February 04, 2013

Ooloonthoo, Where the Far East meets West End

I had been dying to do this place for a really long time, first of all because I had never been there before, and second because all of my friends seemed to be talking about it, but most importantly because I consider myself a passionate foodie and recreational chef and the idea of trying something so foreign and unusual to most Hondurans such as Indian food was an opportunity I could not miss out on. It is a known fact that there are no other Indian restaurants in Roatan or in all of Honduras for that matter, and even though it is located close to West End (near the entrance, right on the main road), I never made up my mind to try this fine restaurant. Fortunately, some extraordinary events came to pass which set off the plans to finally pay a visit to the Ooloonthoo, Indian Cuisine Restaurant. It turns out that my wife had a business trip coming up, to Roatan of all places, and it so happened that my birthday was around the corner too, so my very thoughtful and crafty wife decided to combine both into the perfect mixture of work and pleasure. She let me tag along to be her personal chauffer on the island so I could take her to all her meetings, on the business-side, while our rented car allowed us to go restaurant hopping, on the much deserved pleasure-side. Although a sudden trip to paradise and dinner at a fancy restaurant was more than enough for me, an additional birthday present was still to come.

entrance to theINDIAN REALM
I have to say the final result was an incredible birthday, one which stood out, way out from the rest of my b-days. More often than not, this celebration involves the acceptance of one or two presents, mostly material things, and it is usually shared with friends or family followed by a party or night out on the town, yet on this occasion, it was just my wife and I and her out of the ordinary gift idea, which actually included learning a thing or two. It turns out that there is a cooking class offered at the Ooloonthoo restaurant by its very own Chef, Canadian born Paul James, and my wife reserved a place in it just for me. Being a born-again, totally empirical, cooking aficionado, I was more than enthused to be a part of a real cooking class. It surely became a memorable experience, one I won’t soon forget, and one which I highly recommend especially if you are really interested in learning about the Indian culinary art form and want to get creative with your cooking.

cooking of a wide variety ofINDIAN DISHESin progress
The price for one class which includes a four and a half hour long instructional session with an internationally recognized chef, the preparation of a six course Indian meal which you help create, plus a welcome drink and snacks, goes for US $150.00. After the chef’s creation (let’s face it, I am only a humble apprentice so I may have helped for just about 5% of the process, perhaps even less), we then got to taste the colorful and outlandish dishes. Be prepared to delve deep into Indian culture, history, traditions, geography, and even idiom, as much of its food is closely tied to these aspects of the country. Chef Paul does a good job of explaining it all, after all he has plenty of culinary experience and is married to an Indian woman so they both know their Indian gastronomy. Just in case, so you don’t forget anything, you get all of the different terminology and explanations on paper (remember the language barrier). This includes the different ingredients and techniques used during the cooking class as well as the recipes for the dishes you will be preparing. If you like to ask questions like I do, for example about substitute ingredients, then it would be a good idea to bring a notepad, after all, many of the ingredients used are sometimes difficult to find as Chef Paul brings many directly from India. If by now you are still wondering what such a long name with so many letter o’s actually means, then here is your answer… the word Ooloonthoo is in fact a Tamil word for the lentil from which pappadums are made. This is a cracker-like bread served as an appetizer, very popular in many Indian restaurants.

PAPPADUMSare served
But back to the class… quite frankly I could not have chosen a more complex and varied cooking class to get my feet wet in the world of cookery, after all this would be my first introduction to cooking of any kind and considering I hadn’t tried Indian food from a real restaurant before I felt a little intimidated. However, I had ventured into preparing some of my own Indian food via allrecipes.com, but then again a real chef would probably throw his knives at me for bragging about that. I also had heard from some close friends of mine that the chef was kinda “loco”, which in Spanish doesn’t necessarily mean crazy, it could also be a Honduran expression for “someone who is really passionate about something”, which may have helped create the idea in my mind that he was some type of Gordon Ramsey. I was expecting an “F… You, you wanker”, when I was told to slice up a bunch of onions and I began cutting them in an extremely slow pace, only to finish with tears running down my cheeks from all the onion fumes. I guess just then, I was looking more like Chef Linguini from Ratatouille than the actual rat.  

Anyhow, the entire class may have lasted a little bit more than four hours, at which point Chef Paul had turned out to be more of a Jamie Oliver than a Gordon Ramsey, indeed very passionate about his food, professional, yet friendly. It began with some really useful tips on the correct handling of kitchen utensils, knives, pots and pans, etc. as well as kitchen logistics for faster preparation and serving of food. Chef Paul’s well equipped kitchen has a good amount of room for a restaurant of his size with enough storage space, freezers, sinks and tabletops for proper food handling as well as a stove which was custom made specifically for him. This made in Honduras, eight burner, gas range appeared very sturdy and versatile and perfect for the wide variety of Indian dishes served during each meal.
a typicalINDIAN MEAL, colorful and delicious!
According to Chef Paul, variety is a hallmark of Indian food, where cold, hot, multiple colors, and the amount of heat, stand parallel to the dry spice mixtures known as masala. I did get to toast and grind my own version of spice masala to add to our dishes, although, like I said earlier, Chef Paul did most of the work. He soon took command in the preparation of an appetizing infusion of spicy, sweet and sour flavors, combined in a harmony of colored tints in accordance with an authentic Indian meal. 

INDIANhome economics class,apron and all
In the meantime, I decided to focus more on listening closely to his instruction. Every once in a while, his wife Sodon would come into the kitchen to provide some refreshments and chat a bit as Chef Paul continued cooking non-stop, barely even taking a break to smoke. Once my wife arrived the food was virtually finished so we moved on to the outdoor terrace / dining area and enjoyed one of Roatan’s awesome sunsets as well as the six course, delicious, meal “I” had helped prepare. Soon, a long conversation began as we savored this exotic but never seen before food for the first time, toasting to beer between guys and wine for the girls, with the Indo-Canadian couple asking all kinds of questions about Honduras and us asking everything about their native countries. At this time, I seized the opportunity to get a little more insight into Chef Paul’s Indian creations, such as Vindaloo which happens to be is his favorite dish, one which only takes about 24 hours to make. One of India’s most popular lamb dishes is a concoction known as Lamb Rogan Gosht and it also is one of the most popular dishes from Ooloonthoo’s menu, but when asked what food he really preferred making most, the internationally trained chef gave me a one of a kind response… ice cream.   
the gracious hostsCHEF PAUL & SODON JAMES

I have to say that both Chef Paul and wife Sodon excelled in being magnificent hosts, especially Sodon who was a great entertainer; she knew exactly how to enjoy her guests as she repeatedly poured more wine and served more beer, in other words, she kept us real happy and talking till late. To top it all off, at the end they even brought out what they consider to be, “their secret weapon”, a beautiful Rottweiler named Kayla which only comes out when they know their guests are doggie lovers, like us (we actually own two Chihuahuas), thus, we parted from the Ooloonthoo Indian Cuisine Restaurant having shared a great evening with good folks, good food, and really good vibes.