Chef with a Zen Touch

We met Chef Mario Paecke in the spacious confines of Threesixtyone, The Oberoi, the restaurant hosting his cosmopolitan menu, just before the preparations for the lunch hour were to begin. He is Chef De Cuisine at the one Michelin-starred restaurant, Luce d’Oro, Schloss Elmau in Germany, and was recently hosted by the The Oberoi, Gurgaon, where he presented a seven-course degustation menu over five days.

Paecke’s childlike enthusiasm has an instant disarming effect. For him, cooking and food were a calling that was perhaps genetic. “I wanted to be a chef ever since I was 13 years old. I grew up with the smell of apple strudel wafting through the house as my grandmother baked a lot. It was all seasonal — apple in the winters, pumpkin in autumn. I was hooked to food and the process of cooking,” said the 35-year-old.

He has prepared a menu which features his signature Black Cod, Carrot, Pomelo and Gen Mai Chai. “The Black Cod is something I am very proud of. The flavours are very strong but very distinct. We marinate it with miso, sake, sugar and salt. We let it sit for 24 hours. We put it in a sous-vide,” he said.

With the mention of sous-vide, things get more interesting. “It’s like cooking in a water bath. It’s a technique of cooking where the food is placed in a temperature-controlled steam environment. It’s very useful when we have to cook something for long — and at temperatures lower than what we usually use. We don’t have to manually control it. After the steam cooking, we roast the fish in a salamander oven. The flavours — with the help of the oven — get enhanced a hundred times,” he added.

Paecke has worked with the best brands in the business — Mandarin Oriental Munich, Kempinski Hotel Four Seasons Munich and the Residenz Heinz Winkler. But, it was while backpacking in East Asia that he discovered the unique flavours of street food, which inspired him to approach food in a more cosmopolitan manner. “We, as chefs, sometimes forget the natural flavours of the ingredients, and we start depending heavily on the spices, and sauces and other garnishes. I am attempting to make the ingredients — be it meat or vegetables — retain their natural flavour and yet be part of a gourmet experience,” said Paecke.

The other dishes that stood out at the degustation menu were Silver Hill Duck Beijing Style and Surprise Egg. The latter needs a special mention for its presentation alone. The almost mustard coloured yolk was set off brilliantly with soba noodles, mushrooms and green Brussel sprouts.

Due to his strict discipline, Paecke has attained a zen-like state in the kitchen. “His operation at the Luce D’ Oro, Munich, is like a well-oiled machine,” says Manish Sharma, Executive Chef, The Oberoi. We wonder if Paecke meditates or if cooking is meditative enough. “I run and exercise,” he said.

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