âPlating is an extension of a chef’s personality. Tarun Sibal, co-founder and chef of Goa’s famous culinary bar, Titlie, comments on a burgeoning culinary art form. Here we are talking with Sibal about breaking the art of veneer.
Cooking is a creative act of constant transformation, just like poetry. A mirror of society, highlighting our personalities and our alter-egos to the world, one bite at a time. From sourcing quality produce to improving pantries with local and international condiments, chefs, consumers and the culture they represent have changed dramatically over the years. And not so long ago, we entered the age of Instagrammable food which also changed food philosophies. The stars here weren’t influencers but focaccia garden bread, Dalgona coffee, floating cocktails, edible flowers, and weird desserts that looked so good you wouldn’t want to hurt its likelihood of ‘like’. by opening it.
Emerging from the current trend of ‘good looking’ foods [courtesy of Masterchef Australia and other competitive cooking shows] is the art of plating. And to explore this sauce in the Indian context, our go-to authority is the grid on Tarun Sibal’s Instagram page which proves that local food can be presented with the same finesse as any other exotic dish.
Contents before packing
Plating, for Sibal, is about distributing the ingredients you’ve cooked in an aesthetically sustainable way. But this does not end here. He tells me that the dressing is a chef’s responsibility, an opportunity for the way they experiment with food, and that happens when you look at a plate like a blank canvas.
âSometimes you pick a theme and move around with it. Other times you allow your hands to improvise and perform magic like an artist. The canvas also counts here since the plate does not always have to be white; it can also be blue. When I cook, I think first of all about flavors, textures and taste. First, I prepare the dish, then I decorate it. If a dish looks good but tastes bad, the plating becomes superfluous. That’s why content before packaging is always my priority.
While this sounds like a task that can only be perfected with experience, Sibal also brings out another crucial thing to know when tackling: mood boards. âMy veneer will be very different in a highway dhaba and fine dining restaurant in Goa. It’s a 360-degree holistic method that all good chefs keep in mind as it gets your message across to the consumer. You count in all the nuances that need to be thought of before preparing the menu, and that’s part of a chef’s muscle memory. There is also a lot of science here. He explains this in more detail with an instance. âI am preparing a new menu at Titlie, which will be launched very soon. So I keep reinventing my own dishes. And I’m a big fan of chaat (local Indian street food). One of my old dishes is the Tortilla Crisp Papri Chaat, which is basically a Mexican tortilla added to chaat and served in a spherical glass jar, almost like a colorful garden inside a jar. In the new menu with a new mood board, you will have the same thing but with a different interpretation. The same chaat will be served on a pasta plate with a different style. I can cook food in four different ways, and they are all good. The idea is to stay true to your form and listen to your instincts.
Cooking, like poetry, is an endless cycle of borrowings, remixes and transformations. Regardless of a dish’s centuries-old heritage, kitchens need a modern makeover to suit today’s climate and culinary entertainment. Keeping the factor of relativity and familiarity in mind, Sibal presented his food philosophy as casual dining. His plates are casual but gourmet, which means that they are not as sophisticated as the Michelin stars, but the eccentricity is there. Sibal says it’s intentional. âI don’t want to distance myself from my consumers. I want it to be gourmet without pretense. It was my thought process when I started to understand my food philosophy. And you can see this casual dining style sprinkled across its menu – whether it’s a chickpea cake with mango and pineapple salsa or grilled red snapper togarashi butter and roasted red snapper. chili puree. Veneer, as he explains, is a mixture of love and art, science and joy, and your personal take on things. It is only to sublimate the dish and not the other way around.
Cross-pollination of kitchens and crops
Chef-entrepreneur Tarun Sibal comes with a chilling culinary journey spanning nearly two decades. Besides Vagator’s Titlie, he runs the kitchens of Street Storyss in Bangalore, Cafe Staywoke in Gurugram and consults Sidecar in New Delhi and Loft by Clock Tower in Gurugram, among others. Thanks to his varied repertoire, the diversity of veneer really shines through in his work.
“Whatever the cuisine [European or Oriental], my mood hasn’t changed. And that also includes cross pollination. I can take the same techniques as Indian cuisine and use them to prepare European cuisine. For me, food broke the kitchen barrier. Forget about countries, people are mingling within states and the results are phenomenal. ”
He explains, âThere is a dish served to Titlie called Garlic and Butter Poached Shrimp with a thick mash of sambar and a whole fresh coconut sambar. To perform this, I took the shrimp, a wok-style technique, and added sambar to it. It is the result of something I took from an oriental cuisine [where I used to work once], and something from Kerala and Sri Lanka. These are basically two or more ingredients from different places that get stuck on a plate. Plating is a contemporary cooking technique that should bring joy to consumers and be therapeutic. And nothing about it should sound powerful.
All images: Courtesy of Tarun Sibal / Instagram