Wood grilled cuisine from around the globe is taking centre stage at restaurant kitchens
Not so long ago, grilling or cooking food over a live fire was more of a casual activity fit for the backyard. Also, limited restaurant chains like the La Cabrera in Buenos Aires, Hamdi in Istanbul or classic barbecue joints from the US, like Lems Bar-B-Q, served grilled cuisine. However, that’s all changing. Today, almost every restaurant is willing to experiment with varieties of wood grilled cuisine from around the globe and offer it in their menu. Like Albert Ham, a Dubai-based student rightly puts it, “Nowadays people are automatically drawn towards fire-cooked food. And you can see the passion in the kitchen too!”
Old art, new forms
The art of grilling has existed since ages. Even if we leave aside the fact that early civilisations used similar cooking methods, new-age restaurants too have been using this cooking technique. Waxman’s mesquite-fired grill at the original ’80s-era Jams was a large part of its Californiacuisine identity and Frank DeCarlo paved the way for this generation of fire-starters at his pioneering Peasant 15 years ago.
“Once you start cooking with wood, you never want to go back to normal,” says Peter D’Souza, chef at Thai Woods. “The wood-burning grill gives everything a slight smokey quality. Maybe you don’t even notice it at first, but it’s there,” he adds. It gives chefs space for experimentation too. “You find yourself asking, what if we do this? You can’t do this with any other burner,” says the chef.
The fire used in this kind of cooking is built primarily with oak, though there is also a minimal amount of hickory, apple and cherry. “We get all of the wood from various places across Thailand. The wood is salvaged from dead trees, so, we are not harming the environment too,” informs D’Souza.
Simple and versatile
Though wood grills and ovens provide chefs with the challenge of mastering a volatile heat source, it requires skill, constant vigilance and a lot of trial and error to get things right. But once you master all this, wood grills are much more versatile than their simplicity might suggest. That’s the reason perhaps some restaurants not only use the wood oven to cook special dishes but everything right from bread crumbs to beetroots.
By: Robben Alexandra