So when Vasco Da Gama docked his ship on the port of Calicut the reason was search of new lands and the treasure of spices… and that led to a 150 year worth of colonization of India when the British, the French, the Spaniards and the Portugals all thrived in my motherland. We still see the European rule effect on the people of the country, the good and the bad. But that’s not my point….my point is this – if the spice trade back then brought us colonists, what in this modern era would bring the attention of the Michelin, The James Beard and The Bocuse D’ Or to India? When would their ship dock? When would a chef from India bear the national flag to walk the ramp in Lyon? When would an Indian chef be recognized for his accomplishments in Indian cuisine?…
From the Wazwans the Kashmiris hosted to the royal dinners held for the Emperors, Indian cuisine has a rich heritage, versatile cooking techniques and unique serving styles, sadly all undocumented. Just like Chefs like Paul Bocuse, Alain Ducasse took the French cuisine to it’s epitome some chefs in India defined the home cuisine in the utmost contemporary way. They foresaw the modern dining trend, introduced new cooking trends and flavors yet adhered to the traditional tastes and presentations.
A baby that I am in this ever growing world of gastronomy I have followed one such person since I began my journey, revered him as much as I looked up to Paul Bocuse, Ferran Adria or even Grant Achatz and this article is solely dedicated to him (and to those who have widely contributed to Indian cuisine on an international level) –
His career began as a chef’s apprentice at an early age of seven, many international icons and politicians including Queen Elizabeth have savored his dishes and what’s more, it was he who gave Chef Gordon Ramsay a taste of his own ‘yelling and cursing medicine’ when the latter was being instructed how to make the perfect biryani. Born over 70 years ago in Lucknow into family of royal chefs and gourmets for Imtiaz it was a foregone conclusion that he would eventually become a chef. His ancestors were noted chefs of the nawabs and have since then been known to create mouth watering unique preparations that specialized in the Awadh style of cooking and expanded into modern cuisine. Joining a reputed restaurant in Lucknow, Imtiaz soon became the best known chef in the city. The restaurant also developed an enviable reputation for catering at all the major feast and wedding in the city. Imtiaz remembers catering for a banquet of 1000 covers hosted by the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. Pandit Nehru, the chief guest, had insisted on congratulating the young chef himself.
Soon after this, ITC offered Imtiaz a contract, to head the operation of their Indian kitchens. Imtiaz was encouraged to research the forgotten cuisine of he nawab of Awadh. He spent years in perfecting the receipts, naming it Dum Pukht (steam/pressure cooking) after the technique of cooking. The cuisine was launched at a restaurant by the same name at the ITC Maurya Sheraton in 1989. Imtiaz has been responsible for popularizing the Awadh cuisine (specially Dum -Pukht preparations) through Welcomgroup Hotel Maurya Sheraton at New Delhi. It was he who induced the craze of Kebabs in America after making Bill and Hillary Clinton go gaga over his preparations; some of his unique dishes like that of Garlic Kheer have heaped accolades from former president Abdul Kalam and many others.
Over the period of time Indian cuisine evolved tremendously, with small bites, modern cooking techniques and ideas coming into picture. Some chefs remained stubborn through the changes but not Chef Quereshi. Qureshi’s legend, as everyone knows, grew with Dum Pukht. Beyond being gifted, what set him apart was that he was always ready to work in unusual ways. It is said of him, “There are so many chefs of that generation who say that this recipe can only be done like this, but not Imtiaz.”
With Chefs like these Indian cooking and cuisine itself has reached the Nouvelle platform and is growing different branches. A generation of chefs have been created and molded, inspired or even trained by chefs like Qureshi and have spread out all over the world plating dishes that give the lay diner an unforgettable dining experience. Thinking Darwin, Indian cuisine may see a chicken tikka that’s more like a sous-vide chicken with smoked tomato foam and dry fenugreek dust or a simple thing like raita may get deconstructed and reconstructed in your mouth through this younger generation contributing to the pages of Indian Gastronomique.
Below are chefs I have come across/ worked with/ working with or just know as industry mentors who have made huge contributions to the Indian world of Culinary and more so inspired me beyond anything to pursue and specialize in flavors of my mother land –
Floyd Cardoz- His restaurant Tabla played to the beats of flavors from his native land Goa blended with notes of his experience in the industry. Before Floyd the indian industry was more inclined towards Curry in Hurry fashion when he steppen in to create delish pre plated creations that set New Yorker’s mouth watering. His ceviche and chicken roulade and lamb sandwich are unforgettable! With all the JBF accolades and Food network recognition he has rightly received he now amazes diners in the North End Grill.
(an internship with him gave me priceless experience and inspiration. More so being my super senior from my bachelors college gives an unsaid boost to career)
Vikram Sunderam – Outstanding flavors and unique recipes with a religious fervor for the art of cooking is how I can sum him up. Don’t ever miss out on his Chicken Tikka Masala, a common indian dish prepared in a completely different way that would take you beyond cloud 9. Apart from that his chaats, candied orange infused duck seekh and apple jalebis would take you on a luxurious culinary voyage of India. What’s more his preparations are wonderfully paired with international wines and contemporary drinks that few Indian chefs can accomplish thereby giving the diner the wholesome experience.
(working with him in past and present has given a new perspective and inspiration to me)
Maneet Chauhan – Tandoori Skirt Steak and battling Morimoto with leek pani puri… is there a need to describe her? Guts, flair, charisma powered with culinary skills and passion she has already broken boundaries of Indian cooking traditions. A chef turned entrepreneur and celebrity she has taken America in her fist as she travels through different states amazing people with her skills. Her new book is a must read and an upcoming restaurant a must visit. Personally, I have one word for her – Awesome!
(working with her and her being a close friend/mentor has always been an undying boost for my career/ and life too)
Jehangir Mehta – Dynamic, passionate and unique chef Mehta speaks his creations in Graffiti and Mehtaphor. His daredevil attitude resonates confidence and skills when you see him on screen battling iron chefs or when he is teaching kids the art of culinary or when you take a bite of the foie gras on a raspberry crostini. If in NYC do not miss his restaurants Graffiti and Mehtaphor.
(Super senior and sharing both alma-maters he is one chef who I have followed since I set my foot in America)
Hemant Mathur – a michelin star chef whose amazing culinary preparations and down to earth simplistic attitude makes him a stand out chef in NYC. Of all things to be tasted before you die his jalebis and rabri, duck moilee, lamb chops are few of them.
( a fatherly figure for me in NYC whose mere presence has given me a sense of calm and built up hope and faith for my progress in the industry)
Vikas Khanna – with a michelin and all the celebrity accolades he dazzles gourmets in the beautiful restaurant Junoon.
(a fellow blogger and acquaintance, his diversified approach towards the Indian industry is a foundation for different ideas and persistence for me)
Suvir Saran – One of the first chefs to introduce the small bites service in America with his restaurant Devi (first Indian restaurant to ever get a michelin) his preparations are laced with subtle simplicity and great flavors as he presents them in his own farm- the american masala farm. He is also the Director of the Asian studies for The Culinary Institute of America, executive chef of devi and often judges culinary competitions on the Network.
(note :- this article is not written in order to demean any chef, any cuisine or trend. Nor does it intend to compare one to the other. It is solely to write about one of the many people I respect in the food and flavor world.)