Chef Anjani Kumar On Blending The Tastes Of Italy And China

They say you should never mix your drinks. But since those rules do not apply to food, we do not mind a bit of this and a bit of that on our plate, even if they belong to two countries, continents apart. Crowne Plaza’s ChaoBella which reopened recently prides itself in being the only restaurant in Delhi to be serving two cuisines. 

Now you might argue that every third restaurant in your neighbourhood is a ‘multi-cuisine' restaurant. But ChaoBella’s commitment in designing their menu, to present a multi-course fare for both Italian and Chinese cuisine is indeed commendable. I was told the kitchen is working non-stop to dish out the best of both worlds. 

We caught up with the chef Anjani Kumar, who has gone to great lengths researching and broadening the menu of ChaoBella. We also got candid about his favourite cuisine, go-to favourite and fond food memories, like how he burnt his first-ever aloo bhaja, and how the potato fritter still tasted incredible. Excerpts from the free-wheeling conversation…

Q1. Tell us about the comeback of ChaoBella  

A decade ago, Chinese and Italian were the two most sought-after ‘foreign’ cuisines in India. Interestingly, these two countries are the originating and closing destinations of the ancient Silk Route. The all-new menu at ChaoBella is our take on the evolved choices and discerning palates of our modern-day travellers.

If we talk about Chinese dishes, our previous menu boasted of flavours from the Cantonese region of China. This time, we have expanded our horizons and incorporated diverse flavours from the Hunan and Sichuan regions in addition to Cantonese. We have also picked up traditional dishes from South-East Asian countries such as Burma, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam. Interestingly, these dishes incorporate the organising principles of Chinese cuisine and the complex flavours from Indian herbs and spices making it an interesting mix for the palate.  

For the Italian fare, the guests will be transported to a modern-day Trattoria. Inspirations have been taken from local households to impart the regional flair and rustic characteristics to the dishes. The art behind the handcrafted pizzas and pastas at our live kitchen will be a sight to behold as we narrate the Italian food fables during your dining experience.  

Q2. You have reinvented the menu and have introduced many healthy elements too. Was that a conscious choice?  

The modern-day guests are extremely health-conscious with ‘mindful eating’ as the core concept. Hence, we have incorporated many superfoods such as quinoa, the hero ingredient in the dishes. While our range of signature dimsums such as Water Chestnuts and Asparagus, Hargao, Siu Mai and Crystal Chive, etc., along with flavourful soups and salads are perfect for quick lunches over work meetings, even our pizzas and pastas are extremely light. We have also included multiple gluten-free and sugar-free options keeping the evolved preferences of the guests in mind. 

Q3. What do you personally enjoy better for dinner - Italian or Chinese? Are there any common elements between the two?  

A basket full of steaming Jiaiozi Chicken Dimsums and handcrafted ravioli with a drizzle of ricotta cheese are my two most favourite dishes in the world and I genuinely cannot choose between the two.  However, if you would like to decode the connection between the Italian and Chinese cuisines, then you have to take a transcontinental food voyage via Silk Route and understand the culinary history of both the cuisines from the ‘Travels of Marco Polo’. Marco Polo was one of the greatest Venetian explorers of his time who served at the court of Kublai Khan, a powerful Mongolian emperor. China and Italy are the origination and culminating points of this ancient trade route and hence you can see uncanny similarities between the two cuisines. In fact, if you ever thought that dimsums and raviolis are distant cousins, you are probably correct. I will leave you with an experiment idea in the kitchen- next time, do not toss your noodles in the wok but add it to your favourite pesto or alfredo sauce (instead of a Spaghetti). Rings a bell?  

Q4. What do you think is the most difficult dish you have ever cooked and why?  

A few days back I tried Capesante Scottate in Padela, which is basically pan-seared scallops with lemon butter puree, chorizo crumble, fennel, and apple shaves. The process is a bit complex due to which it took me multiple attempts to perfect it. In this dish, a lemon zest is peeled and boiled thrice in regular water and then thrice again sugar water. The precision during boiling and the ratio management between butter and lemon peel to prepare puree for the scallops makes or breaks the dish.  

Q5. What ingredient, according to you, can make or break the dish?  

The most important ingredient while cooking will always be ‘patience’. While it is not an actual ingredient, it is extremely important to give adequate time to all the steps of a recipe for the dish to be extremely flavourful.  

Q6. Three tips we should keep in mind while making our own pizza base  

Knead your dough properly: To check if your pizza base will rise perfectly, press the dough with your fingers and ensure that it bounces back. Ensure that there are no air bubbles.  

Cold fermenting of your dough: Store the dough in the refrigerator for an hour to enhance its flavours as well as browning characteristics.  

Have a strong rolling pin game: Make sure that base is not uneven when you roll the pizza dough to prepare the disc for your topping. Do not overdo the topping or else your base and crust both will get soggy.  

Q7. Do you remember the first dish you ever cooked?  

When I shifted to a rented room in Delhi for my education, I began cooking dinners for myself. My meal mostly consisted of the humble aloo bhaja, mixed dal, and rice. My roommate told me that bhaja got burnt but I think it was just some rustic and smokey flavour (or I would like to believe so!).  

Q8. The last time you were impressed by the dish you made  

During our new menu trial at ChaoBella, we gave a twist to the traditional Veal Osso Buco by infusing herb and spice flavours using a smoke gun which took the taste of the dish a notch higher.  

Q9. A few tips for budding chefs and home chefs

Cooking is both art and science. Science of precise measurement of ingredients and cooking techniques and art of innovating with ingredients and plating styles. You must be ready to experiment to be able to execute new ideas and must be willing to learn about diverse cuisines and culture. Zero waste cooking should be your guiding principle and everything presented on the plate must be edible. This is an integral part of our cooking processes at Crowne Plaza New Delhi Okhla.