Kennedy Center's India Festival puts on a Maximum display

Before the opening of the three-week Indian festival, the curator, designer and executive chef of Maximum India describe what can be seen and eaten at the Kennedy Center.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 24, 2011; 11:23 AM

The Kennedy Center might have dubbed next month's massive, three-week India celebration Incredible India or Wondrous India.

But would either begin to describe the blur of action, color, tastes and sounds of a nation with 1.17 billion people, 15 official languages and myriad beliefs, forms of dress and cuisine?

No, India might be incredible, but it is so much more, explains Alicia Adams, curator of the festival, which begins Tuesday. It's maximum. A place, she says, with "the maximum number of people, the maximum number of possibilities, the maximum heat you could ever tolerate."

"It is one country," adds Gilda Almeida, director of international programming, "but it is like 50 countries."

Adams, vice president of international programming, and Almeida would know. It took them eight pilgrimages to the nation's teeming cities and rural hilltop villages - each time crossing 7,800 miles to visit dancers' homes, festivals, artists' studios, restaurants - to uncover the India they would bring stateside.

You need only trek to the Kennedy Center to experience Maximum India, a festival that's a trip to the East at maximum speed. You'll be transported to a street market in bustling Mumbai, a silk shop in Chennai, an airy palace in Rajasthan - all with the Potomac River still in view.

Step inside and see an extended clan of superlative musicians whose performances are one-part performance art, one-part ancient tradition and, somehow, one-part "Hollywood Squares." And a gem exhibition that glitters with millions of dollars worth of diamonds, rubies and gold; a Parisian-reared dancer setting the dance world on fire with her knack for both the contemporary and old world; and marquee authors, hip DJs and famous actresses.

Or simply go to taste, as a high-profile Mumbai chef brings India's lesser-known cuisines to every restaurant in the Kennedy Center - a first for the arts center's annual cultural festivals.

With hundreds of events packed into a scant 21 days, you would need a tour guide to do it all. We've got the scoop on what to see, where to eat and what the festival's participants want you to know about their homeland - Maximum India.


"There's a life beyond tandoori chicken and lamb biryani," says Hemant Oberoi, the reserved executive chef of Mumbai's sumptuous Taj Mahal Palace and Tower, explaining his gastronomic mantra for the festival.

Oberoi, a career chef plucked last year to prepare a seven-course feast for the Obamas in Mumbai (he fondly recalls the conclusion - a sugarcane sorbet), will lead the festival's major culinary component, transforming the Kennedy Center's two eateries into full-fledged Indian restaurants.

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