Indian celebrities, fashion designers and content creators aren’t the only ones representing the country with their presence at the ongoing Cannes Film Festival. The Indian culinary industry also got its fair share of recognition. Last year, chef Manu Chandra showcased Indian flavours through contemporary dishes like Paniyaram Madeleines, and Pyaaz ki kachori en Croute with chutney and Crème Fraîche. This year, chef Prateek Sadhu was invited to blend the best of Indian and French cuisine at the inaugural dinner hosted by the Minister of Information and Broadcasting at the India Pavilion. Prateek collaborated with Diageo India’s craft single malt, Godawan, to showcase ‘The Journey of India’ at the film festival.
Chef Sadhu took his diners on a journey of flavours through a menu that celebrated the evolution of regional Indian food with dishes featuring Tungrymbai from Northeast India and an innovative Millet Thoran. The attendees that included the likes of Guneet Monga, Sara Ali Khan, Manushi Chhillar, Vijay Verma, among other Indian guests and French dignitaries, left feeling impressed. I wish I had a seat at this table, but the next best thing to do was get all the intel on the behind-the-scenes from the chef himself.
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ELLE: Congratulations on presenting the dinner at Cannes! How do you feel?
Prateek Sadhu (PS): It was such a proud moment to represent India and cook Indian food which is relevant in 2023. By relevant, I mean the evolution in Indian food. And that’s exactly what I wanted to showcase at Cannes. The service was great. We had an incredible bunch of people dining that night and feeding them was such an incredible moment for me.
ELLE: What was the idea and inspiration behind the menu?
PS: The idea and inspiration was to showcase Indian food culture through different regions. We wanted to showcase the evolution of Indian food and while we’re moving forward, our food is still very grounded and rooted. That was the strong message we put out through our menu.
ELLE: Can you take me through the menu you designed?
PS: The menu was divided into four parts–north, south, east and west. The entire idea was to create dishes that are not very known. Even when I was designing the flavour combination, I was picking various flavours from different regions in the east, and mixing and matching those. I wanted to take the diners on a flavour journey. We started off with South where we combined Vattayappam from Kerala and black pepper from Tamil Nadu. We did a Kerala stew with seafood. Millets were one of the most common things we wanted to showcase as it is the International Year of Millets.
With the attention coming back to millets, the idea was to showcase it in different forms. In the first course, we did millets as Millet Thoran. We also made Millet Pulao and Millet Pothao, which is pancake from Meghalaya but with millet flour. In beverages, we did kahwa from Kashmir, coffee from Ratnagiri (roasted by Subko). We did mithai from Kashmir, Mysore Pak, Jolbhora Sandesh, and ice cream with Kalakand and Aam Panna custard on top. So it was fun, innovative and showcasing Indian food in 2023.
ELLE: How was the response from the guests in attendance?
PS: The response was phenomenal. When everyone first looked at the menu, they were trying to figure what’s it going to be like. But after I met everybody post the service, I was very emotional because of the response I got not only from the French dignitaries but also from Indian guests. Guneet Monga and her husband had amazing things to say. Everybody felt proud to see how far the Indian food and flavours have come. And these were the kind of conversations I was having with everybody–on how I combined all these different flavours and how it made so much sense.
ELLE: Any dish that you had the most fun creating?
PS: Creating the entire menu was magical. But if I have to pick, I enjoyed combining the flavours of Tungrymbai sauce, smoked lamb, Putharo pancake and tomato chutney. Tungrymbai is one of my favourite ingredients from Meghalaya and I had carried it with me. It is basically fermented soybean which is then converted into a paste and used in multiple ways in Meghalaya, Khasi and Jaintia communities. We converted that into a sauce and used it with smoke lamb. The Khasi and Jaintia communities make rice pancakes called Putharo and we served those pancakes using millet flour. The combination of all these elements was a flavour burst in your mouth. It was sweet, spicy, sour, umami- everything was there in that dish. It also showcased a modern approach to Indian food culture but at the same time it was very rooted.
I also had fun recreating this chaat. We did a strawberry achaar and then took out the liquid of the achaar, converted it into Achaari ice. We hid mithai under that achaar, so every bite had a different flavour and experience.
ELLE: Did you go on an ingredient sourcing trip in the markets of Cannes?
PS: We sourced ingredients from the Farmer’s market in Cannes and I had fun roaming around there. So we used strawberries from there. We used white asparagus as the vegetarian substitute for prawns in the first course, and French artichokes instead of smoked lamb. We also used a classic French fish called Dover Sole and made a Malvani preparation with it. I wanted to showcase the Indian flavours while also using French ingredients.
ELLE: Could you also tell me a little about your new venture Varakaar and your future plans?
PS: Varakaar, which means ‘God’s blessings’ in Kashmiri, is my first hospitality company. I launched it this January, so I began the year with God’s blessings. The entire focus right now is to get the new restaurant up and running which would be my flagship restaurant. I’m excited to talk about it to the world very soon because it is reflection of me, it’s a distillation of my work that I’ve done in the 7-8 years of being in this industry, it is an ode to this beautiful country, and it is full of meaning and purpose to me.
Needless to say, a dinner service of this scale was accompanied with the right choice of cocktails. Chef Prateek’s menu was paired with Diageo India’s selection of world-class spirits, providing an immersive sensory experience for guests. Head of World Class, Trade and Social Advocacy Evonne Eadie put her mixologist hat on and came up with innovative concoctions for the guests who not only attended the dinner at the India Pavilion (that took place on May 16) but also for the Hollywood celebrities in attendance for the next three days at Cannes Film Festival. Infused with syrups from Indian mithai and spices, Evonne’s cocktails continued to put Indian ingredients on the global map. Ahead, we chat with her about her infusions for the drinks menu.
ELLE: Take us through the cocktail menu.
Evonne Eadie (EE): We’ve gone for a menu inspired by the regions of India. As someone who does not come from India, there’s definitely flavours that really stood out to me when I visited the various areas. So I’ve tried to weave those flavours and the experience into the cocktails. For example, in the North region, I love all of the sweets, gulab jamun in particular and the celebration of that sweet being passed around was notable to me, so I’ve used that. I’ve created the gulab jamun syrup and used that as the sweetener for our Old Fashioned with Singleton.
ELLE: Sounds interesting. What more did you make?
EE: Of course! I’ve used the beautiful Curry leaf flavours from the South, with Ciroc vodka. It pulls through Curry leaf, coconut and pineapple into a beautiful shaken fluffy serve. For the West, my choice of ingredient was kokum. So I created a kokum syrup, made it into a cordial and topped up with Johnny Walker Black Label and soda, which was a nice, refreshing serve. The stringency from the kokum and the sweetener of the syrup worked beautifully with Johnny Walker’s smokiness.
Don Julio is a new product for us. So I wanted to feature that in a classic Mexican serve with a Paloma, which is a sparkling grapefruit mix. I brought in the Indian twist with a lovely chilli masala on the rim of the glass to elevate and bring those Indian flavours into the cocktail.
ELLE: Which cocktails became a hit?
EE: The Don Julio Paloma was a popular one. The refreshing grapefruit and a bit of spice there tends to be a crowd favourite. A lot of people also opted for the Coastal Cooler, which is the one I mentioned with the pineapple curry leaf and coconut. The fruitier flavours seemed to have attracted the crowd. The Darjeeling Spritz (which is paired with a Tanqueray), where I’ve created a cordial with Darjeeling tea, citrus, and then some dry vermouth, was a really nice Aperitivo pre dinner serve.