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Our Manna From Heaven

Pramila N. Phatarphekar dines celeb chef Moshe Shek

Our Manna From Heaven
Sanjoy Ghosh
Our Manna From Heaven
Purple hazes do something to the mind and the amethyst oasis at Seven, in the Crowne Plaza Surya, certainly did something to mine. "Is Moshe Shek your stage name?" I ask. A montage of perplexed expressions flickers across the face of India’s newest culinary poster boy. "No, Moshe is my name, it comes from Moses, Shek is another way of saying Sheikh. That’s how Israelis spell this surname," says Mumbai-born Moshe, toying with the intriguing fork that looks capable of scooping up dal.

And his declaration of origins explains the Mediterranean focus at Mumbai’s Athena and Basilico and Moshe’s Oliva in Delhi. Restaurants where he marries his love of home-cooking with haute cuisine, serving intensely flavoured meals that people are lapping up. Yet, all his time spent in Israeli kibbutzim and Europe, feeding Benjamin Netanyahu, Zubin Mehta and Lady Di doesn’t seem to have dulled his love for kebabs, which he orders along with fresh mosambi juice. That’s a bit of a gustatory shortcut, though. Seven’s forte includes seven unique modes of Indian cooking. Moshe’s beguiled by the Barkas Pathar Ka Kabab, a tender lamb piccata, seared on a stone slab.

"How do you like feeding Delhi?" He replies, "I was nervous, wondering if people would accept authentic Med food cooked only in olive oil. Yet, we’re always packed." But how does he manage with Jewish dietary laws that forbid mixing of meat and vegetable dishes? "Everything is colour-coded. Either a pan is for meat or veggies, it can’t be for both." I want to ask about how his custom kitchens created from cruise-liner wrecks in Alang, the world’s largest shipbreaking yard...but just then the kebabs arrive, aesthetically preening on stark white porcelain quadrangles, along with a much-simmered Dal Makhni.

Moshe carves a piece of Dahi-ke-Kabab, held together by free will and a hint of garam masala. His nostrils flare. The scent of the spiced yoghurt makes its way to a shrouded sensory chamber. Only then does the fork-like-spoon rise to his lips. "Bellisima, this is just dahi?" And that’s how he tries everything. Looking, sniffing and only then eating. As he has for the last 20 years of gourmet-globetrotting. This year, it’s Turkey. But here, he moves to the Shahi Gilaawat ke Kabab with 125 spices. He clearly prefers the less flamboyant Pathar, which he saves for the last. We end by sharing a Badaam ka Halwa. When Moshe does something I didn’t expect. Before spooning into it, he tips the halwa to one side and lets the ghee float away from us and into the lilac distance.

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