Jagmeeta Thind Joy
A few years ago, while writing a year-ender story on food for The Indian Express focusing on the new eateries in the city, I realised that the Chandigarh palate truly relishes Chinese fare. Be it a fine-dining restaurant or a fast food joint, the menu always makes space for popular Chinese dishes. So when, Abhay Kumar, the Director of Food & Beverage at the Hyatt Regency Chandigarh, mentions, “After Indian (cuisine), this is the most popular and preferred choice for the people here”, you smile and nod in agreement.
The research into the dining-out habits and palate preferences of Chandigarh by the hotel has led to them hosting a 20-day long Chinese food festival steered by the new chef de cuisine – Chef Yuzuo Han. What’s more, selected Chinese dishes will now be made a permanent part of the buffet and a la carte menu at Urban Café, the hotel’s multi-cuisine restaurant.
But first, let’s meet Chef Han. Hailing from Dongbo district of Sichuan province in China, the chef has worked for the Hyatt Group of Hotels for almost a decade in several cities around the world. Having become an Apprentice Chef at the age of 16, Han attended Culinary College and obtained his professional certificate in 2001. Though he speaks little English, Chef Han shares he wants to introduce the local palate to authentic Chinese meals, while keeping in mind their taste preferences. “My focus is on Sichuan food as it is flavourful and spicy that would appeal to tastebuds in this region,” said the chef who has curated a special menu for the food festival.
The food festival, which is on till July 10, makes a concentrated effort to offer popular favourites while introducing new dishes as well. “I am aware of the fact that people here like dimsums, soups like Manchow and Sweetcorn with curry-based main course,” he tells us.
Working with locally procured meats and fresh ingredients, the highlight of the food festival is the range of starters and salads along with a robust main course. “Every day I will offer a new set of salads,” shares Chef Han who recommends fresh cucumber salad with spicy soy bean sauce to start with. The starters bring in popular favourites like honey cauliflower (yes, surprisingly) and sesame potatoes along with chef’s speciality of dumplings. The pan fried crispy prawn dumplings with celery, mushroom and truffle oil made me go for second helpings. I also noticed that these dimsums came with a glossy and colourful orange-yellow sheen. “These are glazed with cornstarch and colour,” informed the chef. The skin of the dimsums was almost translucent and light. The insides are equally refreshing.
It’s not hard to notice that the chef’s doing a fine balancing act when you spot chicken spring rolls and vegetable spring rolls in the line-up. To add novelty, the chef has used ingredients like shitake mushrooms, peppers, spring onions, smoked bamboo shoots and the likes.
I also liked the introduction of the seafood platter in the buffet that will give diners an opportunity to savour different flavours in seafood. Speaking of main course, the chef’s special here include Cumin chilly lamb chops that go perfectly well with his Sichuan fried noodles tossed with vegetables, bell peppers in yellow bean sauce. The noodles have a distinct sesame oil flavour and are unlike the wok tossed hakka noodles or chowmein we are familiar with.
Also a part of the buffet is bao and dumplings with different fillings. I tried a bao with chicken filling and as much as didn’t want to cut into the plump and perfectly round bao, it was a delight to find a flavoursome filling inside.
Those of you looking for vegetarian fare won’t be disappointed. The pan-fried tofu and tofu in soy sauce with fresh veggies and ginger in Sichuan pepper sauce are highly recommended by Chef Han. You could also try the wok-fried asparagus with button mushrooms, cooked in mild garlic sauce.
Stuffed like the bao or rather the baos I tucked into earlier during the meal, the crispy fried banana with sesame cream sauce did more than well to soothe the sweet cravings. I hope to be seeing more of Chef Han and his meals in the coming days.
Lunch & Dinner Buffet & A-la-Carte
Timings 12.30 pm to 3.30 pm; 7 pm to midnight
Price Lunch Buffet costs Rs 1,099 + taxes; Dinner Buffet costs Rs 1,499 + taxes