Maybe most don’t equate India with pizza, but it’s certainly seeped into the culture: IndiaRetailing.com reported in 2016 that the beloved Italian shareable boasts the highest market share in the country among international quick-service restaurants, and the widest acceptance across consumer segments. Indeed, international names like Pizza Hut and Domino’s have been entrenched here for years.
But at the Novotel hotel in Visakhapatnam, executive chef Mrinmoy Pal—known by co-workers and the culinary industry simply as chef Moy—is doing things a little differently.
It helps that he sports a resume many chefs would envy, having honed his skills around the world over nearly 20 years at renowned brands like the Taj and Oberoi hotel groups, Carnival Cruise Line and Hyatt. He has studied pizza in-depth in both Europe and the States, and while working at the Novotel for the last year, he’s been rethinking the thin-crust pies (the style, chef Moy says, Indian guests insist upon) in the property’s casual yet elegant The Square, a round-the-clock dining destination for hotel guests and locals alike.
He also has an outlook that aligns perfectly with Italian ideals—a love for unfussy food where fresh ingredients can shine, cooked with love. “When I make anything, I think it’s my food,” says chef Moy. “We maintain authenticity with the right recipes, the right techniques. My concept is simple food, using local produce. As a chef, I know people are coming with great expectations, and I have to fulfill that.”
Still, he’s not afraid to get creative, drawing influences from his home country to put a local spin on some Italian favorites. On my recent visit for a pizza demo, chef Moy crafted a traditional veggie pie with an Indian twist, its toppings preroasted to a delectable charred-edge crisp in the tandoori oven. Then came his “naanza” creation, which he’s hoping to land on the menu for 2018. The country’s popular flatbread, naan, is topped with a flavorful Indian-spiced makhani gravy in lieu of traditional tomato sauce, mozzarella, plus a vividly hued veggie mix—tricolor peppers, black olives, onions and sundried tomatoes—then sprinkled with olive oil, oregano and red pepper flakes after baking.
For a sweet finish, chef Moy whipped up two more unique Indian-Italian hybrids, both tapping the popular gulab jamun dessert, in which spongelike balls made mainly of milk powder are doused in a pool of rose-flavored honey. Yes, Indian sweets are essentially sugar explosions, but the dessert’s typical over-the-top sweetness was tempered in chef Moy’s creations, which incorporated the balls in a take on tiramisu, elegantly served in a martini glass, and a cheesecake.
In a country that’s steeped in time-tested traditions yet celebrated for its ability to absorb and accept so much diversity, chef Moy’s constant experimentation reflects the nature of India itself. And with the pure flexibility and fun allowed by ever-malleable Italian traditions like pizza and pasta, I can’t wait to see what he’ll come up with next.
Recipe provided by executive chef Mrinmoy Pal, Novotel Visakhapatnam Varun Beach
10g fresh yeast
340g lukewarm water
520g refined flour
Mix all of the ingredients (make sure salt does not come into contact with yeast). Once the dough is ready, let it rest 10 to 15 minutes. Make 120g dough from the mix and let it proof.
25mL olive oil
15g garlic, peeled and chopped
350g ripe plum tomato
50g tomato juice
10g crushed black pepper
5g fresh basil
Whole tomatoes can be used, but for better texture, make sure all ripe tomato is deseeded (strain the fresh tomato juice for later use). In a thin-bottom pan or pot, heat the oil and add garlic. Cook until translucent. Add the chopped tomato and let it cook slowly. Once the tomato is cooked, add the rest of the ingredients and simmer the mixture for 8 to 10 minutes.
Preheat the oven. Roll the proofed dough to the desired thickness. Dock it with your fingers or a docker. Add sauce and a small amount of mozzarella cheese (note: this recipe uses 180g grated mozzarella total). Add toppings as desired, and pour the remaining mozzarella cheese on top. Bake in the oven, turning once so that the pizza cooks evenly. Once the cheese is melted, remove from the oven and cut in several pieces. Sprinkle with oregano and a drizzle of olive oil and serve hot.