I first heard about this wonderful platform for amateur chefs at Cafe Zoe from my friend Auroni. He is one half of The Curry Brothers, a delivery service based out of Lower Parel that whips up interesting delights like Kaldeen Khowsuey, Pulled kawhsa mangsho pav and my favorite, the Goan choriz pao. Auroni, a self taught cook like me had been a One Night Stand Chef (ONSC), where you basically get an opportunity to present your own curated European bistro-style menu for a night at the cafe. Chef Viraf Patel, the amazingly versatile Chef and MD watches over the proceedings, giving his valuable suggestions to make your life easier and your dishes even better.
I have always loved this Cafe, which I frequented during my working days (it was right opposite my office). The laid back decor and chilled out ambience aside, Zoe’s food has always made me feel SATISFIED, which REALLY matters to me. So when I got chosen for this gig I was obviously thrilled. I “interned” in a commercial kitchen for the first time and even though the size of the huge pots, pans, oven and gadgets can be scary, the friendly kitchen staff (majority being Bengalis like me) gave me no reason to feel nervous.
The flurry of activity in the kitchen
Add to that, Viraf’s eye for the minutest details (like the plating, pricing, prep work) and I was all set to usher in hungry diners on 17th October, a Monday night.
Ready Steady Go!
Thanks to my hubby A, we pulled in quite a quality crowd. Apart from the guests who were specifically invited, there were a number of walk ins and I got an opportunity to interact with them and tell them more about my special menu. They were all very open minded, encouraging and curious. Almost all of them tried something from the ONSC menu.
Other members of Team HCK also got an opportunity (for the first time) to chill out instead of sweating it out like they normally do and for that, I was really happy.
A & I with friends at Cafe Zoe
Friends who turned up for support <3
It’s time to chill for the other members at Team HCK
Explaining what’s on the special menu to walk in diners
These are the two mailers that went out:
The vegetarian appetizer was by way of a cold salad of grilled aubergines and baby potatoes with a spicy peanut dressing, walnuts and raisins. We called it the W-R-A-P salad (an acronym for Walnut Raisin Aubergine Potato). Unfortunately I don’t have a photo of this 🙁
It’s non vegetarian counterpart was Jacket Potatoes stuffed with BBQ flavored pork loaded with melty cheddar and topped with scallions.
For the main course there was HCK’s “Signature” bake: a medley of broccoli, zucchini, bell peppers and carrots in a Bechamel sauce flavored with smoked cheese and a dash of one of my favorite cooking ingredients, Pernod. Pernod, for the uninitiated is a strong sweet anise liqueur that is colorless but turns cloudy when diluted in water. The smell of anise is REALLY strong and so it has to be used scarcely and intelligently. I use it to flavor soups, stews and bakes sometimes. When a few non vegetarian guests nodded in approval that the veg bake was delightful, I felt really happy.
HCK’s Signature Veg Bake
The non vegetarian main was the HCK special Pork Pot Pie which is a slow cooked pork filling with celery and Granny Smith apples topped with a buttery flaky puff pastry. These pies were lapped up within minutes of the orders reaching the table! Look how glorious it looked when plated!
Pork Pot Pie
My Swedish apple pies plated beautifully by Viraf himself with a scoop of ice cream looked incredible. The boys in the kitchen tasted some and said it was really good.
Swedish Apple Pie
Overall, I really had fun (and a few burns and scars to show off!) in the Zoe kitchen. I wish to go back there again and voluntarily work to observe how things are done.
This experience has taught me a few valuable lessons. Eventually when I scale up HCK I will keep these in mind. My top 3 learnings:
One, delegation of work must be clear from the beginning. There is no scope for ambiguity there. If something goes wrong you know EXACTLY what went out of hand and who needs to fix his/her act.
Two, the practice of using quality ingredients has no alternatives. This, I have always believed in. Cafe Zoe uses the freshest of ingredients in the cleanest of kitchens, which is why I was so comfortable cooking there.
Three, a happy kitchen sends out happy food. The staff here are extremely cheerful and work together seamlessly even when flooded with orders and deadlines. Attitude is as important as skill.
Full house at Cafe Zoe on the ONSC night