Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Burgers versus veggies

It’s the battle of good versus tasty. But new age parental wisdom says your kids can have their cake and eat it too, writes Sneha May Francis

hen I was eight years old, I did not know the difference between white and brown bread. Probably because our options were limited then. But my mother would happily allow me to eat whatever I liked, simply because she wanted to avoid dealing with my tantrums. But the times have changed. Eating healthily is not just what the adults adopt to keep kids happy, but something that the tiny-tots can learn to appreciate too.
You would be amazed how 9-year-old nothings have a clear idea about their healthier preferences – it’s wholemeal bread over the white loaves. (Minus the butter, mind you!) But this doesn’t mean they are willing to give up their burgers and French fries for a portion of veggies. The kiddies are happy to take the healthy bait, only if they are allowed their occasional junk food indulgence.
Eating out = eating well
Kids love their burgers and French fries, so you need to chalk out innovative ways to make them eat well. Parents claim it’s all about striking the right balance. If you allow them to have their burgers, then you could trade in some veggies and fruits as well.
Lama Khayer stresses how kids eat out a lot more than when she was little. "I’d prefer if my son ate at home, so I can monitor his meals. When he goes out, it’s only burgers he wants and you can’t stop him from eating them. I do allow him to eat burgers because it’s important that he enjoys what kids his age do. So it’s about finding a balance."Prabha agrees that children end up eating out a lot these days. "With my son, we eat out at least three to four times a week, which is quite a bit. It’s a challenge to keep him away from McDonald’s or Burger King. So we try to do a little bit of both. There are times when he gets to choose and there are times when we get to choose. Out of the four outings, two are fast food joints and two are regular restaurants," she says.
And if they aren’t game for the balancing routine, then some parents find fun ways to lure their kids to eat well. Lisa Burrows says, "My 9-year-old daughter loves to live off carbohydrates, even though she knows about healthy eating. So I have to bribe her to eat the right portions of fruits and vegetables."
Healthier options at home
Healthy eating habits should be taught at home, with parents initiating the first step to creating awareness. Celebrated chef Giorgio Locatelli claims variety is crucial while planning kiddies meals. "Parents should use a variety of ingredients. I don’t believe it when they say he’s a lazy eater; it’s because they have been lazy planning the meal. Kids will eat anything as long as you make it exciting," he adds.
Caroline Alexander agrees with this idea. There’s more option than the "classic meat and two veg" from the childhood days she recalls. "I try to give my kids as much variety as possible, offering food from all over the world, I’d like to believe. Probably more vegetarian food than what I was given as a child," she says.
Planning school meals
Often parents find it hard to plan their kid’s meals day in and day out, and wish the schools would provide hot meals. Caroline explains how she finds it tough to make her kid’s school meals different and nutritious every time. "But I do have my good days and bad". She recalls her time in the UK, when her daughter’s school would provide her with hot meals that were cooked on-site. "It was quite well-balanced. There would be vegetables and fruits, and even a pudding. But now Laila’s school doesn’t provide that." She would prefer to get more assistance from the school. "I think parents need a bit of help. It’s a lot easier to pay and know that your child is being provided wholesome, hot meals," adds Caroline.
Lama, however, feels schools do make an effort these days to ensure their kids eat well. "Before, we could pack anything in the kid’s lunch boxes, but now they check them. Even cornflakes, if they are chocolate-coated, are not allowed. This is definitely a good change." She explains that this uniformity helps eliminate peer pressure as well. "My son doesn’t come back saying my friend is eating chips so I want some too". Schools are keen on informing kids about healthy eating options. "Kids do learn about the negative impacts of junk food. They might not say no to it, but they do realise it’s not something healthy and would feel guilty before eating it, which is definitely a sign of improvement," says Lama.
The school Lisa’s kids go to also monitors what the kids eat. "They do check their lunch boxes regularly to see if they are eating well. We have letters sent back from school saying kids shouldn’t be given a lot of chocolate." She cites the example of some schools in the city that have initiated the smart card systems for kids, where those who choose the healthiest meals get prizes, money back or vouchers. "That’s a fantastic concept," she says.
The parents’ verdict is out. They believe children need to be taught the benefits of eating well early on. An occasional burger won’t harm them, but it should be coupled with a large portion of fruits and veggies. The trick is to feed kids the best of both worlds, only then will they stay fit and healthy.

(Published in e+, gulf news April 23, 2009)

Recipe for a healthy life

Sneha May Francis caught up with a few celebrity chefs who jotted down the perfect formula that allows you to dine out minus the guilt

Do you find it tough to let go and enjoy a lavish spread at swanky restaurants for fear of piling on the kilos? There’s no denying we have become a weight-obsessed lot. Calorie talk weaves into most of our daily conversations, with everyone showing their concern about staying fit and eating right.
Eat more fish, use olive oil, drink green tea… there’s an abundance of ‘what to dos’ available in print, dedicated exclusively to this way of life. Reports of new-found health theories always make headline news, forcing us to change our diets radically in keeping with the latest trend. Everyone wants to stay healthy without having to chew on carrot and celery sticks. So we decided to tweak our outing with celebrity chefs and ask them how to spice up our lives without having to clog our hearts.
The best way to go healthy? Go natural
Celebrated chef Gary Rhodes, who has put British cooking back on the gourmet map, feels healthy eating translates into eating with the seasons. After feeding many a hungry stomach across the globe, he’s found his way to Dubai with the Rhodes Mezzanine. "In England, I always use the English asparagus during May and June. We also have it flown over [to Dubai]. And since it’s that sensational, we need to do very little with it. Consequently, what we are giving our customers is just very great depth of flavour that a natural ingredient holds," he explains. Natural ingredients are the key to making it right, agrees executive chef at Grosvenor House, Garry Hollihead. "I stay away from canned products and work with natural ingredients," he says. Chef de cuisine in Maya restaurant RubĂ©n Herrera concurs: "The more natural the food, the better it tastes".
Drilling the point home is Indian chef Vineet Bhatia of the popular Indigo spot. He claims healthy eating should begin at home. "Unfortunately when it comes to ordering out Indian food, it’s very oily, but that’s not how it’s cooked at home," he explains, stressing how clever technique will help "flavour and texture" the dishes without adding the calories. Neil Wilkinson, sous chef in Dubai Creek, feels, "More ingredients doesn’t mean more fat, it only has to be natural."
Chef Muthu of BiteRite Cafe and Restaurant talks about a concept where chefs design the recipes and send them to a nutritionist to modify them and then add them to their menu. "Customers can choose the recipes according to their needs."
Organic food – the flavour of the season
It’s the new ‘in’ thing. Everyone’s talking about organic, craving organic, and wanting to add a slice of organic to their daily diet. Supermarkets stock up exclusive shelves for organic veggies and fruits and it’s moving into the restaurant kitchens too.
Grosvenor House’s Hollihead confirms this trend has hit London, with more customers showing preference for organic food. He’s not alone in his observation. Wilkinson says the reason people are going organic is because it is natural. "People are constantly learning how to eat better, which makes us create different dishes by constantly experimenting with the flavours," he adds.
Most chefs agree that this healthy movement doesn’t mean they have to drastically rework their recipes. Italian celebrity chef Giorgio Locatelli, who stirsup his magic at Atlantis, believes it’s not the recipe but the ingredients that need more scrutiny. "I don’t really make an effort to change the recipe, but to choose the right ingredients which are produced in the right way. I’m a strong believer in organic food," he says
Develop a taste for the unusual
The white-capped men were unanimous in their observation about how more people are willing to experiment with a variety of cuisine. Mexican chef Herrera reasons it’s mainly to find a particular one that might use the best healthy cooking method. "Often people think Mexican cuisine is not healthy because they think the food is deep fried. On the contrary, our cooking is healthy. We try to minimise fat or oil as much as possible and use fresh ingredients," he explains. Wilkinson also notes the trend to try new things. But in his words, it’s often the same dish revamped in a different way, mainly because "people only go for what they know".
More to a dish than what meets the eye
The men in aprons identify this sudden trend in food talk and public concern about what we consume. It’s about whether the vegetables have been pumped with chemicals or pesticides that are harmful for the body. Locatelli believes it’s a good sign that people are taking more interest in their food and are no longer satisfied with eating straight out of the supermarkets. "Customers want to know where the food comes from, how the animal is being reared," he adds. Hollihead chips in with the traceability factor, which tracks where the food comes from.
Herrera agrees that people don’t eat and go. "They are genuinely concerned about what they are being fed. Especially when it’s red meat or fish, customers want to know where it’s coming from; if it is farm-reared or if it’s wild. Also some people like it 100 per cent vegan." Wilkinson says there’s an increase in demand for olive oil. "Now everyone wants to use olive oil instead of the heavy oils or butter, because they believe olive oil is lighter and healthier."
Sweet nothings on the dessert menu
For those who can’t allow a few scoops of white sugar into their diet, then there are healthier options. The trick is to tweak the ingredients so that it gives the desired effect with less harm to the body. Executive chef of Right Bite Chadi Fakhoury says it’s about eating clever. "For sandwiches we use wholewheat bread, egg whites, less salt and no fat at all. Even the sugar we use is either brown sugar or fructose, which is natural sugar."
With so many options around, it’s only natural that there’s way to our tummies without guilt. And feeding your tummy without mistreating your heart is a complete winner.
But all this health food doesn’t sound fun
Squashing the common misconceptions that anything healthy doesn’t taste good, Hollihead claims that’s not the case at all. "Of course, it can be tasty. It can be very clean, very simplistic and very fresh." Vineet explains how he works on making the dishes a bit more lighter. "We are very strong on fish in our menus because it’s healthier. We have seen a shift in people’s dining out taste, they all want to eat something ‘light’ and not heavy." But the fat trimmings are done away with without compromising on taste. "Instead of adding two tablespoons of ghee you use oil," explains the chef.
A healthy night out is all down to balance
It’s not like you gorge on fatty food everyday, so the men in white do allow a one-off indulgence. "The old French cuisine has cream but again, that’s not what you eat everyday," explains Locatelli. Rhodes reasons that one sweet indulgence once a month, 12 days in a year, can do no harm to your body. "We create our menus for our customers. I’ve had a lady come up to me and say ‘whatever you do, please don’t take the bread and butter pudding off the menu’. Now if I told you how much cream I use in that pudding you’d shoot me." Rhodes doesn’t slash the pudding off his menu, because he claims the trick is to balance your meal.
Fair enough. With a little reason, more natural choices and a balanced approach, it’s goodbye guilt and hello waiter.

Published in e+, Gulf News, Dubai (April 23, 2009)

Monday, 13 April 2009

Not picture perfect

Nagesh Kukunoor and Akshay Kumar team up but fail to thrill, writes Sneha May Francis

8x10 Tasveer
Rating **

In a nutshell
It is said that photographs capture a moment in time. This seems obvious, but it is the entire premise for Nagesh Kukunoor’s latest film 8x10 Tasveer. In it, the protagonist Jai (Akshay Kumar) has supernatural powers that allow him to mentally step into a photograph. It is this that helps him to solve the secret behind his dad’s fatal boating accident.

The tale
Jai has supernatural powers that help him travel back in time for a minute after a photograph is taken. An 8x10 photograph (tasveer) of his father Jatin Puri (Benjain Gilani) just before his death has Jai running from pillar to post to find the murderer. And the man can run: his athletic prowess is highlighted every few shots. He chases everyone and everything. His power is such that even the gigantic GMC Yukon is scared of a head-on collision with him!
Jai’s a forest officer who is so zealous in his work (to the point of jumping off cliffs to find clues on crimes against the environment), that he’s clearly not normal. So if that’s what Kukunoor wanted to tell us, he was successful.

Jai’s dad mouths a clue to his son just before he dies, suggesting wrongdoing. But it’s the eccentric cop ‘Happi, with an I’ (Jaaved Jaafri) who convinces him to look further. So begins the journey through the photograph taken by his mum (Sharmila Tagore) a minute before the accident.

The loopholes
^ We are told that all Jai needs to look into the past is an 8x10 photograph taken a minute before an incident occurs. The 8x10 size is stressed, to justify the title perhaps. But Kukunoor slips when introducing Jai’s unique power as he is seen reading the past through a mobile-phone picture. And it’s not an 8x10 mobile phone screen that Jai is peering into!
^ We do know that Jai’s lady love, Sheela Patel, played by the lovely Ayesha Takia, has a job, but what it is we don’t know, nor do we know how these two met.
^ Jai can only see a minute after a photograph is taken when looking into the past. So what would have happened if the photograph was taken 2 minutes before the murder? Pretty convenient, right?
^ The annoying cop Happi is obsessed with cleanliness but when he goes through files in his office, he rummages around without even wiping off the dust!

The lead acts
^ Jai: Aki looks dazed and his face is expressionless. His finest moment is when he mouths: ‘Everybody thinks I’m mad. Do you think I am?’ No comment.
^ Sheela: There’s nothing really in Ayesha Takia’s chubby-faced performance. Perhaps married life has made Takia dull.

^ Jaaved Jaafri is brilliant as Happi-with-an-I. But something falls short and we think the poor comic writing is to blame.
^ A good supporting cast – Anant Mahadevan, Sharmila Tagore, Girish Karnad, Benjamin Gilani. These artists’ controlled performances come with age and experience. They don’t falter. It’s only the length of their role and their poorly etched characters that let them down.

Thumbs down
^ For a thriller to work, it needs a tight script, crisp editing, eerie background music and slick special effects. But this film misses the mark on all of these.
^ The bad men are just not bad enough. There’s no sense of real anger or motive.

Aki lends his voice to the song at the end of the film. But after sitting through the movie we couldn’t bear to hear the man sing, so can’t really comment.

The turn-out
On a usually busy Thursday evening, and during the film’s opening night, the theatre was almost completely empty at the Grand Sahara, Sharjah. Telling?

The only reason to watch...
You want to spend around two and a half hours watching Ashkay Kumar running. Or you’ve had a fight with your spouse and were kicked out of the house.

*: Not worth your time
**: Barely watchable
***: Wait for DVD
****: Head to the cinema
*****: Stalk the cast

(Published in e+, Gulf News, Dubai: April 16, 2009 issue)

Curry talk

From the bylanes of Britain to the swanky Marina Walk, Indo-British fusion makes its way to Dubai, writes Sneha May Francis

There’s a curry house on almost every inconspicuous lane in Britain, each stirring up a delicious concoction of Indian and British cuisine. And it’s in these tiny kitchens that the popular Chicken Tikka Masala was created. The dish became the rage across the globe but for the robust Indian tastebuds it was a tad insipid. And this is probably why our gastronomic journey to The Rupee Room wasn’t excitingly flavourful.

Arriving at the bustling Marina Walk we find a neat outdoor eating area. The picture-postcard view of the anchored yachts was inviting, but the weather didn’t permit sitting outdoors that night. So we headed to the tastefully decorated interior and found a nice corner by the large glassed-off kitchen where the chefs entertained us with their acrobatics.

Once seated, our courteous waiter arrived with the menu. We skimmed through the neatly divided list to pick our favourites. Our hungry tummies made us act fast, rather too impulsively perhaps. I know gluttony is a sin, but it’s extremely tough to reason with a growling tummy.

We started our meal with a Tandoori platter, a lavish spread of assorted kebabs – Malai, Botti, Reshmi, Seekh – along with Tandoori Chicken and Rupee Room naan. We were taken aback by the pure monstrosity of the spread. The thought of the rest of the order that had yet to make it to our table had us worried! The collection of neatly arranged meat chunks worked wonders on our tastebuds. The spiced and succulent pieces of meat were cooked to perfection, each retaining its unique flavour. The spread of tantalising pickles complemented them well. Though we would have loved to clear the platter, we had to restrain ourselves from filling our tummies before the other dishes had arrived.

Thankfully we had enough time to sip on fresh orange juice and soothe our tastebuds before our waiter appeared with the steaming hot mains. Our seafood instincts had prompted us to pick the Jhinga Dum Masala, which didn’t deserve the slots we had reserved in our stomach. The large jumbo prawns didn’t quite blend in with the delicious dressing. The prawn meat needed to be marinated for longer in order to retain the spicy tang. The Rogan Josh also missed the mark. The meat tasted insipid, and we longed for a more zesty and tangy tomato base. The Indian bread accompaniments, however, were impressively soft and fluffy.

We talked ourselves into the Prawn Dum Biriyani, only because we’d heard rave reviews about it. But it failed to impress. The prawns weren’t flavoured enough to blend in with the spiced rice. I think the essence of a good biriyani is its spiciness, which was missing here.

It’s customary to finish a meal with a sweet dish. So, despite a rather stuffed stomach, we braved the Rasmallai and Gajjar Ka Halwa, and are glad we did. The sweet dishes truly made our meal burp-worthy! The milky cottage cheese bowl and the steaming hot carrot pudding were the best we’d ever tasted.

We sat a while longer at our table, and were weighed down by our stuffed tummies. In hindsight, we let our tummies rule our minds and perhaps we didn’t need to order so much food. Oh well, next time!

The rupee room
What Indian cuisine
Where Marina Walk, North Podium, 04 390 5755
Why For a nice kebab treat with a view over the spectacular Marina Walk
Cost Bill for two Dh490

(Published in e+, Gulf News, Dubai for April 9th issue)