Alex Leonard is calm. Nothing can faze him. Not the mayhem of Crawford market, not the stench of the fish bazaar, not the dirty parts of the slaughterhouse. “I’ve been to markets in Peru that are far more hardcore than this,” he assures us breezily.
He is Chef de Cuisine at Blanca in New York, a set-meal restaurant that received two Michelin stars and three stars from the New York Times. He’s in Mumbai to cook a guest dinner at The Table, and we accompanied him to the market with The Table’s chef Alex Sanchez to source ingredients for his big night. Together they sniffed amchur, licked chaat masala, felt up Madras lemons, cradled bouquets of methi and sampled the season’s last mangoes. Follow their trail below.
Lights! We start at the psychedelic fruit stands.
Jurassic Park? Wondering how to use giant Madras lemons in a salad dressing. On his fruit list: peaches from Himachal, raw dates, and from the dry fruit shop next door, candied fennel seeds or saunf. "Wait, those aren't rainbow sprinkles?"
Alex & Alex Join the Aam Admi Party: A vendor cuts up different varieties of mangoes so the chefs can try the last of the season.
The Welcome Bouquets: Chef Leonard isn't worried about cooking for the many vegetarians who've signed up for his dinner. "I love vegetables," he says, adding Indian lemongrass, yellow peppers and methi to his list.
Hing Is King: Chef Sanchez takes us to Excellent Spices (shop no 78, Crawford Market, 8767443395), his go-to spice shop in Bombay. Chef Leonard sniffs around, comparing the smell of turmeric to meat, thinking about adding amchur powder - his favourite find at the market - instead of vinaigrette to pieces of lettuce, making a note to return for the big green almonds.
We drop les deux Alexes to Trishna where they're getting lunch, and they're already planning dinner - biryani at Kebabs and Curries at ITC Maratha and Bombay Canteen after. Trail end!
Photos by Kuldeep Pathak.
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