Sunday, November 16, 2014

Pop that champagne bottle open!

The invite that piqued my attention
‘Learn the art of Sabrage’ read the invitation for Champagne Rendezvous. Sabrage? On encountering this alien word, I did what anyone in my place would have done – run a Google search. So I found out that Sabrage was the technique of opening a champagne bottle using a sabre! Where does one find a sabre these days? Well, G.H. Mumm, the popular champagne brand hosting the evening, has one specially made by internationally-renowned designer Ross Lovegrove. So, there I was at the four-course champagne dinner, waiting to discover what Sabrage was all about.
Talk about champagne dinner, the first thing that comes to mind is the formal, four course meal peppered with polite conversation. But the folks at the ITC Grand Chola and  Pernod Ricard (that has biggies such as Chivas, G.H. Mumm, Jacob's Creek, Nine Hills and many others) decided to do away with convention. The meal still had four courses but instead of a sit-down affair, there were four live stations set up, with chefs tossing up an assorted plate, paired with the wines lined up.
Adrian and Hannah show us how it's done!

The surprises didn’t end there. Adrian Pinto from Pernod Ricard and ITC’s Bar Manager Hannah Keirl took to the stage and showed the guests the art of Sabrage. Adrian began by showing us the first step: feeling for the groove in the bottle – the weakest point. Then, he held the bottle at a 45 degree angle and brought the sabre (which looks like a miniature metallic hockey stick) down with much force. And voila! The cork (and the neck of the bottle) had neatly come off and the champagne gushed out amidst a round of cheer from the crowd. The guests were also invited to come on stage and try their hand at the technique. There were many questions and the one that I found really interesting was from a well-dressed gentleman – would the glass pieces fall into the bottle? Adrian responds by saying that the pressure with which the champagne gushes out, any glass pieces are usually swept outside the bottle. Wow!
Hannah explains the history of this technique. “Be it in celebration of victory or in defeat, French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte used the tip of his sword to cut open a bottle of champagne, every time. It was a celebration of being alive at that moment,” she said.
While the ambitious ones tried their hand at Sabrage, I toured the hall, watching the live stations (with catchy names such as Hailstones, for instance) at work. The first station had bakes and grills. We sipped on G.H. Mumm’s Cordon Rouge Champagne, a delightfully fruity bubbly.
The very delicious lamb shanks...
On our plate, we had grilled lobsters, beautifully glazed and incredibly tender lamb shanks, mussels, grilled fish and caramelized potatoes.
I was lucky enough to be seated at the Chef’s table, with Adrian and Samarjeet – so it was inevitable that the conversation turned to gastronomy. Chef Ajit Bangera, the Senior Executive Chef, regaled us with his epicurean experiences around the world. He revealed that some varieties of cheese produced in India, were as good as their French counterparts (gasp!).
The second counter had salads, cured meat and the cheese board, with some exquisite varieties on display. The second wine on offer was the G.H. Mumm Rose champagne, which was pale rouge in shade and was deliciously delicate. 
The third counter had the main course – which blew my mind! Chef Bangera took us to the counter, where another chef asked us our preference for the pasta – smoked chicken or duck? Asparagus or sundried tomato? Any more options? I chose a smoked chicken with sundried tomato – I like to keep my flavours simple! The pasta was freshly made ravioli (my favourite) in a not too creamy white sauce, which is a good thing because I dislike the creamy overdose at times. Chef explained that they don’t have a red sauce option as it wouldn’t pair well with the wine – pretty thoughtful, if you ask me.
And the ravioli was the star of the evening – each little pocket was a mouthful of surprise. A bite of sundried stuffed ravioli and a sip of Jacob’s Creek Chardonnay Pinot Noir sparkling with a zesty flavour was a true highlight.
The star of the evening!
I also tried this with the Sparkling Rose from Jacob’s Creek and I felt that it wasn’t too out of place either. Well, this was my favourite rose of the evening – pale pink in colour and with a very beautifully crisp yet soft flavour. During our meal, we heard intermittent cheers – that of a guest trying their hand at Sabrage and finally, uncorking the bottle. The evening ended with nitrogen dessert – a concept that is gaining much popularity in the gastronomy circles in Chennai. The nitrogen ice cream and pistachio cake were a huge hit.
Though I really, really like the concept of sit down dinner – the formality and the convention, this time around, it felt good to do away with the rigid structure. The fun, eat at your own pace set up was liberating. The conversation (and wines) flowed more freely.

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