Jalal Salahuddin on a whirlwind tour of several foreign chefs in Pakistan
Sitting on a beautiful terrace on a cool and crisp evening in Santa Rosa, California last September, I tasted a handmade tagliatelle dish with braised lamb ragout and had an epiphany. The food presented to us at Zazu, a well-known Sonoma Valley restaurant run by an incredible husband-and-wife team, represented the best of the area’s storied food tradition. The style of eating and drinking in Northern California is classic yet progressive, inventive and contemporary at the same time. Spending a month there was an education. The superb organic produce, the gorgeous vineyards and the talented chefsÂ from around the world who have settled there have created a mecca for foodies and epicurians which matches Tuscany and Burgundy. I began to think to myself: why can’t we have a more exciting culinary scene here in Pakistan? Although many new restaurants have opened up and people in the major cities have become more interested in food, we are still developing our restaurant culture and have not yet embraced a farm-to-table ethos (though perhaps in a strange way, Pakistan’s rural poor have). But organic brands are coming up and we still do eat fairly seasonally in Pakistan. This is a good sign and will be one of the building blocks of our evolving culinary culture.
Twelve restaurants, three cities, three international chefs, one foreign illusionist, and a highly skilled Cuban Cigar Roller
Upon my return from California I got a call from a brand that was interested in bringing chefs from around the world to cook in Pakistani restaurants for a night each. We had done an event like this before with the master brand but this time the 7-Up Chefs Bonanza was to have three chefs cook in a series of restaurants in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. This was meant to give diners a novel experience in a restaurant they visit often. The culinary marathon was an exhilarating series of events: twelve restaurants, three cities, three international chefs, one foreign illusionist, and a highly skilled Cuban Cigar Roller, all in the span of three weeks!
I met and interacted with all sorts of people from around the globe, witnessed back-of-the-house of restaurants, talked to the restaurateurs and saw them mingle with international culinary gurus, ate exciting food, and last but not the least experienced the most exciting foreign entertainment in Pakistan.
Laughter and applause emanated throughout the evening as guests were left baffled and delighted at the magician’s mind-bending tricks
It started off with a Michelin Star chef Guiliano Tassinari from Bologna, Italy, who presented out some fabulous Italian dishes such as risotto with green apples and balsamic reduction and handmade tagliatelle in a fresh tomato sauce. For the first few events it was difficult for him to work in the local kitchens due to a lack of equipment and unavailability of ingredients. But as the events proceeded, his menu showcased what true Italian recipes are all about. He got a chance to cook at the Chameleon at Royal Palm, CafÃ© Zouk Lahore, Tiramisu in Islamabad, and CafÃ© Koel and Montecristo in Karachi. Chef Fazil, an expert in East Asian and Oriental Cuisine, also showcased fabulous food options ranging from Pan Asian to Fusion cuisine at CafÃ© Zouk in Lahore, China Town Islamabad and Fuchsia in Karachi. Choices in soups to desserts were vast and tough to choose from as each dish sounded more delicious than the previous one. Everyone loves spicy Asian food here so dishes such as Fazil’s are always well-received. The Lebanese part of the event kicked off at CafÃ© Aylanto in Karachi. Amidst a cool breeze and candlelight, guests enjoyed a delectable four-course Lebanese menu prepared by international Chef Fadi el-Reweissati who has been the executive chef for many five-star hotels worldwide. He displayed his culinary expertise at the CafÃ© Aylanto Lahore & Karachi, Al-Majlis Islamabad and Polo Lounge Lahore and Islamabad. Anyone familiar with Lebanese cuisine or simply good food would’ve enjoyed the authentic selection of cold and hot Lebanese mezze which included a fresh vegetable platter, fatuoush, tabouleh, hummus, baba ganoush, moussaka, carrot mutable and homemade pita bread.
All this while the Malaysian magician Rosen Roy kept guests entertained during their meals. Laughter and applause emanated throughout the evening as guests were left baffled and delighted at the magician’s mind-bending tricks. The restaurants were filled with warmth and chatter as people mingled with local celebrities and socialites.
Lastly, some evenings featured a fantastic female Cuban cigar roller. Having flown in from the Habanos factory in Cuba, Mercedes skillfully rolled fresh authentic Cuban Habanos cigars for the guests, right in front of their eyes. She is a skilled roller working at Habanos since 1982; she has obtained the 9th Category of Certification (the highest level among Cuban cigar rolling). There are a few things in the world that are known to be the best of their kind. A Havana cigar is one of them.