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the kollywood walk
6 stops, Easy
Chennai knows its cinema. It houses the second largest film industry in the country. From the charismatic MGR to the one and only Rajinikanth, it is home to stars that command the love of millions.
He claims to be a hard-core non-vegetarian, but can tell you where to find the best vegetarian thali in most Indian cities. Lounging in the peaceful lobby at the Trident, food critic and dog lover Antoine Lewis talks to us about wine and his all-consuming love for great food.
When did you realise you wanted to be a food critic? Is it something you always wanted to do?
Antoine Lewis: I was always interested in food, right from the time I was in school. I thought I’d join the hotel industry because, 20 years ago, that was the only option. I studied hotel management and left within the first year, because I realised I knew a lot more than what they had to offer. I went on to do my industrial training at The Taj, which is when I realised that wasn’t the life for me either. I had a whole bunch of one year careers, working with NGOs, getting my Masters degree. I also travelled, worked in television for a while and had a food show. I also ran my own Indian-Chinese home delivery service.
At the same time, I had also been writing occasionally for the magazine Femina. I approached a couple of publications, showed them some of my pieces and asked if they would like to commission stuff. Some of them were interested. I then approached the Sunday Observer and met the food editor there, who asked me a couple of questions about my background, why I was writing about food and what I knew about it. She then asked me to come back a couple of days later to meet the editor. She took me to the editor’s cabin and said ‘I’m leaving next month, and I think this guy is the perfect replacement for me.’ That’s how I got into food writing full time.
What would you be doing if not writing about food today?
AL: Something with dogs. I have two dogs now, and have had dogs for the last 30 years, so I’m really fond of them.
What is the one local dish you would not recommend to someone visiting Mumbai?
AL: Nothing Mumbai specific, I think you should try everything, I don’t think we do anything badly. But Chinese bhel comes to mind as one dish you could really avoid.
You have travelled a lot, which city would you call the food capital of the country?
AL: Delhi, without a doubt. I don’t know about the one dish I would recommend there, but there is this Korean restaurant called Gung Palace, I think they do the most fabulous Korean food. They have an outlet at Green Park and a bigger one at Gurgaon.
What is the weirdest thing you have eaten?
Last year, I ate fried locusts or fried grasshoppers in a fish sauce, in Bangkok. I thought they were quite tasty. It was no big deal, it tasted like prawn legs really. I don’t know why people are so bothered about insects.
Have you ever eaten anything live?
AL: Alive? Not intentionally.
What has been your best food experience till date?
AL: I think that would have to be my first experience of Ethiopian food, eating injera at the Queen of Sheba in Toronto.
What’s the one food you can eat at any time of the day?
AL: Sandwiches. There are a couple of variations, but my favourite is either ham, cheese, iceberg lettuce, mayo, American mustard and sliced apple or bacon, cheese and fried egg.
You invent a lot of recipes while you cook. What has been your best creation so far?
AL: I kind of adapted a recipe for a Cajun-style sausage rice, using Goa sausages. So far, I think that has been my biggest hit.
What is your favourite Indian wine?
AL: I used to like the Reveilo Cabernet Sauvignon, but that has gone down a bit over the years. I really like the Chandon sparkling wines that were released in 2013. Zampa has done a very good limited release Tempranillo reserve called Chene. I also like the Charosa Sauvignon Blanc and the new Sula Brut which was released in 2013 and that has a different blend of grapes.
Wine has become a huge fad in India over the past few years, What do you think made that happen?
AL: I’d love to say it’s the fault of the hipsters, but that's not really true. One is that a lot more wine has become accessible. I think a lot of women prefer wine to spirits or a beer. I also think it’s because a lot of places have taken to serving wines by the glass, which has helped as well.
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