The moveable feast : Last Panini in Nepal

Kathmandu :

I sometimes feel that Ganesh Karki is the centre of the universe that is Himalayan Java, J Bar, Courtyard and all the other enterprises that Gagan Pradhan that urbane restaurateur and Ganesh’s employer is into. It was Ganesh who fixed our last supper with Wayne Cullen the British Chef who leaves for England on September 24 only to return in 2007.

Wayne’s parting present to Kathmanduites were sandwiches in every conceivable form with unusual tastiness in common.

Like the Panini, which according to Craig Claiborne’s The New York Times Food Encyclopedia is plural for panino and is overall a word for stuffed rolls served in Italian cafés.

And a bit of Italy crept into that evening at Himalayan Java as Wayne served a grilled Panini sandwich filled with mozzarella, cheese, tomato and pesto sauce. It was an evenly balanced, tasteful act with the pesto leading by a taste bud.

Even as the last morsel disappeared, Suresh who was bringing on sandwich after sandwich, brought on three Club Sandwiches. Back to Craig Claiborne who quotes James Villas who authored American Taste, “I consider a club sandwich one of the most luscious of American creations. I could eat a club for lunch every single day.”

Also quoted is the following, “In 1894 Richard Canfield (1865-1914), debonair patron of art, purchased the Saratoga Club to make it a casino. Canfield Solitaire was originated in the casino’s gambling rooms and the club sandwich in its kitchens.”

Wayne’s American club had chicken, cranberry sauce, lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise. The textures went from soft to crisp to mildly moist and the taste was sweet.

And sweet too was his Vegetarian Club with two types of cheese, tomato, salad, and sweet pickle. In both club sandwiches, the sweetness was what made them memorable.

Said Wayne, “Sweetness in cooking is a great balancer it is a European thing, a juggling of taste that makes the salted dishes taste better while the sweet ones come as a surprise.”

The Italian Club which had salami, mozzarella, olives, salad and a mayonnaise with coriander, pesto, and garlic was sheer fantasy. The mixing of tastes was careful so that no one flavour stood out but your tongue was soothed by one tingle after another.

Wayne described his grilled steak sandwich as, “Hearty”. It was grilled steak, onions, tomato, salad and honey dijon mustard. As far back as Shakespeare and Taming of the Shrew, mustard was essential to meat: the quote from Shrew says, “What say you to a piece of meat and mustard?”

Claiborne talks about mustards by saying that dijon accounts for the production of half the world’s mustards. The steak sandwiches, honey dijon mustard lent an edge to the grilled steak while the onions were mildly crunchy and the whole was delicious.

But best of all was Wayne Cullen’s Fresh Egg Mayonnaise with crispy bacon.

Here we had mashed boiled eggs in mayonnaise with bacon bits, salad and spring onions served in a baguette. You went into seasoned softness and the bacon came as an aftertaste.

Asked what he would miss the most leaving Nepal, Wayne said, “I will miss the happy people and the daal bhat.”

Asked what his legacy was in the year he cooked in Nepal, he said, “I taught them bread, I taught them how to cook on a low flame and I taught them how to make sure that the seasoning was just right. I know it will last till I return.”

In the mean time Wayne Cullen’s sandwiches are available for short while at Himalayan Java. Call 4422519, 4422712.