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Supper Theatre
Text by Maria Louis and Photographs By Ankur Chaturvedi
Published: Volume 16, Issue 9, September, 2008

The new menu at Mumbai’s happening hotspot Zenzi is a perfect blend of good taste, artistic presentation and high drama. Take a bow, Shahaf Shabtay, says Maria Louis

Diners at Zenzi gazed open-mouthed as a misty cloud cloaked the creator of our delightful meal. It was time for dessert and executive chef Shahaf Shabtay had promised to concoct something special, so we waited in suspense. ‘Don’t shy’, he had earlier exhorted us in his quaint but charming Israeli-meets-Dutch lingo, as he introduced us to his new menu, insisting that each irresistible dish is a winner. Served on stone slabs with the sauce painted on in a squiggle next to the tube in which it resides, we watched bemused as the seemingly never-ending food pageant unfurled.

The starters looked too good to eat, but we tried them all, right from the chicken panko (chicken coated in Japanese-style breadcrumbs and deep-fried) and onion scallop to thinly-sliced, crisply-done red snapper chips and salmon gnocchi. The jasmine duck was succulent and sweet, while the spicy Singapore chilli crab had a shell that was soft enough to be relished along with its tender melt-in-the-mouth insides. Served with coconut shrimp rice and dashi-flavoured beef rice, both steamed in lotus leaf, the medley of flavours was but a prelude to the main event – the dessert. Unveiling that with a grand flourish after the cloud dispersed, Shabtay presented the crispy mousse that had frozen magically within seconds thanks to the liquid nitrogen in which it was immersed.

The chef’s journey to Mumbai was as dramatic as his creations. Brought up in a kibbutz, he joined the Israeli navy when he was 18 and after five tough years as a diver, realised that it was not his cup of tea. His creative streak (he swiftly sketched a portrait of himself offering a bouquet of flowers, then folded paper to make an origami tulip), prompted his mother to see in him the makings of a great chef – so he decided to join one of the best cooking schools in the world – Feerandi in Paris. His new found passion took him to the Ordeon in New York, where he also worked at Nobu in his spare time, drawing inspiration from the King of fusion cuisine. His tryst with Zenzi and co-partner Matan Schabracq began four years ago, after his stint at the family’s lounge bar in Amsterdam. Back after overseeing restaurants in Tel Aviv (Mina Tomei), Belgrade (Camelon, Diva and Ginger) and Prague (Sasazu), Shabtay brings to the table the varied experiences he has gathered, tantalising the taste buds with dishes that marry South-East Asian and European flavours with locally-grown ingredients. The fusion of cultures is as apparent in his accent as it is in his marriage (to Emma from the UK, whom he met in Mumbai), but most evidently in his periodically-revised menu. He loves to surprise and delight his guests and is constantly dreaming up ways of adding ‘energy’ to the experience of dining out. This time, its sauce tubes from Vietnam, and he encourages you to suck on them if you like or use your fingers to eat, if you find that more comfortable. What next?!

RECIPE: JASMINE DUCK
For two portions
Ingredients
To cook: Whole duck, 1 nos, approximately 1.5 kgs; Jasmine tea leaves, 50 gms; Water, 1.5 litre; Sugar, 25 gms; Maple sauce, 100 ml; Dark soya, 500 ml.
To fry: Oil, 500 ml; Panko, 100gms
For the sauce: Red wine, 20 ml; Mirin, 30 ml; Dark soya, 10 ml; Chopped garlic, 10 gms; Truffle oil, 2.5 ml.
For the garnish: Pineapple slice, 1 no; Red spinach, ¼ bunch.
Method: Clean and cook the whole duck in boiling water with jasmine tea, maple sauce and sugar for one hour. Prepare sauce by mixing all the ingredients in a pan and heat for two minutes. De-bone breast and keep aside. Coat with cornflour and panko crumbs. Deep fry till crispy and done. Slice the crispy fried duck and place on the serving dish. Pour the prepared sauce on top. Garnish with red spinach and pineapple slices.

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