Variety

Tickled pink

SHILPA PAI MIZAR | Updated on May 17, 2012 Published on May 17, 2012

Grilled meat on pink salt.

Flambé of Mexican chilli chocolate brownie and vanilla ice cream.

The novelty of eating food grilled on a pink salt slab, at Vivanta by Taj in Bangalore.



Salt. Everyone's secret guilty pleasure. Who doesn't reach for a packet of namkeens on a lazy TV night, or add an extra pinch despite knowing better? But in these paranoid times, when the medical community wastes no opportunity to warn of the consequences of eating too much salt, what if someone offered you ‘food on salt'?

We were as intrigued as you are – and made the trip to Vivanta by Taj at Whitefield, Bangalore's IT suburb, to learn more about Executive Chef Arzooman Irani's latest innovation, the Pink Salt Stone Grill experience at Latitude, the all-day dining restaurant.

Clearly not your regular stuff, pink salt is an exotic variant that comes to your table from the foothills of the Himalayas. Here, deposits are said to have formed under great pressure millions of years ago, after the evaporation of ancient seas. Cool and sparkling, the slabs, mined in and sourced mainly from Pakistan, look delectable in themselves, and impart a pure and mild saltiness.

Now, the “food on salt”. After a first-rate amuse bouche of compressed watermelon with feta cheese, the first course of the awaited meal arrived. This modern avatar of the Salad Caprese, tomato and mozzarella pinwheels with pesto foam, pearls of balsamic, and a capsule of olive oil, a la molecular gastronomy, was chilled and presented on a salmon-coloured salt slab.

It was nicely balanced in terms of form, texture and flavour, and the only salt added to it came from the slab on which it was served. The condiment imparted a clear, mineral flavour to the dish, quite like drinking cold water from a copper tumbler on a hot, sunny day, a twist we liked.

On to the main course – Angus beef steak grilled on the Himalayan salt slabs and served with flash-fried vegetables and deep-fried, cheese-stuffed polenta. For grilling, the salt slabs are placed on ordinary gas burners. They do not give off acrid smoke, making for a rather more pleasant experience than your regular barbecue. They are also gentler on the meat, helping it retain moisture. In addition, the steak and sides were served on a pink salt slab which lent a clean, slightly sweet after-taste to the course.

The team at Latitude encourages you to grill your own meats and vegetables on these slabs. In the West, professional chefs and home cooks have been using the slabs for a few years now. At about Rs 1 lakh for a shipment of 25, the slabs do not come cheap, and the chef says he panicked when, during trials, the slabs cracked on heating. But as he continued to experiment with cold food, he also noticed that the cracks sealed gradually when the heated slabs cooled down.

As for inspiration, Executive Chef Irani says the idea of using these slabs for chilling and grilling came to him when he heard of a spa in the Philippines which used these slabs to burn spices.

While we spoke of salt and other things, dessert was brought to us. A Mexican chilli chocolate brownie and vanilla bean ice cream made in-house, both sitting on a pink salt slab. All very pretty to look at, but what role did the salt play? Just then, Executive Chef Irani misted the brownie with a vanilla-flavoured spray and set it alight. We took our first bite once the flames died down – and wondered no more. While the chilli-chocolate combination never fails to tingle, the flambé married the two flavours brilliantly, and the delicate pink salt followed right through, making for an almost-ideal melange of all the flavours one has ever known.

After about three years, Executive Chef Irani and his team have now perfected the use of these slabs for varied cuisines and cooking methods from sushi-style dishes to paneer grills. The slabs also retain any temperature for a few hours, adding to their versatility. But Executive Chef Irani tells us that he is yet to use the slabs for Indian masalas – as this may come in the way of milder seasonings when the slabs are reused.

Himalayan pink salt is normally sold without any additives, and is said to contain very few pollutants. Consequently, it is seen as a healthier alternative to table salt. Excessive consumption will, of course, lead to the same problems as with regular salt. If you can afford and source them, the pink slabs are a good option for some weekend home grilling. Himalayan pink salt in crystal form is also available in gourmet food stores.

The Vivanta by Taj at Whitefield will offer the Pink Salt Stone Grill experience for the rest of the year. Prices depend on the menu options you pick. A pink salt slab live station will also be set up at the Sunday brunch at Latitude about once a month. Executive Chef Irani says many industry colleagues have expressed interest, so if you are presented with food on a rose-hued twinkling slab at your next luxe meal, you know what to expect.

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Published on May 17, 2012
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