|7up Chef’s Bonanza brought international chefs such as Malaysian Fazil Shahreen Bin Ahmad to Pakistan|
Foodies in Pakistan have been enjoying a treat this winter. The soft-drink brand 7up has sponsored a nationwide food festival, the 7-up Chef’s Bonanza, flying in international chefs to cook at restaurants in Karachi, Islamabad and Karachi. None of the chefs participating in the event are run of the mill chefs or mere line cooks. They are executive chefs and head chefs with global experience managing and opening restaurants. During this 25-day celebration of great cuisine they are taking over some of Pakistan’s best restaurants. Places like Fuschia in Karachi and The Polo Lounge in Lahore are hosting evenings where these experienced international chefs offer a unique gastronomic experience.
Chef Giuliano is an executive chef from Emilia Romagna in Italy. He is in charge of 45 chefs involved in fine dining and catering services by La Scuola di Serra restaurant in Italy. He’s no stranger to the subcontinent either; he was corporate executive chef in charge of the Olive restaurants in India and travelled extensively across India opening their restaurants and providing catering on their behalf.
|Breaded & pounded chicken breast Milanese style with arugula, cherry tomato salad|
Chef Giuliano cooked in Islamabad and Lahore at Tiramisu and Chameleon before coming to Karachi to cook in Koel Café and the relatively new Monte Cristo. He is full of praise for Karachi saying it was a more youthful and energetic city than either Lahore or Islamabad. He was pleasantly surprised by Pakistan in general.
“I expected Pakistan to be pretty much the same as India based on their shared history. However, Pakistan has its own unique charm. It is cleaner and better organized than India. The cuisine is also very different.”
|Chef Giuliani with staff at Chameleon restaurant|
Chef Giuliano sampled some authentic Pakistani food at the Andaz restaurant near Cuckoos in the old city in Lahore. He particularly praised the Biryani, the butter chicken and a spinach & cheese samosa. Best of all were the tandoori naan, which he said are wonderful even by themselves.
He was not so enamored of the kitchens he has worked in over here, saying
“The equipment is 15-20 years behind the times. Machines you would automatically expect in a modern professional kitchen, such a vacuum packing machine, are simply not available. Accordingly one is forced to cook using old fashioned methods.”
He was, however, full of praise for the staff in the kitchens where he has worked. He went to local markets with the owners of the restaurants to buy ingredients, checking for quality and freshness. In general he said pretty much everything he wanted was available although he felt there were too many “fake” ingredients.
|Original parmigiano reggiano is stamped for authenticity|
“Not every Parmesan-like cheese is Parmesan. Parmegiano Reggiano is a registered trademark and there are several farms that produce certified Halal Parmegiano Reggiano. It would be better if such things were available here instead of inferior quality cheese that is passed off as Parmesan.”
As far as the quality of the ingredients was concerned, he felt that the beef was not what it could be and that the tomatoes were not juicy enough. He conceded that the problem with the tomatoes was probably seasonal and added that our fish was top-notch. He went on to explain that, for the simple pure style of cooking that Italians prefer, the quality of the ingredients is paramount.
|Nasi Lemak with Spicy Chicken Rendang|
One of the other chefs, Fazil Shahreen Bin Ahmad from Malaysia, presented Asian cuisine that featured elements of Thai, Korean and Malaysian influences. The menu he created for Karachi restaurant Fuschia included seafood rice paper rolls and salmon laksa.
The third chef, Fadi El-Reweissati is the Executive chef at the Sheraton Hotel in Baghdad, Iraq and has worked all over the Gulf. He provides turnkey solutions for those wanting to open Lebanese restaurants, handling everything from menu planning to décor and chef training.
|Chef Fadi El-Reweissati putting finishing touches to his mezze|
He was impressed by the kitchen at Café Aylanto, and said that it was well laid out and very organized. He also praised the kitchen staff saying that they were knowledgeable and understood how to work in a kitchen. He said that the ingredient quality was not quite correct but that it was acceptable.
|Lebanese-style Snapper, courtesy Chef Fadi El-Reweissati|
Imran Merchant, owner of Café Aylanto, for his part said that sourcing the ingredients for Chef Fadi’s menu was problematic at times as some items were not locally available and had to be flown in from Dubai. His staff also had a tough time learning a new menu and style of cuisine in just two days. They rose to the challenge and succeeded in meeting Chef Fadi’s high standards.
The food served at Aylanto that night was certainly good. The salads and hot mezze were excellent. The mutabal and baba ghanoush were delicious although the hommous and carrot mutabal could have been better. Of the main courses, the chicken, fish and lamb were all very good although the rice served with the lamb was a little over-spiced with cinnamon. The desserts were delectable, not over-sweet unlike most Lebanese desserts, especially the knafeh which was a new dessert for many diners.
|Baklava and Khanfeh filled with homemade kishta|
The evening included entertainment in the form of Malaysian illusionist Rosen Roy, who went around the tables performing magic tricks. His illusions were pretty great, particularly one where he made a 7up bottle appear from thin air.
|Illusionist Rosen Roy performs for diners|
Mercedes Hernandes Orta, a cigar-roller from Cuba had also been flown in for the event. Cigar lovers were able to enjoy freshly hand-rolled cigars that included 5 different types of tobacco leaf. Both entertainers added an element of fun to the proceedings.
Many Pakistani evenings out focus on food – whether it be fine dining, buffets, cafes or dhabas. Foodies around the country enjoyed being able to sample the cuisine of skilled international chefs at the 7up Chef’s Bonanza. For the participating restaurants it is a chance for the staff to learn some new techniques and recipes. As a teetotal country, Pakistan is a major market for soft drinks companies. It’s great to see some part of their advertising budgets being spent in a way that is so positive for Pakistani fine dining.
First published in the regular Karachista column in the Express Tribune on 19th December 2013