The height of cooking

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 25 Jul 2018 12:41:54



High atop a mountain, one imagines a view encapsulating the horizon and the land beyond. Monstrous winds sweep through the deep gorges in the valley cutting ruthlessly through your skin. The mountains are not a kind place for us humans as temperatures drop with every passing moment. At altitudes as high as this, survival and thriving is difficult, but not entirely impossible.

Chefs Soundararajan P, corporate executive chef at Mahindra Resorts and Holidays, and Sanjay Thakur, a chef at Etihad Airways, were keen on exploring this supposed impossibility. “The core idea had always been to set a world record,” Soundararajan tells us over the phone. “It is not an adventure one decides to undertake one fine day. It requires a long preparation. Once we laid out the blueprint of the project - where to set the base, how to source ingredients at such a high altitude and what to cook - we went ahead with it,” he recalls.

Naming it #ProjectTriyagyoni, the two chefs set out to make a Guinness World Record of cooking an entire meal at the altitude of 5,585 metres. The base was set in Island Peak (ImjaTse), Nepal, where the duo would eventually station their pop-up restaurant.
They set up on May 30, and two days later on June 02, 2018, following an aerial survey conducted by the representatives of the Guinness World Records, the chefs successfully bagged the Record.

Nestled in the Chukhung Valley and surrounded by the Lhotse/Nuptse South Wall to the north and Baruntse to the south, makes Island Peak (ImjaTse) seem like an island amid the gigantic mountains. Since the location is right in the lap of the Himalayas, where temperatures and the weather are unreliable to say the least, the chefs took a helicopter to fly from Lukla to Kathmandu and began their trek to Island Peak accompanied by a team of seven members. This team was in charge of collecting Himalayan herbs, spices and meat on their way to the destination.

“We wanted to cook a simple Indian meal from locally-sourced ingredients. On our way up to the base where the pop-up was stationed, we carried locally-sourced ingredients such as mint, oregano, green chillies, green onions, yak cheese and Rhododendron flowers among other items,” Soundararajan tells us.

The menu comprised of traditional Indian recipes and some references from Nepalese cuisine. “We cooked a total of seven dishes, including shisno mousse with mushrooms that we had sourced locally, and basa fish with wild spinach,” says the chef. In addition to this, they also made a serving dal rice arancini stuffed with yak cheese. The meal ended on a sweet note with the dessert comprising of yak milk panna cotta.

Up at that level, cooking becomes a slow process, where even easy-to-make recipes take longer than usual. This meal took them three hours to prepare. “The dishes were then served to the trekkers climbing up to the ImjaTse and higher peaks in Nepal,” he says.

The chef tells us that he and his team took special precautions to ensure that they leave behind no waste. “We realised that waste disposal would have been a real problem up in the mountains. This was why we didn’t carry any of the ingredients. Besides, every little item we took up there, we managed to use it and dispose it off in an eco-friendly manner,” he recalls.

Soundararajan says he has walked away with a life-changing experience. When asked what he has in the pipeline, the chef quips, “Maybe another world record on the way!”