Hola, Bangalore. It's time to make your annual road trip to Whitefield, and book your table at Windmills for their fantastic Mexican Food Festival, which ends tomorrow - July 7th.
Given my immense trust in Windmills for their curation of music, food and customer experience in general, I decided to treat myself to a Mexican food experience, with ingredients brought in from the land of the Aztecs.
What Chef Mandaar Sukhtankar and Chef Jaideep Kanungoe have created for this food extravaganza is delightful, and promises to take you through an authentic culinary tour of Mexico. Excerpts from an interview with the two chefs:
What kind of research went into this food festival?
Chef Mandaar: When we think of Mexican food, it's always limited to nachos, enchiladas and burritos. We had an opportunity and knowhow to execute a proper Mexican festival. Baloo, one of our chefs, worked in Texas and had 12 years of experience working with authentic Mexican restaurants. We generally have a lot of trials and try out new dishes on a daily basis. Baloo and I started the trials in March, and our CEO Ajay Nagarajan, who used to stay in Texas, was our chief taster to tell if it's going the Mexican way or the Tex-Mex way, since there's a big difference between the two. We spent three months doing the trials, research, procuring the ingredients etc. The biggest challenge was getting the right ingredients, which was a struggle but we managed.
What were some of the special Mexican ingredients you procured?
Chef Jaideep: At Windmills, if we offer an experience, we have to do it right. It has to be authentic and we have to feel proud to showcase it to our guests. Now, the basis of good Mexican food is the quality of the ingredients. You can't substitute them, as many Mexican restaurants do. So we imported them from the US and Mexico.
All the chilis used have unique flavours, and they provide layers to the food. So we got chilis like Guajillo, Ancho, Pasilla, Chipotle and Mulato straight from Mexico. From the flour used to make tortillas and tamales to the dried avocado leaves for the salad, we imported whatever we could.
If you go to Latin America, there are about 10,000 varieties of corn available. So for our taquitos, we got the heirloom organic variety called Masa Azul or ‘flour of blue corn’. The corn husk that we roll the tamale in and steam it in was also from Mexico. That was a stretch for us, but when you make a tamale - the soul of Mexican street food - you just have to do it right. We've sourced ingredients like our avocados locally because importing the more buttery varieties from Mexico would be difficult.
Chef Mandaar: Some of these dishes are truly fabulous, and we are trying to figure out how to source the ingredients easily to include them in our menu beyond the nachos. I brought some of the ingredients myself while travelling to Mexico, some were brought by a friend, others were bought online. If we can establish a supplier who can get these consistently, we'll surely add these dishes to our regular menu.
What are some of the dishes you'd recommend to customers?
Chef Mandaar: For vegetarians, the Tacos de Frijoles with refried beans, pepper strips, red cabbage, and salsa rojo is nice. You must try the Hongos en Trufa Enchilada, with wild mushroom, shallots, arbol chilli oil, queso fresco, and salsa enchilada, which stands out from regular enchiladas. The Chille Rellenos with Charred poblano, baby spinach, raisin, queso de casa, and salsa ranchero is also delicious with a rich sauce. The Arepas de Oaxaca - the sweet corn cakes with shimeji mushroom, sun dried tomato, and crispy baby kale - is interesting as well.
For non-vegetarians, we'd highly recommend the Tamale de Mole Poblano, with shredded chicken tamale, mole poblano, chocolate aubelita, and maldon salt. The Barbacoa de Cordero is a five spiced lamb, adobo mugado, with dried avocado leaves, which is also excellent. Our Taco al Pastor (pork) and Tacos de Pollo (pulled chicken) are a great option too.
In desserts, the Tres Leches with three milks, banana ice cream, fresh blueberry, and rum is perfect to end the meal!
Chef Mandaar: My personal favourite is the tamale, so I'd definitely recommend people try that!
Take us through the various salsas and moles you've prepared for the festival.
Chef Jaideep: All the salsas and moles are worth trying to understand the flavours.
In salsa, we have:
-Our Salsa Verde, traditionally made from tamatillos, is made it with green tomatoes, onions, and jalapeno. -The Habanero Crema has sour cream and habanero.
-We made Salsa Rojo from chili arbol, chipotle, and ancho chili.
-There's a spicy Salsa Borracha (Boraccha means 'drunk' in Mexican) made with our house stout and the pasilla and murato chili.
-Our Jalapeno Ranch is made with buttermilk and fresh jalapeno.
-We also made a Chipotle Crema - chipotle cooked in oil, soaked in water and mixed with mayo.
We also made 3 types of mole:
-Our enchilada mole is made with tomatoes, onion, garlic and 5 types of chillis. So there's different layers of flavours because each chili hits you at different points.
-We've made the traditional yellow mole with jalapeno, onion and cooked with achiote, which is a dye used in Mexican cooking
-Finally there's Mole Negro from the region of Oaxaca, made with chocolate.
What about beverages?
Chef Jaideep: We've got a few non-alcoholic Mexican drinks like Horchata, which is almond, raw rice, and cinnamon; Agua de Jamaica, which is essentially hibiscus infused water and fresh lime; and Agua de Tamarindo, or sweet-sour tamarind water. We've also made Tepachito, a home fermented pineapple drink with jaggery and lime, with a very small alcohol percentage because it's fermented. Our in-house mixologist can also make some delicious tequila-based cocktails like a watermelon margarita if a customer prefers that. But these Mexican-origin drinks are definitely worth trying!
Windmill's food festivals only last for 10 days. What's been the response to the Mexican Food Festival? Also, why do you not host these for longer durations?
Chef Mandaar: The entire menu has been carefully curated. We've done lots of trials and only selected dishes for this menu that came out really nice. We've been getting a great response and having lots of people coming in and recommending it to others.
We usually choose to cover only two weekends. It's short, but halfway through the festival, we start running out of ingredients, so many of the dishes wouldn't be available anymore. So even 10 days is sometimes a bit of a stretch. Plus we want to keep people wanting more, and curious to come back for the next food festival. If the food we make hits home within the 10 days, the next one we do generates more interest.
What's next for the team?
Chef Mandaar: We recently started a restaurant upstairs named Oota, which does food from all over Karnataka. It's a very interesting restaurant with 3 years of research. Our team travelled all around Karnataka with a video team documenting the recipes. All our recipes were videographed at source, so if we deviate, we can always refer to the original to see any change in colour, texture or look. We will be hosting Gowda and Mangalorean food festivals in the coming months. We've also started preparing for Windmills' 7 year celebration in September, and brewing beers for the upcoming Oktoberfest.
Bangalore, make your way to Windmills Craftsworks before the Mexican Food Festival ends tomorrow on July 7th. Call 8880233322 for reservations. Don't miss this chance!