Nicholas de Barry at Prego, Taj Coromandel

Prego was THE first truly fine dine restaurant in Chennai! With clearly defined courses, wine pairing and no nonsense cuisine, this restaurant has survived the test of time! And maybe for the first time, the restaurant has tried something truly different; attempting to combine perfumes with food! When I was invited by the Taj and read the press release, I expected a Heston type experience but this was completely different! Nicholas de Barry, a master perfumer based in Paris, who recreates ancient perfumes, creates customised perfumes for individuals (read kings, heads of state, etc) was on a India tour with the Taj group and in Chennai, he chose to showcase his skill with Prego and along with Chef Alok, the executive chef at Taj, created a memorable evening.

Nicholas was very quick to admit that none of his art will work with Indian cuisine. "The Indian chef at the other restaurant created food with so much aroma that I cannot match that," he said. "So, here in Chennai, we are doing that with Italian food," was how he started off! Being seated right next to the man himself on an evening in which there was at least a forty people had its perks as I learned thoroughly his views on perfumery. Today, he was pairing the ingredients in perfumes with the cuisine and so the interests were in the ingredients. Every course had both vegetarian and non vegetarian options.

The dinner started off with an amuse-bouche; a vetiver scented sweet potato with sesame seeds. Being used to vetiver flavours, this one did not excite me as far as the perfuming was concerned, but it was a nice amuse-bouche. The first course was an exciting pan seared scallops with sandalwood and carrot emulsion. I loved it. Sandalwood in the food was exciting and since it was strong, it made a very strong impact. The scallops were perfectly seared and the combination was very exciting for me. This was followed by the second course, a superbly cooked quail with lavender, but the lavender flavours were very very subtle.

This was followed by a palate cleanser, rose scented strawberry sorbet which was outstanding and served with a lot of fanfare, liquid nitrogen (or was it just dry ice?) and the likes! It was lovely. The main course then arrived, an excellent New Zealand rack of lamb, with the sauce being flavoured with frangipani. It was too mild for me to appreciate the perfumes here, but the rack of lamb made up for everything else. We ended the meal with an excellent jasmine frogurt and dark chocolate fondant.

So, the perfume components were quite visible in two of the five courses and much more subtle in the others, but the food was outstanding on its own! Nicholas' interests in personalising perfumes has its roots in his understanding of the root elements and he was delighted to hear of my work in combining modern and alternative medicines. I have an open invite from him to visit his place in France to see if we can work over something and that prospect is very exciting.

The dinner was priced at Rs. 4500 nett for the five course meal and wines, but of course, since I practice a little of what I preach, I didn't get to taste the wines!

Photo Courtesy - Taj Coromandel