As Wasabi By Morimoto Turns 5 in New Delhi, Grand Master Hemant Oberoi Shares His Inspirations
A MEETING with Grand Master Chef Hemant Oberoi can only mean an explosion of new ideas. As we waited for journalists and bloggers to trickle in for the media lunch organised to celebrate the fifth anniversary of Wasabi by Morimoto at The Taj Mahal Hotel, New Delhi, he had me riveted by recalling how he, on his flight back from Davos, where he had catered for the World Economic Forum, had conjured up an idea to transform a party that was being hosted at the Taj Mumbai.
“I think best when I am on a flight,” Oberoi said. It was a last-minute change of plans and, naturally, it sent his team into a state of tizzy, but imagine going to a party with 50 live counters, each with an LCD screen running a film on the ingredient being cooked at the counter! Or going to a counter and seeing the meats or vegetables of your choice being grilled under the coal-fired contraption that’s been used for ages to iron clothes!
Oberoi got these coal-fired irons from Dhobighat and they served his purpose well by perfectly grilling the meats or vegetables, which were packed in parchment paper, at 80 degrees Celsius. Needless to say, Taj Mumbai made a lot of money out of this party, only going to show that there are people who are ready to pay for a special experience.
On Wasabi by Morimoto turning five in New Delhi, Oberoi said how he has celebrated fifth to 40th anniversaries of iconic Taj restaurants. One of the Shamiana, at Taj Mumbai, turned 40 last year and the chef, who started his career at the restaurant when another famous Taj executive, Subir Bhowmick, was its manager, decided to put some of the old favourites back on the menu, all priced at an unbelievable Rs 40 each for a day. The response to this offer was phenomenal. The queue of people craving for a meal at Shamiana stretched up to Prince of Wales Museum — that day, 800 people at the restaurant and more than 100 kilos of spaghetti got cooked, and the kitchen worked non-stop for 14 hours, but the goodwill and publicity that the move generated was worth several crores of business.
The same magic was evident in the lunch menu laid out for the media at Wasabi by Morimoto, New Delhi. Oberoi, who said he hoped the restaurant too would complete 40 years, emphasised that the Wasabi by Morimoto team is working very hard to develop a vegetarian menu that could stand up to the competition from the non-vegetarian best-sellers. “Seven out of India’s ten richest families are vegetarian,” Oberoi pointed out to reveal the business brain beneath his chef’s hat!
The Avocado Tartare, the Bell Pepper and Crispy Asparagus Sushi Rolls, the Crispy Onion Cup in Morel Soup, and the Eggplant Aka Miso (aka miso, incidentally, is the longer fermented red miso) proved Oberoi’s point. Wasabi by Morimoto now has vegetarian dishes in its new menu that have progressed much beyond the restaurant’s signature edamame.
Among the non-vegetarian items, my personal discoveries were the as-soft-as-butter lamb chop in black shichimi (seven-flavour chilli powder) and morel sauce and the Ghost Tenderloin Sukiyaki, which arrived on a bed of potato mash and garlic soy. The tenderloin slices had white candy floss on top, which melted away when the jus was poured on it. That is the ‘ghost’ that figures in the name of the dish. And of course, there was the top-selling Black Cod Miso, but with a difference. It is less sweet, and therefore tastes even better, because the fish is now cured in the traditional Japanese way — first in a bed of salt and then for three days under a muslin cloth dripping with miso. With such innovative tweaks, Wasabi by Morimoto can never go out of fashion — and it will certainly go on to celebrate its 40th anniversary.