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East meets west: Hrishikesh Desai's masterclass elevates the venison kofte to fine dining

24 January 2020 by

Hrishikesh Desai seamlessly blends the traditional spices of his Indian background with the classical techniques he learned as a Roux scholar. Michael Raffael finds out more

To identify Hrishikesh Desai's cooking as Asian fusion would be to misrepresent it. Subcontinent spices in the Michelin-starred Hrishi at Gilpin Hotel & Lake House, Windermere, Cumbria, act as his signature. They identify the personal touch he brings to each dish. Where New-Nordic chefs nail their colours to lactic fermentation skills and molecular chefs play chemistry tricks, Desai marks his territory with subtle notes of cumin, cardamom, coriander, tamarind and Malabar pepper.

The techniques underpinning his roast saddle of venison owe as much if not more to the classical training of this past Roux scholar. He bones, trims and pan-roasts the in meat textbook fashion. Accompaniments and plating skills echo lessons learned at the Institut Paul Bocuse near Lyon, France, where he once studied.

The kofte kebab, served alongside the saddle, packs just enough punch to stand out. Its spicing is restrained, but pleasant – a savoury bonbon surprise. It could even make an outstanding canapé. One element of a venison main course, it acts as a bridge between meat, accompaniments and sauce.


  • Filleting and trimming the venison saddle
  • Preparing the kofte mixture
  • Make the venison and sloe gin sauce base
  • Accompaniments mise en place
  • To order pan-roast the venison, fry the kofte balls, make the beetroot tatin, plating.


A 10kg saddle and chine of wild venison from red deer costs approximately £180 (from www.cartmelvalleygamesupplies.com. After the final trim chef Desai will obtain 24 à la carte or 48 tasting menu portions. The balance of lean trim from the chump and filet mignon from the whole loin will pass to the hotel's second restaurant, Gilpin Spice.

The two kitchens have separate budgets. Hrishi, the fine dining restaurant, operates its £70 three-course, à la carte and £95 tasting menu to a 67% GP. Gilpin Spice works to a 70% GP.

Wild venison

The season for hunting red deer varies in different parts of the UK. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, hunting is permitted from August to the end of April. In Scotland, the season is shorter, lasting from July to mid-February. Dry-ageing improves tenderness and flavour. Chef Desai specifies a minimum 35 days.


Venison butchery is similar to lamb's, although the red deer joints are larger. The saddle is a primal cut, equivalent to a ‘chine and end'. Lay the joint on its back with the ribs pointing upwards. Remove the two fillets and pencil fillets that run along the vertebrae (1). Reserve. Turn the joint over so that the eye muscle is towards you and, keeping the knife-point close to the vertebrae (2), free one eye muscle from the carcass and then the other.


Use a teaspoon to scrape any lean meat close to the backbone and ribs (3). Keep back for the kofte (see below).

Cut the meat and sinew between the ribcage bones (4) and keep back for sausages.

Venison ‘canon'

Lay one loin on the work surface with the cut surface facing towards you. Ease away the two strips of chain that run along the length of the saddle. Use your thumb and finger to loosen them before pulling them off (5).

Turn this eye muscle over so the silver-skin is towards you. Pare it away without slicing into the eye-muscle (6).


At this stage, you have a perfect tapering strip of lean meat. Cut off the chump end and the thinner end. The middle-cut is the remaining ‘canon' (7). Keep the two ends for the kofte. Shape the canon by paring it so it forms an even cylinder (8). Keep the lean trimmings for kofte.

Wrap the cylinder of lean meat in several layers of cling film so it keeps its shape and is easier to work with (9). Avoid wrapping it too tightly. The finished joint weighs about 600g.

Venison kofte

Makes 24 kofte balls

  • 500g lean venison (eye-muscle trim and meat scraped off the bone)
  • Sunflower oil
  • 1tbsp ginger and garlic paste
  • 200g finely diced onion
  • Pinch of ground cumin and ground coriander Garam masala to taste
  • Salt
  • Oil for frying

Note Chef Desai use five ingredients for his garam masala – cinnamon, cloves, dried bay leaf, green cardamom and Malabar black pepper.

Mince the venison by hand. Don't shortcut the process with a machine. Heat the oil in a sauteuse and fry the onion until soft (about two minutes). Then add the ginger and garlic paste, fry for a minute until fragrant, followed by the cumin and coriander. Sweat till softened and sweet without colouring. Stir in the garam masala.

Combine the cooled onion base and the chopped venison (10). Season. Form into balls weighing about 20g each (11). Reserve for service.


Roast venison saddle, kofte, beetroot tatin, truffled potato, butternut squash

Serves 1

  • 50g clarified butter or sunflower oil
  • Salt
  • 100g venison saddle in one piece
  • 1 x 20g (approx) kofte ball
  • 40ml venison and sloe gin sauce
  • 30g butternut squash purée
  • 2 lozenges each potato and sautéed butternut squash
  • 1 wafer pickled butternut squash
  • Cooked Savoy cabbage
  • 15g butter
  • 60g truffled potato purée

Divide the oil or clarified butter into two small frying pans. Season both the saddle and the kofte. Pan roast the saddle on all sides to give it a good caramelised surface but a mediumrare finish (12). Rest for five minutes before serving. Fry the kofte ball, leaving the inside rare. Glaze it with a tablespoon of sauce and keep hot (13).


Pipe a large ring of butternut squash onto the plate. Make a kebab with the kofte, a squash lozenge and pickled butternut squash. Carve the rested saddle into two. Arrange the two pieces of venison on top of the Savoy cabbage, add the kofte and the accompaniments (except for the purée) around the outside rim of the squash purée.


Add the butter to the rest of the sauce to add sheen and pour it in the middle of the ring.

Accompany the dish with a bowl of truffled purée.

vension, kofte, beetroot tatin
vension, kofte, beetroot tatin


Beetroot tatin

Bake large beetroot in a salt crust. Stamp out 35mm lozenges. Wrap puff paste around the beetroot, leaving one face exposed. To order, put a sheet of non-stick parchment on a small dish, lay balsamic-flavoured caramel on top and then lay the beetroot on the caramel (see images, right). Bake for 12 minutes at 180°C.

Truffled potato purée and potato confit

  • For the purée, add a dice of Perigord black truffle to a butter-rich mash.
  • For the confit, cook 35mm lozenges of King Edward potatoes in oil or duck fat with unpeeled cloves of garlic.

Savoy cabbage

  • Make a chiffonade of Savoy cabbage and add a brunoise of carrot. Cook to order.

Butternut squash

  • Make a butternut squash purée to a piping consistency.
  • Place 1mm-thick wafers of squash in a sweet and sour Chardonnay vinegar pickle.
  • Sauté 35ml lozenges of squash in oil or clarified butter to order.

Venison and sloe gin sauce

Chop the venison bones and brown them in a hot oven (220°C). Brown 1kg mirepoix (celery, carrot, onion, garlic and leek) separately. Put the bones and mirepoix in a large pan. Add 10 litres water. Boil and skim. Add 10 litres veal stock.

Separately, in a pan reduce three bottles of red wine, one bottle of port and one bottle of sloe gin to 750ml. Add to the pan with the roasted bones.

Simmer for seven hours and strain through a colander into a fresh pan. Reduce rapidly to approximately three litres. Pass through a chinois and then through double muslin. Season with a tiny pinch of salt and reserve.

Hrishikesh Desai

Hrishikesh Desai grew up in India in a vegetarian family. He never ate meat until he arrived in Lyon to study at the Institut Paul Bocuse. After the 10-hour flight he felt hungry. "The first thing I saw there was a leg of rabbit with a beautiful mushroom and parsley sauce."

Sampling and enjoying it turned out to be a life-changing experience as it introduced him to French gastronomy. He knew, in theory, that he would have to change his diet if he wanted to pursue his career as a chef. The practice involved more than a cultural shift.

hrishikesh desai
hrishikesh desai

However strong the impact of his French training, however ingrained the habits of working in British kitchens for more than 15 years, Desai still looks back to his childhood tastes when creating new dishes for Hrishi. "Memory gets my palate going. I think 80% of a recipe is about memory and only 20% is technique."

His venison kofte, he says, evolved from a vegetarian version his mother made. A street food Hyderabadi masala eaten with egg became the inspiration for a sauce accompanying lamb.

"My cooking is what I'd like to eat myself and I take a risk that the guest will enjoy it."

The key is to incorporate his taste memories as discreet elements or details within a dish. Just back from a trip from China, he has borrowed textures of an admired Kung Pao pork belly recipe. It isn't, he insists, a copy: "I had to work out if it will fit with what I know, what my chefs can do and, most of all, I have to work within the boundaries of who my guests are."

As a rider, he adds that he also had to be sure that inspectors from the guides who visit on a regular basis will be happy. Because his recollections are so strong, he takes extra care over sourcing spices for which he has a special affection. He has visited Keralan spice farms and tracked down their European suppliers.

"You can buy a jar of cardamoms for a couple of pounds in a supermarket, but I pay £8.50 for 250g." Even diners with untrained palates can tell that the coriander or cumin he uses have a freshness and bite that's different. "It may seem weird," he confesses, "but I think of flavour as being like a colour."

If it is there, it is there for a reason and should be noticed. The same logic applies to the way he plates many of his dishes. He recognises that arranging separate components could look precious, but he says that those eating should look at it as a whole and experience the taste in the same way.

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