Have You Tried This?
Mustard In Your Cake, Betel Nut In Your Chocolates
|Would you put green tomatoes in your dessert? How about basil or coriander? If you’re cringing, you’ve got to meet Jehangir Mehta, the pastry wizard who’s created quite a buzz in Manhattan. As pastry chef at Aix where the noted French chef Didier Virot holds court, Mehta has turned the concept of dessert on its head.
No namby pamby, wishy-washy vanilla scoops with chocolate sauce for him. This Bombay native takes diners where they’ve never been before, on a wild ride full of new taste sensations, adding a whole spectrum of unlikely spices and ingredients that leaves them clamoring for more.
And sometimes not! In fact, he’s been nicknamed “the sadist” and some of his desserts have been called “plain weird.” Mehta’s adventurous dessert recipes have generated reams of press, some favorable, some not. Moira Hodgson of The New York Observer proclaimed, “One of the most daring and original pastry chefs I have come across in New York. His creations are unexpected, but with coherence and personality.”
Salty Caramel Tapioca Tart – the name itself can turn some people off, but the food critics loved it. The same with Green Tomatoes Salad with candied celery and a mint sorbet. Recalls Mehta: “It was a risk, but people loved it and we got tons and tons of press on it and it became a big thing. And on the other hand, licorice panna cotta with star anise powder and oranges – it got thrashed completely! People said it tasted like tar!”
Yet food critic Eric Asimov loved it: “Take a bite of the citrus and it stops the licorice flavor short; alternate bites and you have a captivating tennis match in the mouth.”
Indeed, that is the special skill of Mehta, orchestrating unlikely pairings and creating a taste that is vibrant and refreshing, something that didn’t exist before. If it’s springtime, you’re likely to even find fresh flowers in his light and airy desserts.
Mehta has been a pastry chef in some of the most talked about restaurants in New York City, including Jean Georges, Union Pacific, Virot, Compass and Aix. He also runs Partistry, a bakery where the selection includes the Kama Sutra chocolates that are flavored with four different aphrodisiacs – fennel, jasmine, papal and beetle nut.
“When you say there is something in your dish, put it in your dish, so the person can get it,” says Mehta. “If he’s expecting violets in his dish, let him get the full flavor, not just a faint taste of it.”
But he cautions: you also need to know when to stop. For instance in one dessert he mixed almond biscuit with pistachios and nougat, so that there are several different nuts in it and added candied celery and violet flowers to give it a whiff of summer. This Violet Celery Nougat Parfait could have become overwhelming, but says Mehta, “Since I don’t like anything too sweet, I made a grapefruit marmalade that is so tart that it cut the sweetness of the dessert.”
Would he add mustard and curry leaves to dessert? He laughs, “I’ve not tried that yet, but I did do a mustard cake once. Today I’m doing a basil cake for the party.”
His pet peeve? People who eat elaborate seven course meals and when it comes to dessert, settle for a scoop of vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce!