Cornucopia of Delights

Ashvina Vakil

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Meeting in corn fields is just par for the course for the intrepid members of the Pune Gourmet Club – we can find good food anywhere! We weren’t exactly in the corn field but close enough to procure some fresh corn cobs for the barbecue that Shankar had set up at a vantage point in the lawns of the Deccan Plateau winery on August 2. While wine and other goodies were on the agenda, the smoky roasted corn with a sprinkling of chilli powder served as a wonderful appetiser and set the tone for what was to be a really fun afternoon.

Thirty-four of us, including some guests, made our way to Deccan Plateau Vineyards Pvt. Ltd.’s winery that Sunday morning, and it looked like the weather would hold. Located at Burkegaon, about 28 kms from Kalyani Nagar off the Pune-Ahmednagar Highway, the winery is set amidst picturesque fields of corn, coriander, sugarcane, marigolds and vineyards. We were there at the invitation of Managing Director and Winemaker Nitin Shinde, and Assistant Winemaker Girish Kamble, both of whom looked rather bemused at the PGC invasion!

Deccan Plateau is launching a range of red wines later this month and Nitin and Girish decided it was a good idea to test them on PGC members. We all trooped into the winery to taste the Shiraz, Cabernet-Sauvignon, Cabernet Shiraz, Zinfandel, and the Trivalli – an unusual blend of Shiraz, Cabernet-Sauvignon and Merlot, that opened up rather well on decanting. An array of interesting cheese added bite to the tasting process and for a while the barbecue sizzling outside was forgotten as conversation veered around the colour and bouquet of the wines. Nitin and Girish watched with anxious expressions which lightened considerably as the tasting progressed to drinking!

A few took a tour of the winery while others went back to tend to the barbecue, and the huge selection of marinated meats and vegetables that waited to be grilled. Shankar chortled gleefully, “This time you can’t blame me if there is too much food – you were instructed to bring just enough food for yourself.” Everyone did that, and added ‘just a little extra’, resulting in a veritable mountain of food! Fortunately Ranjit arrived with his industrial strength barbecue (and restaurant-sized kitchen towel roll and garbage bags) and things moved a little faster once he had fired it up.

It was all hands on deck as meat (mostly chicken) was pierced onto bamboo skewers. “Wet the skewers first,” instructed Rita, looking askance at the dry skewers laden with a colourful selection of vegetables, and someone had to undo their handiwork and start over again! “Whose leg is this,” enquired Shabbir poking around the grill. “Make way for my veggies,” exclaimed Fateema. “Toss the onions onto the coal,” urged Shankar. “What fish is that,” asked Anselm, eying the tail end of a particularly large fish that Regina was trying to fit on the grill. “Someone try my salad,” piped in one voice, while another coaxed paneer into by-then unwilling hands!

The surfeit of chicken, in marinades ranging from Thai to mustard, resulted in an overdose that was greatly relieved by Rekha’s elegant bruschettas with toppings like hummus and caramalised onions. Rita had brought a selection of bread from the ‘The French Loaf’, which people hungry after the drive to the winery, fall upon as soon as they arrived. Shankar’s sun dried tomato spread vanished before you could say ‘dip’!

By the time Kumar arrived with his kakori kebab mix, people were almost too stuffed to move. And yet he managed to persuade most to taste at least a wee bit, manfully grilling the last batch in the hope that someone would be hungry enough after the ramble in the vineyards to polish them off! When Sheela brought out an absolutely scrumptious carrot cake it was like manna from heaven! You’d think after all that food even a whiff of the cake would have been enough, but it had many enthusiastic takers, much to her amusement.

It was a thoroughly replete lot that sleepily ambled away from the barbecue later that afternoon, armed with wine bottles and, what else, packets of corn processed at the Trimurti Foods factory next door. We had certainly experienced a cornucopia of grilled and other delights!

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