TRENDS OPUS MAGAZINE/ October
Imagine you are motoring through the south of France, wine country. It’s a
balmy day, there’s a slight breeze ruffling your hair (you are travelling in an
open-top convertible, of course), your camera is going click-click-click.
Before you know it, the morning has sped past and there is an ominous rumble in
the region of your turn. Even as the word ‘lunch’ forms in your brain, you see
a signpost. Intrigued, you follow it, turn into cherry-red gates and come upon
a stone structure, greenly festooned with creepers, climbers, ferns, verily an
shown to a long trestle-like table covered with a gaily-checkered tablecloth,
by the side of the house, where you proceed to sit down and indulge. This is
food that makes your senses come alive. You pick at appetizers like quichelets
and baby spuds tossed in mayonnaise. You spoon in lentil soup delicately spiced
with herbs, no doubt from the herbery you notice at one side of the farmhouse; you
hunker into a lasagna with spinach layering, break bread from the basket of
fresh rolls near you.
There is a
fish entrée to follow, then a chicken so lightly tossed in a cheese sauce that
both fowl and seasoning can be savoured on the tongue, distinctly apart.
small helpings, all the better to relish it and as the courses are deliberately
spaced, you are free to enjoy the whole affair, to look around, to chat, to
linger over the wine.
innkeeper’ strolls out of the main house to meet you; he is fiftysomething, a
throwback to ye olde days, indeed, with sparkling eyes and hair in a squiggly
pigtail. Before you exchange more then a few sentences with the man, you know
you are in the presence of a master, a man who performs gastronomical magic.
feast winds down with a wedge of lemon cheesecake topped with a smidgeon of
sour cream that absolutely melts on the tongue. The affair is over, you are on
your way. As for the dent the meal has made in your pocket, well, you know a
good meal is worth its weight in gold. And this was a great meal.
satiated, content, you drive away. End of dream? No, there is a sequel.
Bordeaux country, imagine you are on the Bannerghatta road, on the outskirts of
Bangalore. Click! Now wake up: the signpost, the gates, the house, the owner,
its all real. As real as the food you get to sink your molars into. If you get
Saeed Sattar’s ‘Farmhouse’ is no
run-of-the-road restaurant. In fact, it’s not a restaurant at all. It’s a place
where he serves up unbelievably delicious food for his friends and at a pinch,
the friends of those friends. No strangers, no siree. The smiling Gujarati
whose cheerful demeanour masks an astute business sense says, “I call the shots here. I get to choose
my guests. I get to plan the menu for the day, cook and serve it.”
sounds imperious as heel, well, no one is complaining. In fact, non-complainers
make up a veritable Who’s Who. And you wouldn’t want to argue with the likes of
Girish Karnad, Shobha De, Charles Correa, M F Hussain, Chitra Subramaniam,
Vijay Mallya, Nasiruddin Shah, a whole host of models, film stars, corporate
giants, public sector bigwigs, literati and glitterati, would you now?
is unusual and so is the owner. Sattar has done a stint as an adman, an
employee of Air India, a chef at the Rajneesh ashram in Pune. He comes across
as suave, charming, a maverick whose steady line of witticisms belie the
shrewdness of the man.
“It was in
Italy where I spent five years, that my culinary talents flowered.” He says. “I
learned a lot and had the time of my life learning. Those were, indeed, days of
heaven.” Italy brought out into the open the Cordon Bleu colours of a man who,
since his days in London, was always inclined towards pots and pans. Since
then, he has developed cuisinart into something nonpareil. Now, as his charming
wife Ashrafa concedes, “He is the expert. Both my girls Sasha and Sonali, as
well as I, can wield a capable skillet. But nothing as inspired as Saeed’s
serious work, ” avers Sattar, “It requires considerable planning, designing and
imagination.” He is scathing about the Indian obsession with chillies, calling
it ‘camouflage cooking.’
mean ‘Farmhouse’ fare is true to salt-pepper-white sauce blandness? The very
thought could turn many an Indian face pale. “No, no,” expostulates Sattar, “I
cheat… a little. Maybe I don’t do a line on chillies but I do season the food
with a herb or two, something that will lend flavour without getting
competitive with the base ingredients.”
PHOTOS: AJAY GHATAGE
ought to be sacred. I mean, where is the sense in bolting down food, washing it
down with drink and then hurrying onto the next job at hand? You have to
develop an awareness, a respect for food.”
obvious that the charge of being a gastronomical snob has been levelled at
Sattar before and that the man revels in it. “Yes, of course I am a snob. To be
a snob, you’ve got to be good at something. I’m good at what I do. So,
obviously, I cannot tolerate a man who cannot tell his broccoli from his
cauliflower. I’m not interested in that sort of person, I won’t cook for him.”
food is the least cooked,” he pronounces, with the air of an epicurean oracle. “Simple
fare served in white plateware (only white brings out the visual appeal of the
food), a good wine, convivial company… aah, that would be a perfect experience.”
climbing has long been a national weakness, the Sattars are constantly plagued
by people who would like to eat at the ‘Farmhouse’ just to upgrade their social
cache. For all that they are given short shrift, the rush to crash the
exclusive barriers go on unabated. The ‘Farmhouse’ is like the forbidden apple,
says Sattar with a hint of complacency in his tone.
And, just as
you wonder if it’s all a matter of hype, Sattar tosses a salad for you. oh,
it’s a simple salad- a handful of kidney beans, a few rashers of beetroot,
steamed veggies and in the middle, a mound of prawns dressed up in mayo. You
fork some into your mouth and you feel like Bertie Wooster at his Aunt Dahlia’s
table, tucking into an Anatole creation.
realise why Saeed Sattar is a born genius and the ‘Farmhouse’ a place that one
could virtually commit murder to visit.