Priya Bala, Editorial Advisor, PoshVine
The food preview for the media can seem like an occupational hazard. There’s the hardsell, the not-so-useful press kit and, occasionally, bragging restaurant critics for company. But this one at the ITC Gardenia’s Kebabs and Kurries was different and enriching . Thanks to the presence of Master Chef Imtiaz Qureshi. He was in town to unveil the new additions to the restaurant’s menu; these are signature dishes from the ITC’s Dum Pukht brand.
The 83-year-old veteran has been interviewed enough times to make anything you write about his life and work, utterly redundant. His journey from being a little-known caterer in Lucknow – before which he was a wrestler – to presiding deity of the Bukhara and Dum Pukht restaurants at ITC hotels, which take pride in their Indian cuisine, is well documented.
An interaction with him is a rich and rewarding experience and you emerge more appreciative of the fine tradition and legacy that is Indian cuisine. Chef Qureshi, superbly fit and agile for his age, dwelt on how the dum pukht style (slow cooking in sealed pots) from Awadh is more refined and elegant than the tandoori approach of the Punjab, which was born, he said, possibly during wartime when warriors needed to cook their meat quickly and without much adornment.
He spoke, too, of how culinary tradition prescribes the use of spices in ways that impart only their fragrance, not their heat, to food. Also, listening to Chef Qureshi speak, you cannot but marvel at the nuances of our cooking and the wisdom that underlies it.
The dum pukht classics he has brought to the ITC restaurants include a kakori kebab that is frequently copied, but rarely matched, koh e awadh, lamb shanks cooked in their own juices and marrow, and, of course, the Dum Pukht biryani that has few equals.
If Chef Qureshi is a traditionalist, insisting on a specific weight of chicken for the tandoori murgh and the correct way of lifting the `purdah’ off the biryani, he is also creative and innovative, always finding new ways to bewitch the gourmet diner. The maestro recalls with pleasure the time he cooked an entire vegetarian meal for a VIP group, using indigenous vegetables such as lauki, tender jack and lotus stem, turning them into pasandas and musallams.
What you learn from the wise Chef is that Indian cuisine is to be celebrated for its richness, its complexity, its hoary tradition and the pleasure it provides on the palate. It’s a lesson, too, for those of us who hanker for the foreign. Now, if only a South Indian maestro would arrive on the culinary scene to do the same for the great cuisines of the south!