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These home chefs are breaking starry new grounds

As courses of fragrant Moplah delicacies emerged from the kitchen at Masala Bay at the five-star Taj Land’s End hotel in Bandra, Mumbai, chef Abida Rasheed remained invisible. Riddhi Doshi reports.

india Updated: Mar 31, 2012 22:55 IST
Riddhi Doshi
Riddhi Doshi
Hindustan Times

As courses of fragrant Moplah delicacies emerged from the kitchen at Masala Bay at the five-star Taj Land’s End hotel in Bandra, Mumbai, chef Abida Rasheed remained invisible.

She was still tenderising meat in coconut milk and stuffing mushrooms into dumplings. When she emerged, it was to a loud applause.

The 50-year-old home chef from Kozhikode, Kerala, bowed to acknowledge praises for her traditional dishes.

“I have been cooking since I was 11,” says Rasheed, who cooks Moplah food at the Taj’s Gateway Hotel in Calicut, in her capacity as consultant chef. “These recipes have been passed down in my family for generations,” she says.

A large number of home chefs are finding themselves in demand in five-star hotels and among publishing houses across the country.

“After exploring different cuisines from around the world, the focus — among professional chefs and foodies — has shifted back home,” says Rita D’Souza, food editor for publishing house Popular Prakashan, which is publishing four regional cookbooks.

Home chefs such as Rasheed are filling the gap between world and traditional cuisines.

Another home chef Jacianta D’Souza, who works part-time at the Goa Marriott Resort & Spa, Panaji, was recently flown in to organise a Goan food festival at the five-star Renaissance Mumbai Convention Centre Hotel.

When Surjan Singh Jolly, first met D’Souza in 2006. He was then executive chef at the Goa Marriott Resort & Spa, Panaji, and she was the cook at his friend’s house. “When I tasted her food, I fell in love with it,” says Jolly. “Jacianta aunty was exactly what I had been looking for.”

Jolly offered her a job at the Marriott, cooking traditional Goan food, and she accepted. She now works there part-time, while continuing to cooking at Jolly’s friend’s house. A Class 3 dropout, D’Souza has been cooking since she was 15, using heirloom recipes handed down by her mother. Her earnings have helped the widow raise five children.

“I was always very good at remembering the recipes,” she says, speaking haltingly. “I love to feed people.”

Now, Jacianta is passing on her knowledge to her son, who wants to become a chef. “I hope he becomes a better cook than me,” she says.

At the five-star Sheraton Park Hotel & Towers, Chennai, home chef and retired corporate personal assistant Rathnam Subraya Danapati was roped in six months ago to cook traditional Tamilian food.

“Nobody knows traditional food as well as a home chef,” says Sheraton Park executive chef Pravin Anand. “They have been cooking the same dishes for years, have learnt the nuances, know the secret tricks.”

“Hotels have realised that their guests, particularly businessmen on the move and frequent travellers, are yearning for that personal, home touch in their food,” says food writer Antoine Lewis. “There are not many professional chefs who are trained to cook regional cuisines. Home chefs fill this vacuum.”Having a home chef in the kitchen also gives the hotel an exotic USP, adds food blogger and consultant Nikhil Merchant. For Stuti Duggal, 21, who attended the Moplah festival inauguration, Rasheed’s tamarind, coconut and tomato chutneys and mushroom dumplings were a treat. “Rasheed’s food was like nothing I have ever tasted before,” she said. “Fresh, tangy, earthy and sumptuous. I would love to see such food on hotel and restaurant menus.”

First Published: Mar 31, 2012 22:53 IST