There is a saying that the way to the heart is through the stomach. If you know how to cook well, you’ll win over the hearts of many people and this art is well learned by Chef Kanchan Prabhudesai who presently heads the food production at hotel The Crown Goa. Here we are only going to talk about the 24-Hour Multi-Cuisine Restaurant, the Harbour café, where the food is made to suit all palates.
Standing tall on a historic hillock in the centre of Panjim, is The Crown Goa: a Goan Boutique Hotel which has a breath-taking view of the River Mandovi. Located on Jose Falcao Road and surrounded by quaint Goan houses, it provides easy access to all the local facilities, shopping areas, casinos, beaches, and churches.
This boutique hotel boasts of two restaurants. The Hanging Gardens, which serves Italian cuisine, offers a magnificent view of the River Mandovi, and then the main focus of this issue, The Harbour Café. On entering the café, one is greeted with its nautical theme: a ship-style air conditioning tunnel, real-life Captain’s wheel, a massive painting of a jetty with boats and ceramic tile tabletops.
This quaint café opens into the poolside gardens with tall French doors and full, floor to ceiling glass walls which allow guests a wonderful view of the magnificent landscaped gardens, the River Mandovi and the mighty Atal Setu bridge in the distance.
This 24-hour multi-cuisine café offers an array of Indian, Goan and Continental food along with their breakfast buffet for all hotel guests. It is open to residents and non-residents. Plenty of events, live music played by Selwyn adds to the ambience. They also have a select wine and beverage list with servers guiding you to the best to compliment your dish.
In a conversation with the General Manager, Mr Nikheel Brid & Chef Prabhudessai, we learned that he believes a vital ingredient is love over the masalas and other flavours.
Mr Brid spoke about their specialities which they serve at the café. “Our speciality is Mediterranean food and authentic local Goan cuisine. There are very few places in Panjim that serve good Mediterranean cuisine and today’s travellers have good knowledge of different cuisines available to them,” he said adding that Italian cuisine depends on the region from which it originates. “Our café focuses on Sicilian cuisine.
Regarding their feedback from locals, Nikheel said, “The report from locals is excellent. We seem to be doing something right since we have frequent repeat guests. What appeals to the regulars is the food, the service, and the ambience. It’s like a home away from home for our regulars”.
When asked about the absence of Goa’s famous Fish Thali, Nikheel spoke on the subject saying “We are in the process of starting a speciality thali. However, we will talk about in due course of time. In fact, rice and fish/prawn curry are a sought after dish for our banquet functions. One of the reasons we only use certain types of fish. At The Crown Goa, we are very particular of the type and quality of fish. Very soon, we will be starting with the Saraswat Thalis. The number of thalis will be limited with a complete standardization. That is what we want to be known for. We serve authentic food.”
Speaking about the locals and Goan food, Chef Prabhudessai added, “Locals are specific about their food. They will ask you where you bought the coconut from. In Goa, from its northern tip to the Southern border, every 10 km, one will find at least 3 types of xacuti and four types of curries. Each region boasts that theirs is the best. They use ingredients that are fresh and made from scratch.”
Regarding their signature dishes, Chef Prabhudessai says, “While our dishes may have a common name, the style of preparation is different. The ingredients are totally different as the chillies used in any of our dishes are whole and ground, the turmeric is whole and ground, and the prawns used are tiger prawns having a 30 to 40 count. I also use ground coconut and freshly extracted coconut milk as well a little bit of prawn puree made from the head of the prawns which gives a different taste altogether. An ordinary dish can turn out to be the most exquisite one given the manner of preparation.”
Chef Prabhudessai added that regarding their Italian specialities they serve gluten-free pizzas. “We have gluten-free bread, gluten-free pizzas. The Tiramisu laid on the table has ladyfinger biscuits in them which are an important ingredient along with the mascarpone cheese that is used in making a Tiramisu. We do not use sponge fingers. That is what makes a dish a signature dish: the unique ingredients used in it.”
Chef Prabhudessai then spoke about his journey to becoming a chef. “Starting my career at Taj Group of Hotels, I have 38 years of experience behind me, with 3 decades spent abroad”
Speaking on his style of preparing food, Prabhudessai added, “I don’t like to go into too much style of preparation. I like simple, authentic, mouth-watering cuisine. Each and every ingredient that goes into a dish speaks for it as a whole and the person consuming it. A person may not be a renowned chef, may not even know how to cook or make a cup of tea, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t know how to taste.”
Prabhudessai believes that there should be passion in what one does. “The love that goes in cooking is not available in any recipe book in a book store or a readymade masala store,” he said adding that traditional cooking is no longer in vogue. “Two things have played spoilsport in this regard. One is the readymade parcel of food and the readymade masalas. Today’s chefs prefer to use ingredients made from scratch as they like the authentic taste that these ingredients offer. They use mortar and pestles to grind masalas. One doesn’t get the whole body, volume and flavour of food in an electric mixer. It’s a pleasure when one makes a simple garam masala by grinding it instead of using a readymade packet. Half a teaspoon of ground garam masala in any dish is enough to make it taste awesome. One knows exactly what they have added, the ingredients as well as the quantity”
Prabhudessai prefers being an ‘On the range’ chef rather than behind the scenes chef. “I am in control when I am behind the range. When guests come to the restaurant and I meet them, as an acid test I look at the dishes which have been served. I am extremely happy when a bowl or plate comes back empty. The plate talks for itself.”
Speaking on his journey with The Crown Goa so far, Prabhudessai says, “The feedback for our food has been excellent. In fact, people from as far as Margao and even Curchorem come here to dine. We have regular guests from Vasco too who enjoy our food so much so that they dine almost every week.”