Chef Aksharaj Jodha is known for his exquisite culinary pop-ups with a heritage or cultural twist. Among his new gourmet projects, now being served at The Raj Pavilion, ITC Windsor, Bengaluru, is the revival of the three menus served on the ill-fated Titanic way back in 1912.
“The food is drawn from the three menus served between 12th and 14th April, 1912 aboard the Titanic, before it disappeared under the ocean. The dishes are drawn from the first class, second class and third class passenger menus,” he says. The first class passenger’s last lunch menu, in fact, was auctioned for $88,000 in the US. It had been saved by Abraham Lincoln Salomon, a New York businessman who climbed aboard the ‘Money boat’ or ‘Millionaire’s boat’, before the ocean liner went down under.
While the lavish three-course lunch at ITC Windsor, Bengaluru serves dishes from the privileged first class menu, the buffet has a blend of all three menus. Even the gold-rimmed crockery used for the pop-up references the original on which food was served on that tragic night when Titanic hit an iceberg.
The original lunch was a 12-course affair, which has been pared down to a three-course at The Raj Pavilion but the entire battery of dishes are available for dinner buffet.
A huge staff laboured continuously in Titanic’s massive galleys to prepare more than 6,000 meals a day. The main galley, which churned out food for first-and second-class passengers, featured serving pantries; a butcher shop; a bakery; vegetable kitchens; specialised rooms for silver and china; rooms for wines, beer and oysters; and huge storage bins for the tons of coal needed to fuel the 19 ovens, cooking tops, ranges and roasters.
First-class passengers feasted on such delicacies as pâté de foie gras, peaches in chartreuse jelly and Waldorf pudding. The austere third-class meals featured hearty stews, vegetable soup, roast pork with sage and onions, boiled potatoes, currant buns, biscuits and freshly baked bread with plum pudding and oranges.
“Of course, there are some things we cannot serve such as beef, pigeon or game meat. But that was a small part of the Titanic menu,” he says. “The menus were a mix of classical French and Italian cuisine. French cuisine was very popular among the rich and the famous in that era.”
ITC Windsor’s menu lists Raw Oysters and assorted Hors d’oeuvre. Soup is Consomme Olga or Cream of Barley. The other dishes include an assortment of lamb chops and lamb shanks, Spaghetti Sicilian, Poached Atlantic Salmon topped with Rich Mousseline Sauce, Filet Mignon Lili, Sauté of Chicken Lyonnaise, Lamb with Mint Sauce and Roasted Duckling with Applesauce. A palate cleanser made with wine, rum and Champagne later, diners can continue the meal with Roast Squab with Cress and Cold Asparagus, Vinaigrette and Pate en Croute. Desserts span a wide variety of French classics, such as Peaches in Chartreuse Jelly, Chocolate and Vanilla Eclairs or Waldorf Pudding, and French ice-cream.
The setting for Titanic-inspired meals within a flower-strewn, sun-infused restaurant inspired by the century-old Lalbaug gardens and Victorian-era architecture is perfect to sample a meal served on the luxury cruise liner that sailed out of Ireland.
The Royal Repast
Chef Jodha is also known for his traditional Rajasthani pop-ups as part of ITC’s Kitchens of India ‘Royal Repast’ project. He is inspired by the culinary heritage of the small erstwhile princely state of Deolia, near Ajmer, which was ruled by his forefathers. “We come from the family of Rao Jodha, the founder of Jodhpur. His great-grandson Rao Chandrasen was the Maharaja of Jodhpur till Akbar forced him to flee after an acrimonious war, and handed over the throne to his brother who was more amenable. Rao Chandrasen settled in Deolia, which became his state.”
The pop-up, The Cuisine of Akheraj Ancestry, has 60 to 70 dishes, most drawn from his childhood memories but a few contemporary ones too. “Ajmer is strategically located between Marwar, the dry part of Rajasthan, and Mewar, which included the lake-city of Udaipur, Chittorgarh and even Jaipur. Cuisines of Mewar and Marwar differ. Ajmer was inspired by them but also shows Mughal influences since the kings reported directly to Mughal-ruled Delhi.”
The food in Deolia is influenced by travels undertaken by the kings, geography and even by friendships and marriage. “My great grandfather, who studied in Mayo College, was friends with late Hari Singh, Maharaja of Kashmir. Our royal kitchens added Yakhni Pulao, a quintessential Kashmiri dish, to the menu. My grandfather married in Gujarat so meethi dal and kadhi is now part of our culinary heritage.”
The menu Chef Jodha serves at the pop-up lists Lal Maas made the Deolia way, with local chilles, Hara Maas (green curry) and Safed Maas (red curry). “The ingredients could be the same but everyone had their own recipe,” he says. However, he also uses some unusual ingredients such as gooseberries and corn, which are part of the food eaten in and around Ajmer.
His favourite dishes include an unusual Jungli Maas, the most basic of meat dishes. “Once the British took over the kings had very little to do, so they hunted for sport,” says Chef Jodha. “They would stay within a jungle for days on end, hunting and cooking on site. On these trips they carried just four ingredients
—whole chillies, rock salt, desi ghee and flour to make rotis or baatis. Whatever meat they hunted —wild boar, rabbit or antelope would be put into a vessel along with these four ingredients and cooked on low heat. The meat cooked in its own moisture since no water was used.”
Chef Jodha serves up his version of the Jungli Maas. Wild meat has been replaced by goat meat but the other ingredients continue to be as basic.
His revived culinary menu includes Amla Murgh (chicken stuffed with gooseberries and served in white gravy), Pithor (steamed gram flour blocks cooked with ghee and yoghurt and served in a yoghurt-based gravy), Tarbuz ki Sabzi (a vegetable cooked using the white part of watermelon peels), Amchur ki sabzi (dry mango as the main ingredient), maize khichda, Chandaliye ki Sabzi (amaranth leaves cooked in ghee and other spices), and even a Sabz Panchmel that is made with five green vegetables, a recent addition to Deolia’s culinary heritage.
Dining out with Chef Jodha is always an engaging experience. He has stories to share about his ancestors, his attempts at heritage cuisine revivals and the social-political influences on food across the world.
Deepali Nandwani is a journalist who who keeps a close watch on the world of luxury.