Sunday, February 15, 2015

A food filled sojourn to the Acron Waterfront Resort in Goa

My first landscape drawn on my Samsung Note 4


In January this year, I was invited to visit the Acron Waterfront Resort, in Goa. Chef Cyrus Todiwalla (whose work I have been following for many years) was opening his first Indian outpost. And as if that was not reason enough, he was bringing along a star studded group of chefs from Europe for the launch! Just to make sure I didn’t yield to my hesitation, the team at Acron sent over an invite I couldn’t refuse. See..! 

 So with a heavy heart (yeah right!), I left my poor husband to look after our two kids and flew down to Goa for two days. It was my first junket in years and I was as excited as I used to be in my early years as a food writer. Because I had been promised I would get to cook with the chefs!

Acron Waterfront resort is on Baga beach and has its own little beach where fishermen bring in the each day’s catch. A major USP is that one can go buy fresh seafood and the chef will prepare it for you immediately. The cook in me was full of anticipation!

Best Ceasar Salad EVER!
I arrived late in the afternoon, to a cooling breeze blowing in off the Baga river; a warm welcome from the staff with an enchanting garland of little seashells. And almost immediately I was put in the care of my personal butler. Butler??? Thoughts of a stiff and proper Cadbury from Richie Rich comics were quickly dispelled by the handsome, smiling young Nilanshu. Acron Waterfront Resort aims to spoil their guests rotten and a personal butler attached to every room is what makes that happen! It is the butler’s duty to ensure you get everything you need or want and Nilanshu was brilliant. From organizing a late lunch of the best Caesar’s salad I have ever eaten to getting me lovely cups of hot coffee in the mornings as I sketched the view from my balcony, Nilanshu basically ensured my every comfort through my stay and really made my trip amazing!

That night, all of us foodwriters, journalists and food bloggers who had been flown in were hosted at a Chefs Table by Chef Todiwalla. After an amazing Feni Mojito by the infinity pool, we made our way to the River Restaurant where we met the other chefs in the star cast. There was Chef Todiwalla of course, but we also met Chef Colin Bussey, Chef John Feeney, Chef Paul Cunningham and Chef Sarah Hartnett.

Dinner on day 1
Dinner was largely high lights of things to come in the Gala the next day and as course after course unraveled, the food, the stellar company around me, Colin, John, Paul and Cinderella, (who was responsible for me being there in the first place) it turned into a lovely lingering affair, the sort where new acquaintances soon became old friends and talk long into the night as the whiskey is uncapped. Unlike many Indian chefs, these gentlemen from Europe were down to earth (in spite of having earned the right to brag), humble and downright hilarious! And it turned out we all had so much in common. Colin and John were consulting chefs back home and we ended up talking about flavours and projects and Paul, OMG Paul was an artist! He illustrated food just like me so we spent half the night showing each other our drawings!  At some point, the party broke up because someone reminded the chef brigade about the Gala the next day. We all parted with promises to meet the next day and cook.

The next morning Acron had arranged for all of us to go on a champagne cruise on a private yacht and it seemed prudent to go on the trip - in spite of the plans we had made to cook together - and leave the chefs to their enterprise. And although the workaholic in me was itching to get in the kitchen, I am glad I went. 
Highlights of the Champagne Cruise on the Solita!

It was such a fantastic experience. We were hosted by the Britto family that own Acron Waterfront resort aboard the Solita; a beautiful, 42-foot motor yacht that sails Goa’s gorgeous coastline. We sailed the coastline of Goa and ventured into deep sea, and as the speed and wind picked up, the champagne was uncorked and began to flow, followed by platters for excellent small bites packed for us by Acron. What a super morning!  We even saw dolphins albeit fleetingly! All of us sailed away on a cloud of bubbles We made our way back to the resort tired but exhilarated.

The Gala dinner that night was star spangled affair. The entire riverside lawn was decked out in lights and decorated with hand painted scenes of Goa. All the five chefs had stations dedicated to them that showcased their take on food with a little bit of Goan inspiration stirred in. The evening was even more starry for me because Vir Sanghvi, who for me is an inspiration for food writing, was a fellow guest. He was kind enough to keep a thrilled me company and talk food & writing all through the evening!  I think that pretty much was the high point of a fantastic trip for me.

I began my evening with Chef Paul Cunningham’s creations. Chef Paul is head chef at Henne Kirkeby Kro since 2012. Schooled and trained as a chef at various British restaurants and country house hotels. He is also co- owner of The Paul-Tivoli Garden in Copenhagen which received the star in Michelin's Guide Rouge in 2003-2011. Paul has also written 6 cookbooks namely Privat, Paul Food, Paul’s Grill, Incognito Royale, The Paul and Madjournal. His offerings that night included Henne style samosas, Mutton keema rolls and a beautiful kingfish Gravad laksBut it was the beautiful summery crisp shrimp watermelon and green mango salad that blew me away!

Next I tried Chef Colin Bussey’s citrus barley risotto with home-cured and lightly smoked kingfish and a whisky and brown butter sauce. A member of Master Chefs of Great Britain and a true master, Colin's work history has been split between kitchen and specialty food supply. He was Executive Chef for P & O's 'Oriana' cruise liner and also Executive Head Chef at the world-famous Gleneagles Hotel in Perthshire.

I moved to Chef Cyrus Todiwala’s table. Cyrus Rustom Todiwala runs four restaurants in London including the celebrated Café Spice Namasté. Cyrus has an honorary doctorate and was awarded an MBE in 2000 and an OBE in 2009. He has appeared on multiple television and radio shows including the BBC, Channel 4, ITV and The History Channel. Cyrus’ menus offer a contemporary; some would say extraordinary, twist on traditional dishes. His stall offered an array of Indian recipes served contemporary style. Pretty akoori tartlets, Parsi balchao-style prawn patia chappati, Goan rice dumplings filled with spiced cheese and a variety of Parsi favourites like patra ni machhi, jardaloo ma murghi, leeli tarkari and vaaghaerala chawal. His spicy beetroot rasam and Country Captain, a slow cooked mutton casserole like offering with a chili potato mash were my favourites. 

Chef John Feeney came next. John has mastered the full panoply of modern kitchen techniques and technology; he uses his free roaming creativity and the full gamut of technical wizardry to present the essential qualities of ingredients with guaranteed fireworks of emotion. As one of the most influential development chefs in the UK, his vision of cooking has won John accolades and a legion of devoted fans. That night, he had prepared a red onion and paneer emanada  drizzled with brown sugar, cauliflower couscous salad and pickled onions, served with baba ganoush and bacon jam.

And for those who did not get enough, Acrons own Chef Shubham Dhar had a station groaning under the weight of a fantastic array of main course offerings; roasted vegetable lasagna in pesto sauce, chicken  with lemon and sage, succulent Awadhi baby lamb curry and a Moroccan tagine. All his dishes offered the perfect fillers after an evening of picking at flavours from all over the world. 

The evening concluded with the dessert counter by Chef Sarah Hartnett. As Head Pastry Chef at Sheraton Park Lane Hotel in London, Sarah was awarded “Outstanding contribution to F&B department” in 2013. She participated in the Queen's first Jubilee luncheon at Waltham Forest, London.  She had created some fabulous confections. An Old Monk- Callebaut chocolate mousse with a banana cardamom caramel jam, strawberry cheesecake with a roasted cashew crumble, coconut cream and malt crumble with pineapples soaked in feni and my favourite a subtle pistachio and lime polenta cake. 

Unfortunately I never got to cook with the chefs. Despite specifically asking for that. But I had a lovely trip nevertheless. And I have managed to get some of the recipes from these brilliant chefs,

Beetroot and Coconut Rasam by Chef Cyrus Todiwalla

400gms Beetroot                                                                          
150gms Lentils (yellow or pink)                                        
One small Onion, finely chopped
One Garlic clove, crushed
1tbsp Coriander seeds, crushed fine
2-3 Whole red chilies, dried
1/4th tsp Turmeric powder
1/4thtsp Mustard seeds
1/4thtsp Cumin seeds                                                          
5-6 Fenugreek seeds                                                          
5-6 Peppercorns
2tbsp Tamarind pulp
1-1½ liters Water
10-12 Curry leaves
Salt as desired                                                                               
1tbsp Sunflower or Rapeseed oil
1tin Coconut milk

Wash the lentils well until the liquid clears, soak for a few hours in enough water to cover by an inch.
Wash & cut the beetroot into thin slices & transfer to a casserole along with the lentils and chopped onions.
Add in one to two or two and a half liters of water, the turmeric powder, some salt and boil until everything is soft. Purée with a stick blender or in a blender.
Heat the oil in a small two-litre type saucepan and add the mustard seeds and let them crackle.
Now add the chopped curry leaves, the crushed coriander seeds, red chillies, cumin, peppercorns and fenugreek seeds and sauté on a medium heat for six to eight minutes.
Add the pureed vegetables, the tamarind pulp and slowly bring to the boil.
Simmer for ten to fifteen minutes, whisk a little add the coconut cream and strain.
Serve straight away if you like or set aside reheat and serve later.

Pistachio and Lime Polenta Cake by Chef Sarah Hartnett
680 gms Sugar (caster)
150 gms Polenta
200 gms Almonds, with skin on
250 gms Cashew nuts
230 gms Pistachio nuts
6 gms Baking powder
3 gms Salt
6 Lime zest
10 Eggs
100 ml Lime juice
660 gms Butter, melted

Mix the sugar, polenta, almonds, cashews and pistachio nuts together.
Blend in a blender until it has a coarse texture (not a fine powder, but it should have some small pieces to add texture).
Add the baking powder and mix well.
Add the eggs and mix, then add the lime juice and zest.
Add the melted butter.

To bake:
Line a cake ring with tinfoil on the outside of the ring.
 The mix will be very soft and liquid so it's important to make sure it's lined well or it will leak during cooking.
Bake at 155°Celsiys in a combination oven or 190°Celsius in a deck oven.

To test for cooking:
The colour should be golden brown and when tested with a knife should come out clean.
Leave to cool before putting the topping on.

Callebaut White Chocolate topping:
100 gms Butter
600 gms Callebaut White chocolate
200 ml Whipping cream
Green colouring

Warm the cream and add the melted Callebaut white chocolate and butter.
Mix well with a whisk until smooth.
Add the green colouring and whisk till the ganache turns pale green in colour.
Pour onto the cake and leave to set before demoulding.

GYAAN and Links
For more information on the Acron Waterfront resort -

No comments: