Grape raita offers a cooling addition.Industry analyst Mintel Group maintains that Indian cuisine is on the rise and will continue to be for at least the next four years. Many non-commercial operators would agree.
Two significant factors point toward increased acceptance of the cuisine. College foodservice directors report a rise in the number of vegetarians among their student populations, and many of the dishes from India are meatless. Second, some corporate dining directors say the number of Indians in their customer bases is increasing.
Executive Chef Robin Beckwith, who oversees production for Sodexo at a large insurance company in San Antonio, with about 21,000 transactions a day, says when his team took over the account five years ago they knew there was a large Indian population, so they prepared accordingly.
In order to offer authentic Indian fare, Beckwith brought in an Indian chef to train his team for three months. That chef helped the Sodexo chefs set up a program and an action cooking station.
“There are a lot of nuances with Indian food,” Beckwith says. “When you hear of recipes that layer flavors, it couldn’t be more true than in Indian food. Even if you have all the ingredients in a dish, if you don’t put them in at the right stage with the right techniques, it will not be the same.” For instance, when using black mustard seeds Beckwith learned the seeds must actually be heated until they pop to toast properly and for the flavor to develop correctly.
Beckwith’s Indian station features one soup, four vegetarian dishes and two proteins such as chicken or fish and, occasionally, lamb. “They love it,” he says of his audience’s reaction to the Indian dishes.
In the insurance company’s executive dining rooms, one Indian-influenced recipe Beckwith has had success with is grape raita served over sliced tandoor-style chicken or flank steak. For the chicken, Beckwith sears the meat over extremely high heat, “mimicking a tandoor oven,” he says.
The dish’s raita, the classic Indian yogurt-cucumber sauce that helps offset spicy dishes, was a recipe developed by New York based-restaurant chef Suvir Saran and features the unusual addition of grapes. Raita also goes over well on a salad bar in the main dining area, says Beckwith.
At this account’s Indian action station, recent hits include samosas, a crispy pastry filled with potatoes and peas served with tamarind chutney and a mint and cilantro chutney.
The real deal: At the University Medical Center at Princeton, in New Jersey, Executive Chef Patrick Heller says demand for authentic Indian fare is steadily increasing, mainly because the hospital draws a large Indian population from neighboring communities, especially Plainsboro, N.J.
As a matter of fact, next month the hospital is scheduled to relocate to a new building in Plainsboro, so Heller and his staff from Atlanta-based Morrison Management Specialists plan to expand the number of Indian dishes they offer, and they have tweaked other dishes that they currently prepare.
For example, the curry roasted potato vegetable stew will be redesigned and renamed aloo matar, because the Indian name helps sell the dish as being more authentic. Heller also plans to add more peas to the potato dish and to remove less traditional vegetables, such as zucchini, parsnips and turnips.
Expanding recipe repertoires: Kerry Paterson, assistant director of dining services and executive chef at the University of Colorado in Boulder, says the rising number of Indian students on campus and growth of Boulder’s reputation for embracing ethnic, spiritual and cultural diversity has helped expose the university’s students to global culinary options.
“We have a number of Indian restaurants in the community,” Patterson explains. “And we’re seeing an increase in Indian students. We are looking at placing more importance on and featuring more Indian.
“It has been difficult to learn,” Paterson admits, referring to the complex cuisine of India. “It’s a hard one to get right—the way they handle their spices, when they add them and the combination of spices. But it’s a fun one to explore.”
Patterson has learned by watching The Culinary Institute of America’s videos and by attending seminars, such as Worlds of Flavor, an annual program at the culinary school.
Roger Bonner, executive chef with Sustainable Fare at The Lawrenceville School in Lawrenceville, N.J., is also experimenting with offering Indian recipes because of requests for more ethnically diverse cuisine from the more than 950 students, faculty and staff he serves daily. (Approximately 550 of the 800 high school students live on the 700-acre campus.)
“The students’ palates are very refined,” says Bonner, noting that many students at the boarding school come from affluent families. So the demographics are there for expanding with more international menu options.
Bonner recently tested a chicken tikka that he says was well liked. For the dish, he marinated thighs—which he selected for the lower price and fuller flavor—in yogurt with pickled ginger, cinnamon, cumin, coriander and cayenne. After two hours, he removed the meat from the yogurt mixture, browned it and added jalapeños, onions and garlic. Finally the mixture was deglazed and simmered with chicken stock, crushed tomatoes and heavy cream.