Sunday, 20 October 2013

Review: California Pizza Kitchen's #MCAMasterClass - MasterChef Australia Master Class in Chennai on 6th October, 2013

I was delighted to be part of a twitter engagement by California Pizza Kitchen India (CPK India) on October 5, 2013 to celebrate their partnership with MasterChef Australia.  

Winners of the twitter engagement got to attend a California Pizza Kitchen MCA Master Class at Mumbai, Bengaluru and Chennai the next day, October 6, 2013.

Italian cuisine is my top favorite from time immemorial :) Being a strict vegetarian, I'm grateful to Italian cuisine for seeing me through many parts of the World including the alps of Calgary (Canada), the outbacks of Australia, idyllic Knysna in South Africa (yeah, side effects of the Cricket World Cup) & the sea food dominated Far East.  But for Italian cuisine, I may not have survived a significant period in places that did not appear to have an abundant vegetarian food supply at the time of my visit.  [Disclaimer: these are strictly my personal views / experiences, may be that ain't the whole truth! So, take it with a pinch of salt].

Pasta is probably my number 2 addiction (well, Pink being number 1).  So, CPK India's call was clearly hard to ignore.  Off I went to the beautifully landscaped Phoenix MarketCity Chennai.  Right on the ground floor, CPK India has an outlet, just love their outdoor canopies. 

Even at the entrance, it was hard to miss the 'MasterChef Australia' hoardings!

CPK India is celebrating MasterChef Australia with a special menu and flyers and the special menu were displayed on every table:

hmm.. now for the MCA Master Class;

Our Master Chef for the class was Chef Karthik, who has an enviable repertoire of brands in his career: Oberoi, Taj, Burgundy, a stint in Dubai and now with CPK India Chennai.

Endearing, exceptionally patient (well, I m quite an amateur cook & i actually blanch pasta for a full 15-20 minutes at home - he blanches it for 30 seconds flat) Chef Karthik and team's excellent hospitality greeted us, the participants of the MCA Master Class. 

The only thing Chef was very strict about that day was - our headgear!

Even when I had finished my class but returned to the kitchen to just take a few snaps, I was not let inside without putting on a fresh headgear!

The special MasterChef Australia Menu we were to learn in the Master Class included:

1. Roasted Tomato & Arugula Pizza [Vegetarian]
2. Creamy Artichoke Penne [Vegetarian]
3. 5 Spice Lemon Garlic Baked Basa [Non-vegetarian; Basa, I learnt is a special fish from the Far East; did they say Indonesia?] 

First on the list: Roasted Tomata & Arugula Pizza

Chef Karthik, Chef Ganesh and team did a demo Pizza first and then it was our turn; I had never seen such leafy green and fresh Arugula [also known as 'salad rocket'] leaves before :)

We rolled the pizza dough on a floured surface to a 9" (9 inch) base; I learnt how to roll a properly circular base (when I attempt it at home, I can easily achieve all the continents without even trying :)

Chef Karthik already had some yummy sundried tomato marinara (my most favorite part of Italian cuisine) ready, so we mixed some grated cottage cheese with this marinara and spread it all over the rolled pizza base, till the edges.

Then came the most delightful part of creating this pizza: add mozzarella cheese to sauteed cherry tomato halves and sauteed mushroom mix and top up the pizza.

Well, thereafter, a huge spade with a wooden handle is used to pick the pizza up from the floured surface, on to the layered, state-of-the-art pizza electric oven.  I couldn't :(  I kept pushing the pizza away on the surface instead of managing to pick / lift it up, so Chef Karthik kindly did the honors on my behalf.

CPK India's state-of-the-art layered (yeah, its in tiers with many ovens, stacked one over the other) oven cooks the pizza very quickly (must have been less than 5 minutes); Chef removed my pizza from the oven with the same long spade with wooden handle; i then sliced it in to equal pieces and lo & behold, garnished it with the awesomely fresh arugula leaves plus parmesan cheese and olive oil.

See the result:

I eat mild (yeah, for an Indian, I don't eat hot & spicy) - well, my friends in college used to joke i eat 'baby food', so my pizza was far too mild for my fellow participants (all guys and used to high spice :)  But, I loved it & even managed to bring home the remaining slices of my pizza, packed so well by the CPK India Chennai team.

The next two snaps below show the pizza with the basa preparation:

2.  Creamy Artichoke Penne Pasta:

Time for pasta now; we moved to a different area of the kitchen where neatly stacked storage greeted us - full of diced onion, garlic, chilli flakes, sauces of so many colors & flavors - all ready and filled (hmm.. such a luxury .. how I wish, when I start cooking at home, I can haul up a genie who would keep all ingredients super ready :)

My super lesson of the day - for someone who ardently loves pasta to the point of addiction and often cooks pasta at home for self - one shouldn't blanch the pasta for too long (well, if you always knew it, forgive my naively amateur cooking sense).  I saw Chef Karthik re-blanch pre-cooked pasta for 30 seconds flat in his super duper pasta blanching electric machine (he just changes the water to fresh water & switches it on, phew!).  I then asked him how do I achieve it at home (until i'm lucky to own that imported machine) - and he said "boil water first, put the pasta in to the boiling water only when water reaches boiling temperature and it will be very quickly blanched".  Point! I used to add pasta to water and then turn the stove (sometimes even the microwave) on earlier! ;-D 

I immensely enjoyed this pasta making session; tossed in some extra virgin olive oil, sauteed onions, garlic and chilli flakes.  I am used to very mild fires at home :) ha ha, Chef had a large cooking range with ferocious flames & I had to request him to please turn down the fire a bit because I got scared by the leaping flames;  endearing as he was, he reduced the fire but gave me my next lesson: pasta flavors merge & come out superbly when cooked over a large fire! hmm.. so, I didn't want my pasta to not come out without a flourish of flavors .. guess what, I promptly reverse delegated it to the Chef, who kindly held the fire until my pasta was done; i added the ingredients though :)

I learnt for the first time that adding lemon zest to pasta is a good idea; i never have (i always store orange zest in the fridge - but that is only for madeira cakes I bake); Chef added finely ground lemon zest after he sauteed the aforesaid ingredients and added artichokes (i saw him add only the stem part of the artichoke).  Then added what the Chef called "a laddle full of creamy white sauce" (i think it included soya sauce).  Then went in lemon juice, chopped parsley, grated parmesan; i then crushed pepper on a huge wooden pepper crusher (its kinda 1 feet tall) - mine at home (a small glass pepper crusher) seemed like a miniature :)

Lo & behold, Creamy Artichoke Penne ready, duly garnished with a lemon wedge and a parsley sprig!

Partake .. 

I then took a break to relish the dish :)  It tasted divine; true to what the Chef said, the flavors had all come in to their own - lemon, garlic, artichoke all forging into a very heady gastronomical delight.

That done, i was eager to learn cooking my staple pasta - yepp, the one with red sundried tomato sauce (I kinda make it at least twice a week myself), so waited until the Chef made this for a like minded customer's order:

3.  5 Spice Lemon Garlic Baked Basa:

This, I am told by Chef Karthik and my fellow participant Suvish, is a special fish sourced from the Far East.

I did not participate in the session but caught some great clicks of the output:

If the dish catches your fancy, reach Suvish to know how they created it :)  I was fascinated to know the fish was pre-filled and marinated much earlier. It sure looks so juicy na?

Time now to catch a glimpse of the method behind the magic - the arsenal, the team, the works:

First, the layered electric pizza oven:  well, its a factory, pretty much:

Next, the neat array of chopped / grated ingredients, a world of color:

This is Chef Karthik's cooking range (for pasta) that scared me with its huge leaping ferocious flames:

The super endearing Team at CPK India Chennai, led by Chef Karthik (9th from left):

This is Suvish just before making his pasta:

For an ardent gardening & Nature lover, I loved the outdoor canopied seating at CPK India Chennai: 

Phoenix MarketCity Chennai does have very tastefully landscaped interiors - I caught some plumeria and a rare while lily specie (yeah, after the gardening incharge there to know where to source it from, so I can bring it home to Mom):

Hmm.. hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I loved being a part of it.  

Lastly, yeah, remember, this is a fashion blog before being a lifestyle blog :) So, here is a tiny glimpse of what I wore to the Master Class:

Well, they were 'celebrating' a partnership so I wore a gold sequinned peter pan collar nude toned top paired with black trousers, black wedges & glass cut gold shimmer earrings :)

Thank you CPK India for the Master Class.  I sure will make much better pasta & pizza from hereon; much appreciate your engagement, the hospitality & the spirit behind the celebration.

Well, given my tardy, erratic & insufferable personal ways recently, this post is a fortnight late :( Sincere apologies.

On that note, please find out if the menu is still on at CPK India & if it is, please dine in! Especially if you are a foodie, an Italian cuisine lover or someone who just loves the good things in life!

Cheers :)

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