A Confluence of Cuisines

A few months ago, my good friend, Lakshmi Pratury called me and said, “Praba! I need you!”. She was putting together the entire conference gala for TiEcon 2006. The theme for the Gala was a “Global Bazaar”, with entertainment combining the best of the east and the west. For dinner, Lakshmi said, “Praba, come up with a menu that will blow away the 1200 people who will be at the Gala!”

TiEcon 2006 Gala DecorAs I thought more about it, I told my friend, that this crowd would be hard to please. This was an elite group of well traveled, “been there, done that”, well read, smart Indian Americans. They set a high bar in whatever they did, and were constantly in search of the “next big thing”.

The resident Chef at the venue would turn my menu into the Gala dinner. My challenge was to work with the Chef and his staff, without stepping into their kitchen! Their workers’ union rules would not allow yours truly to get in there!

I got down to work. My first take was a huge menu, that would bring together distinctively different items from all around the world, in keeping with the “Global” Theme!

Here is a sampling of the “First Take” menu items:

Africa – Kibbeh, an appetizer, Spiced Okra and Lamb Stew
Albania – Almond cake (for dessert)
China – Vegetable Manchurian with Chilli Soy Sauce
Egypt – Lentil Rice
France – Tapenade, a dip
Greek – Polpettes, Lamb Moussaka
India – Tandoori Chicken, Spicy Daal, Hot Gulab Jamuns (for dessert)
Italy – Bruschetta, Gnocchi, Ravioli and Panzanella Salad
Japan – Nori Rolled Sushi, Teriyaki Chicken
Mexico – Quesadillas
Middle East – Dolmas, Shish Kebabs
Morocco – Orange and Almond Salad
Singapore – Vegetable Noodles
Spain – Tapas
Thai – Chicken Satay, Green Curry Tofu
Turkey – Ice Cream
Vietnam – Spring Rolls
Fusion – Tandoori Salmon, Green Papaya and Mango Salad
Other – several additional hors’douvres, entrees, side dishes and desserts

Asian CuisineI knew that we needed to cut this down, to meet our budget, and pick items that the Chef could work with as well. We got into a blizzard of meetings to figure that out. This was one roller coaster ride, in all of three weeks, as we made our way to the finish line. We finally settled on a simpler menu, with fewer items.

About 10 days prior to D-Day, we had our first and only tasting session. It was a complete disaster! The Indian dishes were bland and the Thai curry was a gooey mass.

I knew I had to do something to save the Day! I had nightmares of the entire dinner crowd chasing me out of the dinner hall! I had a black bag over my head, as I ran, with bluegrass music from “O Brother! Where Art Thou!” playing in the background….

I sent a note to the Chef with all the “fixes” we needed. The modified recipes were essentially fool proof. For instance, we added “made to order” dishes so the spice level in the Thai Green Curry could be customized. Vegetarians could get what they wanted too!

As the D-Day dawned, I took a deep breath, and said, “God! Help Me!”.

Mediterranean CuisineFinally, it was on! The décor by my friends Sujatha Suresh and Suzy Khendry was simply outstanding! The event venue came alive, with lots of colors and lights. The food stations had theme-based centerpieces. And the doors finally opened. I watched the people line up for the food. I went around to talked to them. Everyone seemed to love the station arrangements. The Thai curry was a big hit. The African lamb stew with harissa was a firm favorite. The made to order pasta line was in demand.

It was a moment to cherish. Beautifully dressed, gorgeous women and all the men in there boring blue suits (just kidding, guys!) enjoying food from around the world! We danced away to some fabulous music by DJ Salim, and chilled out with good old friends late into the night……

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