With Beyond Dining, Chef Raji is not only serving gourmet food but also curating a personalised experience
Is home-dining restricted to just food? Mumbai-based Chef Raji Gupta, who has started Beyond Dining, an experiential dining service, disagrees. As the name suggests, the gourmet chef, who has studied culinary arts at Mumbai’s Palate Culinary School, Thailand’s Blue Elephant Cookery School and London’s Rosalind Miller Cake School, ensures that the theme is also reflected in the decor and the music when she is hosting people over a pre-decided gourmet menu. Although it started as a dining experience at her own residence in Andheri, the pandemic made her take this experience to the host's place. However, we had an opportunity to dine at her sprawling residence where she has turned the spacious patio into a work-kitchen and sit-down dining space.
“When I decided to take it professionally, I created a separate kitchen for my work because I didn’t want visitors to barge in our house and disturb others,” explained Raji while plating the dishes. The theme for the evening was Tuscan and ditching the usual sit-down dining space in her patio, she took us to her mini terrace on the second floor. The moment we reached there, we understood why - surrounded by yellow walls on three sides and plenty of plants, the space looked beautiful and offered an uninterrupted view of the moon. Right under the pergola, our table was laid out with an array of dishes, placed artistically atop a green table spread in ceramic cutlery etched with Mediterranean motifs, complementing the theme and the ambience.
As we sat down for our meal, Chef Raji eased us into the Tuscan culture with her anecdotes, including the fact that Italians prefer cooking methods which ensure that vegetables retain their original flavour and texture, and admits to tweaking the dishes a bit for the Indian palette. "The ingredients are minimal in the meals and yet you will get intense flavours. Unlike our Indian style, their cooking techniques are also very simple - chopping, boiling, baking and putting things together," she adds as we started our meal with a cold soup. Made from blending just two ingredients - carrot and malta (blood orange), it was a refreshing soup with a tangy flavour and a hint of spice, thanks to black pepper. The next item was a light snack - Melon Prosciutto. The melon was sweet, complementing the air-dried salty prosciutto it was wrapped inside. Another light snack that was on the table was sweet and salty Watermelon Feta crumble. The feta here was marinated with lemon, garlic, olive oil and balsamic vinegar, uplifting the dish altogether.
For mains, there was creamy veg pasta and Tuscan chicken. The pasta was her take on Aglio-e-olio but with an addition of mushrooms, capsicum and canned beans. And, it had plenty of seasoning making it flavourful. However, it wasn’t very creamy. On the contrary, the Tuscan Chicken, which had a bit of spinach in it, was really creamy. The chicken was tender. The only drawback was that it was a bit salty but overall it was a well-made dish and we couldn’t help but take another serving.
While the Crostini, Pistachio Stuffed Olives and Tomato and Burrata salad on the sides were standard, the grapes and sausage bowl left us pleasantly surprised. We didn't expect the flavours to go well with each other because the sausages weren't even fried, they were baked but the freshness of the grapes really complemented the sausage. We ended our meal with brandied figs, which were soaked in sugar and Spanish liqueur. The alcohol was strong, giving an instant kick, and the dish was mildly sweet, making it a perfect end to our Tuscan meal, which looked like a picnic set up with a coffee table in the centre and rugs and floor cushions around to sit on.
“The same experience can be curated at the host's house, with or without decor,” informs Raji, who is in the process of getting a studio readied in Versova where she plans to start curating personalised dining experiences again for all kinds of gathering.
While the price varies depending on the meal one would choose, this 11-course meal for two would cost INR 10,000.