attracts followers. It may, but that is not the only thing.
❖ Comparing the pricing for the food delivered from a restaurant and what is cooked at home, to give a reasonable price. For example, if a particular dish in a restaurant is sold at 0500, and the same dish by the home chef is sold at 0500. Restaurant food is priced higher keeping in mind the rent, staff salary. Unlike with the home chef. So, I think they need to quote a reasonable price. And this will help them to retain their existing clients.
5 must-watch cookery shows on OTT platforms.
I would say cooking and food culture goes hand in hand, what to eat and where to eat is very important, keeping that in mind I would say
1.Somebody feed Phil on Netflix
2.Ugly Delicious on Netflix
3.Salt Fat Acid Heat on Netflix
4.Food Market on Curiosity Stream
5.Bon Appetit - Gerard Depardieu’s Europe on Curiosity Stream
10 cooking hacks.
1. When baking is done at a commercial level, they have a proofer. You could use a heating pad underneath the bowl for the batter to rise in half the time.
2. Some people are very sensitive to onions and they have runny eyes while chopping onions. Cut the onion in half 4-5 hours prior to using it and place it inside the refrigerator in a zip-lock bag.
3.This one is for bacon lovers. You get a lot of grease once cooked, sometimes you use it and at times you wash it down the drain when it is still hot. But what happens once it goes back to room temperature? It gets hard and this can clog your drain pipes. Place a foil in a container and pour the hot grease inside it, it will cool down and harden. You can now dispose it along with your garbage.
4.When you place butter inside the freezer or chiller and you forget to remove it and place it at room temperature, the quickest way to soften it is to grate the butter. Within two minutes you will have softened butter.
5.Buttermilk is now used in baking as well. In order to make quick buttermilk, mix 500ml of milk and 2 tbsp of vinegar or lemon juice in a bowl. Keep it aside for five minutes and use it as per your baking instructions.
6.Add 1tsp of baking soda while boiling eggs. The shells will peel out easily.
7.Most of the time when you have leftover rotis and you try to warm it in the microwave, it dries out or gets hard. You can dampen a kitchen paper towel and cover the roti and place inside the microwave. It will stay soft.
8.If you don’t have cupcake paper cups for baking, use parchment paper to make tulip cupcake paper cups.
9.To get perfectly round omelettes, grease a cookie cutter on the inside and place it in the pan, pour the egg batter inside the cutter.
10.For fluffier whipped cream, chill your beater and bowl beforehand inside the refrigerator. The chilled cream and equipment will give it more volume and better texture.
A message to all home chefs stuck at home?
Now is a good time, so use it to hone your skills. Enrol in online workshops by some top culinary schools. The admissions are usually expensive but there is a reduction in prices because of the pandemic.
You will need: loaf pans
Ingredients for dough:
● Cold water- ½ cup + 100ml (if required)
● Instant dry yeast- 2tsp
● Flour- 5cups
● Brown sugar or castor sugar- ½ cup
● Butter- 1 ¼ cup
● Egg- 2 eggs+ 1 egg white (cold)
● Vanilla extract- 3tbsp
Ingredients for filling:
● Flour- 20g
● Brown sugar- 160g
● Egg- 70ml
● Honey- 20ml
● Vanilla- 1tsp
● Melted butter- 165g
● Cocoa powder- 20g
● Mix all the Ingredients for filling. And keep aside.
● Combine all the Ingredients for the dough in a mixer bowl. Mix it on low speed for 7-10 minutes till it all combines. Grease a bowl. And place the dough in it, cover and keep aside to rise.
● Once ready, weigh out each 200g of dough, roll it in rectangle, now spread the filling in the centre, roll it down towards you, now cut it in the centre straight, and shape in a braid.
● Leave it for proofing in the greased tin, pre-heat it at 170°C.
● Once ready, bake for 35-40 mins depending on your oven at 170°C.
Langues De Chat: (Cat’s Tongue Biscuit)
● Butter, softened- 9tbsp
● White sugar- ½ cup
● Egg- 3 whites
● Vanilla extract- 1 ½ tsp
● All-purpose flour- 1 ½ cups
● Melted chocolate or pistachio grinded
● Mix all the ingredients for the biscuit. Fill the batter in a piping bag without a tip and leave it in the fridge for an hour.
● Pre-heat oven at 160°C.
● Cut the piping bag 3/4th inch at tip. Pipe out the biscuits on a parchment paper placed in a baking tray.
● Drizzle the pistachio on top and bake for 15-20 minutes at 160°C.
● Or else just bake the plain biscuits and once cool, dip it in melted chocolate. Store it in container.
Ingredients for roux:
● Make roux
Ingredients for dough:-
● Warm milk-300ml
● Eggs- 2
● Add 540g sieved flour
● Castor sugar- 115g
● Milk powder- 6tbsp
● Instant dry yeast-4tsp
● Salt- 2tsp
● Butter- 6tbsp room temperature
● Warm up the milk, add flour, keep stirring till it reaches a smooth consistency. Let it cool.
● Now mix warm milk, the prepared roux, flour, milk powder, yeast and salt. Knead in the mixer for 5 minutes. Add butter and mix for 15 minutes or till it turns into a soft dough. Make sure to scrape down everything.
● Remove the dough on the kitchen platform, and knead it for 5 minutes. Let it rise for an hour. It will be double the size.
● Cut it in three parts. Shape it. Roll it in a long rectangle. Now start rolling from the top towards you. Place it in a bread tin to proof.
● Once ready give it a egg wash and bake it for 30 mins at 170°C.
● Dried apricots, chopped- 1 cup (196g)
● Candied lemon and orange peel mixed- ½ cup (72g)
● Raisins- ½ cup (70g)
● Dark rum- ¼ cup (48g)
● Warm orange juice- ¼ cup
● Cold milk- 220ml
● Granulated sugar, divided- 140g
● Instant dry yeast- 5g
● All-purpose flour- 700g
● Honey- 1tbsp (18g)
● Eggs- 3
● Vanilla extract- 1tsp
● One orange and lemon zest
● Kosher salt- 7g
● Butter, softened but cold- 150g
● Mix apricots, candied peel, raisins, dark rum, hot orange juice in a jar and let it soak overnight or for a week. (You can always store this in airtight container and place in a cool and dark place).
● In the mixer jar, add flour, sugar, yeast, vanilla, eggs, milk, honey, zest and mix for at least 10-12 minutes on low speed till it all comes together. Add butter and mix it all gets mixed well, add salt, mix on high speed for 5 minutes. Add the soaked dry fruits and mix for 3-4 minutes.
● Grease a bowl and place the dough in it, grease on top of dough, cover and leave it for proofing till it doubles. Once done, make rounds of 60g and place in a Panettone mould or just a thick cupcake paper mould. Leave it for proofing for 35-40 minutes.
● Preheat oven at 160°C, give a cross on top of the dough and place the butter cube in centre. Bake for 30-35 minutes.
● Red crab- 4 pieces
● Onion, wedges- 3
● Thai red chilli, sliced- 3
● Ginger, minced- 20g
● Chopped garlic-2tbsp
● Spring onion, diced- 1 sprig
● Dark soy sauce- 4tbsp
● Oyster sauce- 6tbsp
● Chilli paste- 2tbsp
● Salt-1/2 tsp
● Sugar- 1tsp
● Pinch of pepper
● Water-1/2 cup
● Corn flour- 1tsp
● Remove the shell of the crab, scrape the inner parts and clean well. Cut into eight pieces and pat crab claws.
● Deep fry onion, chilli and crab till half cooked. Remove and place it on kitchen paper and drain.
● Heat oil. Saute garlic and ginger. Add chilli paste and seasoning. Add the soy sauce, oyster sauce and cook.
● Mix water and corn flour and stir well. Add this to the ready mix in the pan. Cook and just before serving sprinkle spring onion.
Turkish chicken pide
Ingredients for bread:
● Plain flour/ maida- 375g (3 cups)
● Sugar- 50g
● Instant yeast -1 ½ tsp
● Milk- 35g
● Water- 190ml (little more if required)
● Egg yolk- 20g
● Olive oil- 1tbsp + more for greasing
● Salt- 1 tsp
Ingredients for Toppings:
● Mutton mince / chicken mince- 500g
● Onion -2 (big and finely chopped)
● Green chilli- 3-4, finely chopped
● Garlic cloves- 6-8 pods, finely chopped
● Barberries- 2tbsp Or Candied lemon peel (finely chopped)- 2tbsp (optional)
● Ginger garlic paste- ½ tsp
● Tomato- 2 (big and finely chopped)
● Red pepper -1 (finely chopped)
● Chili flakes or paprika powder -1tsp
● Black pepper powder- 1 ½ tsp
● Cumin powder- ¾ tsp
● Tomato ketchup- 1tbsp
● Salt- as per taste
● Parsley leaves chopped- 2 tbsp
● Butter- 1 ½ tbsp
● Oil- As required
● Lime juice- 1 tbsp Or Sumac-1 ½ tsp
● Cheddar cheese or mozzarella- 200g
● Egg : 1 (for egg wash)
● In a mixing bowl mix everything except salt. Pour the yeast mix to the flour and gently combine on medium speed till it all comes together (for around 7-8 minutes). Add salt and knead on high speed for 5-7 minutes, till you can feel that the dough is smooth and soft. Rub little olive oil in your hands and dab on the dough; cover nicely and keep for 1 -2 hours, till the dough is double the size.
● Once ready, weigh 200g each piece. Roll it in rectangular shape. And start rolling from both the sides. Pinch it at both the edges. Should look like a small boat. Leave it for proofing for almost an hour again.
● When you leave your dough for proofing, meanwhile make the filling.
● In a pan, heat the oil and butter and sauté the chopped onion, garlic and green chillies. Once translucent add ginger garlic paste (optional) and fry. Next add pepper powder, chilli flakes or paprika, sumac or lime juice and cumin powder. Add the tomatoes and cook till they are soft. Mix in the pepper and fry for another minute. Then add the minced meat and salt, mix well, after 6-7 minutes add tomato ketchup. Put on low flame, cover and cook. Adjust salt, once done add chopped parsley. Let it cool.
● Preheat oven at 170°C. Give egg wash. Bake the proofed pide without filling with blind bake technique for 10 minutes, then remove and fill it with the mine mix. And bake for more 30 minutes depending on the Oven you are using, drizzle cheese on top for the final five minutes. Check whether cooked with a toothpick.
● Serve warm.