IN THE KITCHEN: Taj Bistro - Ketan Patel
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“Three different cuisines under one roof,” is how Ketan Patel, the owner of Taj Bistro, describes his downtown Barrie 40-seat restaurant. “We specialize in Indian, continental and oriental food — and it's all delicious,” says Patel who recently sat down with this GoodLife reporter to talk about his year-old eclectic bistro.
Wearing a crisp white shirt and a friendly smile, the local restauranteur opened up about his chef's training, why he chose Barrie and why adventurous diners make him happy.  

What led you to open up Taj Bistro in Barrie?

Ketal Patel: I've lived in Barrie with my family for over 10 years, and I've been planning Taj for the last three years. I was just waiting for the right time and location. Last year, everything fell into place and we opened up Taj in April 2014. I've worked in the restaurant industry for years, both as a chef and in management in England, Canada, India, France and Switzerland. Back home in Gujrat, India, my family runs several successful restaurants — so the food service industry runs in my veins.

Why the name Taj?
KP: Taj means crown in Indian. At Taj Bistro, we wear the crown of pride and specialize in serving delicious cuisine.  Everything is made in-house and from scratch.

You've done a nice job with the interior. The decor is modern, yet still pays homage to India with a wall mural of the Taj Mahal and Indian glassware.  
KP: An upscale atmosphere combined with great food and service is very important to me. I want people to say: ‘wow' when they see the dining room and say ‘wow' when they eat my food. Even though our prices are very economical, I'd like diners to feel like they are eating in a high-end restaurant and our modern interior reflects that.

Why specialize in three cuisines?
KP: The idea is to keep everyone happy by covering all the bases. Take a family, for example, the parents might love Indian food, but the kids find it too spicy. Or, the same might happen with groups of adults who can't decide what food they want. By offering authentic Indian, continental and oriental foods, we appeal to everyone's taste buds. Indian, continental and oriental are currently the world's most popular cuisines, and we have skilled chefs who are trained in all of these cooking techniques.   

Is Indian cuisine your main focus?
KP: The majority (about 70 per cent) of the menu is Indian food, specializing in the most popular dishes from regions within India. Along with Indian (including various curries, etc.), we've got several popular and authentic Cantonese dishes (such as prawns in hot garlic sauce and various noodles) and a variety of continental items (such as chicken volute, lamb cutlets or vegetables and cashew nut croquettes) on the menu.

Taking a closer look at the menu, it really is quite eclectic. It's not often that you see items like dim sum, prawn fried rice, chicken Manchurian, crispy fried chicken strips, creamy Alfredo pasta, Greek salad, masala dosa, vegetable korma or gosht vindaloo all on the same menu.
KP: We offer dishes to please every palate.  

With so many items available, how do guests decide what to order?  
KP: Ordering is super easy. Our staff has the menu on tablets to show diners what the meals look like. Our staff is also very happy to make recommendations. I love it when our guests want to try new dishes. Adventurous diners always make me smile.

What are your most popular dishes?
KP: From our Indian menu, the most popular items are chicken Tikka Lababdar, Gosht Razala (a lamb dish) and our samosas. From the oriental menu, the top sellers are the chicken or vegetable egg noodles and chicken fried rice. Finally, the most popular continental dishes are chicken veloute (a French dish), lamb cutlet, buttered broccoli and the in-house made crispy fried chicken strips.

What's the biggest misconception about Indian food?
KP: Many people think that Indian food means spicy, but that's just not the case. We are happy to adjust the spice level for individual diners without changing the authenticity of the dish. We can do spicy and not spicy [smiles].

Spicy, or not, Indian cuisine is just so darn good.
KP: I agree [smiles]. It's interesting because right now in India, the food scene is becoming really innovative. There are lots of regional cooking competitions going on these days, and it's amazing to see the creativity. Everyone from home cooks to professional chefs are getting involved in these culinary contests and it's changing Indian food culture. Even though most of my dishes are traditional, I'm trying to incorporate some of these new Indian recipes into my menu.

Who's in the Taj kitchen?
KP: My wife, Vaibh, is the head chef and she's amazing in the kitchen. We also have chef Ketul Mahida, who is a master of tandoori cuisine. Before he moved to Canada, he was the chef at a seven-star hotel in Bangalore, India. I'm also a chef and was trained in Switzerland at the world-renowned Swiss Hotel Management School.

What's your food philosophy?
KP: I believe in keeping dishes authentic by remaining true to traditional recipes and cooking techniques. I also insist on making everything from scratch.

What about specials?
KP: We offer a ‘daily deal for two' lunch special (from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.) for $19.95. It's a five-course meal, and guests can choose from over 60 items on the menu. There are two starters, one side dish, one main dish and two desserts plus coffee or tea. It's a great way for guests to try new types of dishes. We also offer other lunch specials for single diners with prices ranging from $6.95 to $13.50 per person.

What about diners with special dietary needs?
KP: All curries are gluten-free and most are lactose-free. We also have many vegetarian items on the menu.

Do you do take-out?

KP: We do tons of take-out. It's a big part of our business.
Beyond Taj, what's your favourite foodie destination?  
KP: Edison, New Jersey (New York) has a very vibrant Indian community and restaurant scene. There is incredible Indian food there and the city is definitely worth checking out. Oh, my gosh! It's so good [smiles]. Anything from breakfast to the dinner — there's nothing you can't find there. It's the North American epicentre of amazing Indian food!
What's your favourite meal to cook at home?
KP: I'm very spoiled because my wife is such an amazing cook. But when it's my turn to make dinner, I make noodles and Indian curries. We have two children, a four-year-old daughter, and a 12-year-old son. My son is a big fan of Mediterranean food, so I enjoy cooking that for him.   
You've got the ear of thousands of local diners, anything else you'd like to add?
KP: A big thanks to our regular customers who have been so kind to recommend Taj to their friends and family! When our guests are happy, I'm happy! 


HANDMADE SAMOSA
recipe courtesy of Ketan Patel of Taj Bistro

SAMOSA DOUGH
4 cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp whole ajwain (bishop's weed, or carom seeds)
1 tsp salt 

4 TBSP unscented oil
warm water, as required

METHOD:
Sift the flour, ajwain seeds and salt into a large bowl, and make a well in the centre.
Rub the oil into the flour. Add the warm water, a little at a time, and knead into the flour adding more water as required to make a soft and pliable dough (the amount of water will vary each time you make the recipe). Knead dough for 4 to 5 minutes, until smooth.

SAMOSA FILLING

4 Tbsp unscented oil 

1 medium onion, diced 

1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 to 2 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp dried mango powder

1/2 tsp garam masala

4 large potatoes, peeled and chopped

3-1/2 cups water

1 cup fresh or frozen peas
Juice of half a lemon
Salt to taste
Large handful coriander, chopped

METHOD:
  1. Heat oil in a sauté pan, add the onion, and fry for 5 to 7 minutes, until the onion is soft, but not coloured.
  2. Add turmeric, cumin seeds, ground cumin, mango powder and garam masala. Fry together for a couple minutes, then add the potatoes.
Sauté the potatoes in the onion-spice mixture for about 5 to 7 minutes, until they begin to fray around the edges. Add enough water to cover the potatoes, then simmer for about 15 to 25 minutes, until the potatoes are very tender.

  3. Add the peas, and cook for a few minutes. Season to taste with the lemon juice and salt. 

  4. Take off the heat, and mash coarsely. Stir in the cilantro. Let the filling cool completely before stuffing into samosas.


ASSEMBLING THE SAMOSAS:
Water to seal edges of samosas  Enough oil for deep frying 
All-purpose flour for dusting

METHOD:
  1. Carefully cut the dough into 12 equal pieces.
  2. Take one piece, and gently shape it into a ball. Dust your counter with a little flour, then using a rolling pin, roll out the dough into a very thin, translucent oval shape. Cut the oval in half width ways. Make a cone shape, using the straight cut side of the oval, pinching the edges together with a little water to help seal the sides.

  3. Take a lemon-sized ball of potato stuffing, and place into the cone. Gently fold over the rounded side of the cone, using it almost like a flap, and making it into a triangle. Seal all edges well, using a little water, then using the tines of a fork, press a decorative pattern into the edge. Pinch the top and side edges of the triangle. Assemble 2 samosas at a time.

  4. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a deep pot to 350F. I like using a deep frying thermometer to give me accurate and consistent results. Gently lower in the samosas, one at a time. Deep fry them for 4 to 5 minutes, until they are golden brown.
  5. Remove them from the oil, carefully, using a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper.
  6. Serve warm or at room temperature with various chutneys.


TAJ BISTRO
140 Dunlop Street East, Suite #101, Barrie
705-252-TAJ7(8257)
www.tajbistro.ca

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