Goan food is red, hot, with a dash of sweet and sour from the vinegar and coconut. Though fiery, nonetheless it is comforting,” says chef Edia Cotta, who is spearheading Alila Diwa Goa’s signature Goan restaurant Alila’s Spice Sudio. Her unique homestyle cooking, along with an experience of over 35 years, helps her create dishes that are flavourful and fingerlicking.
Cotta, who sought inspiration from her mother and aunt, took up cooking as an enthusiastic eighth grader and continues to cook with equal enthusiasm even now when she is a grandmother.
Married at 18, Cotta started taking catering orders from home.
Her introduction to the hospitality industry came when Nanu Group of Hotels sent her to participate in a food festival in Mangalore. She was overwhelmed by the response she received which motivated her to participate in other food festivals across India where her Goan preparations were always appreciated. She later launched Goan restaurant Cortas while working at Intercontinental Hotel Goa.
While cooking for her guests, Cotta also takes them on a culinary journey and shares interesting tales about Goan culture which makes the patrons fall in love with the local Goan cuisine.
When asked if cooking is a natural talent or can be acquired, she exclaims, “Anyone with the right passion for cooking and dedication can become a great chef!” And if you ask this great chef about her favourite dishes and she instantly says, “Prawns Balchao and Goan Fish Curry.” Here, she tells us more about her passion:
What makes Goan food different from other cuisines and what makes it so popular?
Goan cuisine is a mix of East meets West. Goa was essentially a Hindu region that was taken over by the Portuguese and later it was re-occupied by Indians. Therefore, the Goan cuisine is greatly influenced by the Portuguese and Hindus, simultaneously. If you visit the local homes in Goa, you will see the locals cooking in clay pots on firewood. Though modern conveniences are available, this traditional cooking style is preferred as it adds a unique smoky flavour to the food.
For you it is not just about cooking authentic Goan food, but you are extremely passionate about sharing your knowledge and making the cuisine globally popular. Can you tell us more about it?
It is a truly wonderful feeling to see the satisfaction and smiles of guests when they eat the food cooked by me. Some of them tell me how they have come from a faraway place just to eat the dishes prepared by me. I am happy to be able to share my love and knowledge of Goan cuisine worldwide. When guests of different nationalities visit us and want to be a part of the Alila Masterclass, I share with them my knowledge and secrets of Goan food and recipes. That said, I feel sad to see young talent with great passion and dedication to learn the art of Goan cooking and then soon moving on for better prospects and to specialise in other cuisines.
You have learnt cooking from your mother and aunt. How was your learning different from others who undertake special courses from culinary schools?
My mother and aunt were my inspirations. They taught me to enjoy cooking and the joy and delight good food brings to people. I cook with my heart and soul, there is no right or wrong! I guess that is the difference.
Do you enjoy cooking with your grandchildren and does it further strengthen your bond with them?
As a grandmother of five children, it is always a fun moment. Their favourite dishes are Prawns Balchao, Beef and Pork Stew and my Rechado Masala. They are extremely fond of my cooking and more than cooking with me, they enjoy eating out of my hands.
What are the things you do to serve homestyle food at Spice Studio?
I ensure to use only locally sourced authentic ingredients and techniques to serve home style food at the restaurants here at Alila Diwa Goa.
As you have learnt cooking from your mother, any homemade cooking trick you would like to share?
When I prepare my Rechado Masala, I fry the onions, garlic and ginger together, and not the onions first.