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Himanshu Dimri: Clean lines, isolated flavours

Meet the designer-turned-boutique restaurateur behind Forage, a new gourmet stop with a limited, nutrition-conscious menu that avoids dairy and gluten

Himanshu Dimri.
Himanshu Dimri.

For 15 years, National Institute of Fashion Technology design graduate and self-taught chef Himanshu Dimri, ran Grasshopper, a seven-course, by-reservation-only restaurant in Bannerghatta, Bengaluru. In January, he launched Forage in the hipster neighbourhood of Indiranagar, in partnership with friends, to reflect lifestyle changes (long-distance and ultra-running) in a nutrition-conscious menu that avoids dairy and gluten and focuses on alternate ingredients and clean eating.

Edited excerpts from an interview:

What’s the one new ingredient that you’re working with right now?

Nuts—almonds, cashews, walnuts—that we process for butters and milks. Nuts are high in protein, fibre and essential fatty acids and we use nut milks and creams in our desserts, such as the cashew and date crème brûlée, as a dairy alternative. We also use almond flour in our breads and tortes. Coconut milk goes into desserts like the panna cotta.

The cooking method that excites you

Caramelization, braising and residual heat cooking. The Maillard reaction extracts newer flavours from ingredients, be they onions and garlic or steaks. I also like the slightly rustic, imperfect look charring gives a dish. Even if I’m braising something, I like to char it first—it gives the sauces a different flavour. I also like playing with residual heat, which involves removing a piece of fish, say, from the fire before it’s cooked through and letting the heat already introduced do the rest of the job.

The cuisine that inspires you

Japanese Kaiseki—I think it supersedes any type of course menu in its deceptive simplicity. It’s an idealistic approach to cooking which I’m not sure I can ever adopt but which I certainly aspire to. The depth and finesse of a Kaiseki meal are distinct: They can serve you a simple fried yam, nothing accompanying it, but the produce would be so fresh and it would be fried so well, it would bring pleasure and joy to the person eating it. Kaiseki is an experience that goes beyond the culinary. I would love to go to Kyoto to learn the process.

Your favourite FOOD city And a memory

Each city has its own unique flavours and tastes but London sticks out for sheer exuberance. A particular memory would be of The Fat Duck (well, technically it’s outside London), where we had their tasting menu a few years ago. Of all the lovely dishes, the simplest one got me: two jellied squares, one beetroot red and one orange. The server casually suggested we start with the red one. And so we did, only to be sensorily amused, as the red one had the orange flavour and the orange one was beetroot jelly. The rest of the meal was fantastic but the simple beauty of this course stood out . This captured the Kaiseki philosophy, in a way.

Starter, main course or dessert?

Starters. It’s a great way to titillate the palate without filling you up and, therefore, you get to taste a lot more. Also, it’s fun to plate and play around with. I guess my approach comes from minimalistic Scandinavian and Japanese design principles. I like to see a lot of empty space around things, be it in a room or on a dish—and such a condensed dish can only be a starter. At Forage, we now serve mackerel rolls with tomato butter and dill, two rolls on a large plate. I enjoy isolated flavours.

The most overrated food trend today

That would be what is called “health food", used with no understanding of the underlying principles of health or what it means to be healthy. People think health food will lead to weight loss or detoxification. But while limiting the nutrients you eat can lead to weight loss, it doesn’t make you fit or strong. With Forage, that’s what we seek to do: We have fish, meat, vegetables, we have gluten-free carbs and various millets and quinoa and red and brown rice, all the stuff that gives more nutrients to your body than processed white rice or maida (refined flour).

Your favourite protein to cook with—and how would you do it?

A good marbled fillet of beef. I usually keep it simple: I first brown it all over in clarified butter on high heat, adding a little salt as I go along. Once it reaches the right level of colour and feel, the remaining cooking is done with butter on low heat till it’s medium rare. The most important part after that is resting it long enough for the juices to settle and the meat to relax.

What’s in your fridge?

Mushrooms, broccoli, Feta, butter, Ezekiel bread, almond milk.

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