AUTHOR: Alexandra Chaden, Segment Producer, The Mind of a Chef
CHEF: APRIL BLOOMFIELD
Curry is a word that is often misunderstood — is it a sauce? A type of dish? A pungent mix of spices?
It’s a little of all three, as we learned while filming this episode with one of India’s most revered food authorities, Madhur Jaffrey. Curry has a special place for April and Brits in general; with the colonization of India, the food was brought back to their fair isle in droves.
To this day, chicken tikka masala (or “CTM,” as it’s sometimes referred to in this age of abbreviations) is considered the UK’s unofficial National Dish. Turns out there are as many kinds of curry as there are spices at Kalustyan’s, an epic Indian market here in NYC.
Whenever our crew lunch consists of something other than a dirty deli sandwich, I need photographic evidence. Here we dined on several ‘curries’ (saag paneer! chana masala! goat curry!) at Dawat, an Indian restaurant where Madhur Jaffrey serves as consultant. This totally beats turkey on wheat.
Our trip to Kalustyan’s was a bit of a last-minute decision, but we couldn’t do a show on curry and not go to one of Manhattan’s best spice markets. The aisles are stacked with racks on racks on racks of every import you can imagine — basics like cinnamon, cayenne, cardamom share shelves with fenugreek, nigella seeds, and carom (what is carom? I’m still not quite sure). The place smells musky and spicy and divine.
The legendary Madhur Jaffrey agreed to show April how to make a kefta (‘meatball’) curry at The Spotted Pig. It was a hot & humid day in the city, but Madhur was as cool and collected as cucumber raita. We asked what her secret was, and she said she can calm herself down to regulate her body temperature. That is some magic Indian chef priestess voodoo, I’m sure. Did I mention she’s also an actress who helped introduce British film period-piece producers Ismail Merchant and James Ivory? No big deal …
Madhur’s meatballs are better than your mom’s meatballs. Truth.
One of the chefs at Dawat spends hours in front of the blazing hot tandoor ovens every day, cooking breads (mmm … naan …) and skewered meats at temps nearing 900°F. The bright, lipstick red of the chicken marinating here positively glowed compared to the rest of the kitchen and dining room’s subdued décor.
How many spices does it take to make Stevie Parle’s biryani? At least 16, apparently.
Oh, and after making the painstaking dish fit for a king, he tops it off with some gold leaf. You know, just for good measure.