I admit. I have procrastinated over this article for over 2 weeks. I have scribbled and scratched paper (the old fashioned ink to pen) tossed it in the garbage – had a cuppa more than needed and still run short to deliver what I thought would be a befitting article to what I ultimately penned. That’s when the realisation hit me. This article was never going to match up to anything in my head for two primary reasons- the gentleman written about was a Legendary Chef of the Taj Group of Hotels in his time and the more discerning fact of him being my grandfather who I never had the chance of meeting in person. Welcome to the Miguel Arcanjo @ Taj Exotica Goa.
Miguel Arcanjo fondly known as ‘Maskie’ Pic courtesy: Mitter Bedi Photography
They say Legends are what one makes of them. Passed on thru time immemorare, it’s the build up which makes them larger than life. I happened to chance over his accolades (4 scrap books and counting) way back in 2006 when my mother decided to pen a biography about ‘Masci’ – as he was fondly known, which eventually won her the Special Jury award at the Gourmand World Cookbook awards in 2008. If your wondering what’s that? It’s the same award Julia Childs won a few years earlier. That book Masci- the Man behind the Legend is a short documented snippet of his life interspersed with a few management lessons and a few forgotten recipes of the maestro for company. It has been out of circulation since its award and is scheduled for a second edition sometime soon- back by popular demand!
It’s an lovely feeling sitting with people who ‘claim’ to know my grandfather over the years. I’ve heard multiple accounts of his life from a few people who are alive. All the stories percolate to two distinctive traits that shine through- him being a stickler for discipline in his kitchen and a maestro in everything he put his hand too. Genius is a word never used lightly however in his case use effortlessly by one and all who met or interacted with him. He cooked up a storm for dignitaries, celebrities, heads of state and rock stars alike and what grabbed headlines eventually was somewhere in the 70’s the Taj gifted him a kitchen worth a crore. Do the math it’s close to a Rs.55-60 crore kitchen in today’s day and age given inflation rates.
Let’s focus on the task at hand though. The restaurant is revisited by me for the third time- however this time with the daunting task of me being settled into my writer avatar. No pressure, I assure myself as the specially crafted menu makes its way to our table. This is a tasting menu for the season ahead and has a revisit of some of Masci’s old documented recipes.
I shall shed a spotlight for this post on ‘Nostalgia‘ which was his signature love for all things Portuguese and Goan. A simpleton at heart- Masci was known to relish his wife’s Deoniza cooking. He would head home for his afternoon siesta in between working hours for his power nap and his fish curry rice at my grandmothers hands. And just as he laid command over the kitchen at the Taj Mahal hotel he willingly handed over the same to his wife back home. It was her domain and that was the end of it. While the whole of Mumbai and the world were his ardent fans he had mad love for her and her cooking.
The Taj Exotica Goa has painstakingly documented and researched his works and menus extensively and with their own twist have recreated some masterpieces from his hand written menus. Known for his Chicken Liver pate en encroute with toasted brioche and garnitures to the Chorizo de Goa– home cured pork sausages they came up with a delicate infusion of his famous Chorizo terrine, croquettes and Phyllo chorizo parcel the team as recreated magic all over again. Master class indeed- Would Masci have approved? I sure hope so given his soft corner for his home cuisine.
Chorizo de Goa Pic courtesy: Nolan Mascarenhas Photography
Let’s not forget a few exotics that made their way to the table. Masci known to experiment back in the day would be pleased. The Capesante- Canadian scallop with a sinful plum relish, sauce vierge sweet pea purée & angel hair crisp leeks was stelar. It took me all of 5 minutes to just admire the creation let alone contemplating eating it.
The beauty of a course menu, is one gets to know what’s in tow and I waited in anticipation for the Atlantic Black Cod baked with fermented soy bean,wilted young spinach with a brush of stewed rhubarb soy soil and lemon balm. It begged my mind to demand second serving. Table manners prevailed and I refrained. The infusion and blend of flavour is hard to describe. It’s a must try for sure.
Atlantic Black Cod Pic courtesy: Nolan Mascarenhas Photography
A set menu is never complete without a single origin Jamaican Mountain brew. Exquisite and well balanced. It complimented the Opera perfectly. What is the Opera? Click here to find out more.
As I sign off with a huge sigh of relief, I feel like Po from Kung Fu Panda having attained a glimpse into the enlightened gastronomic world of delicacies and Master Shifu being none other than the legend, the man, my grandfather who I fondly knew as ‘Papa’- Miguel Arcanjo Mascarenhas or to the culinary world ‘Masci of the Taj’.
Thank you for this schooling time and again.