Recipes by home chefs enter premium dining

March 15, 2024

Crowd-sourced recipes and family favourite dishes continue to hold sway on menus at restaurants across the country

Among the wide repertoire of dishes I cook, there is a solitary chicken curry recipe that has truly reached far and wide. It’s an easy-to-make, potato-laden, bone-in, brown-hued gravy that veers off the usual wet masala route to only use a quartet of dry powders (cumin, coriander, chili and turmeric) in its preparation. I call it my international chicken curry. As I’m constantly making it on my travels outside the country for my non-Indian friends and hosts.

It is also one that proudly features on the menu of a tiny café nestled along the promenade fronting the confluence of the Mekong and Tonlé Sap rivers that flow through the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh. A chance conversation with the owner of the restaurant—the name of which I can’t for the life of me remember—resulted in a unique barter. One, where he happily comped off my food bill in exchange for me showing his chef how to make said chicken curry. I don’t even know if it carries my name as a prefix, like he promised he’d add.

Family connections

But Beryl’s prawn curry, a yummy celebration of its fresh crustacean, mango and kokum (Garcinia indica) as the main ingredients, along with Aunty Li’s serradura take prime position on the menu of one of Mumbai’s most celebrated Goan restaurants, O Pedro in BKC. The former being a recipe of Beryl Cardoz, mother of Floyd Cardoz, the late, great master chef and co-founder of the restaurant. The latter, a condensed milk-biscuit-orange caramel pudding, a recipe borrowed from aunty Vaishali Joshi, a friend of the restaurant, whose niece was a pastry cook at O Pedro during the opening days.

Scores of restaurants across the country have such ‘family jewels’. They are secret recipes no more as they proudly find firm footing on menus and food concept notes. Called Harnaam Kaur Da Dabba, the set meal at New Delhi’s Ikk Panjab restaurant in Rajouri Garden comes to the table in a heavy brass four-tiered tiffin can. Sourced directly from the culinary treasures of his late paternal grandmother Harnaam Kaur, the restaurant’s founder Rajan Sethi made sure to stay true to the flavours and nuances of the food that he remembers fondly.

The lunch box from the menu Harnaam Kaur Da Dabba at Ikk Panjab in Delhi.

The lunch box from the menu Harnaam Kaur Da Dabba at Ikk Panjab in Delhi.

“The dishes, including dal tadka, sarson ka saag, matthi cholle, pinni, panjeeri, gajar ka halwa and more, are a homage to her expertise and love for cooking. It’s a way for us to share her legacy with our guests, each bite a reminder of the rich traditions passed down through generations,” believes Sethi. “In fact, the words of my grandmother still echo in my ears. She used to say that nothing pleases God more than feeding one’s brethren.”

Spicing it up

Staying true to the village vibe that it has been propagating for over four decades, the twin resorts of the Taj Holiday Village and the Taj Fort Aguada Resort & Spa in Sinquerim, North Goa have an equally unique ‘masala programme’. To get the local flavour in their food which is so distinct from the rest of India due to the Portuguese influence, the hotel’s kitchens have been engaging with local village housewives for their expertise.

They do this by having the ladies come into the kitchens for a few days a week to freshly grind the wet masala pastes, like reichado and jeerem meerem, essential to the dishes that the chefs then go on to prepare. “Being the first five-star resort in Goa, we drew a lot of strength and knowledge from the local populace,” says Dibyendu Roy, executive chef of the property. “We believe that this amazing treasure of knowledge cannot be overlooked. Especially when one is standardising the recipes. Hence, the invitation to the village housewives who help us keep the traditions alive.”

Borrowed bites

“God has provided Kashmir with a bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables and we must make the best of the opportunity by cooking delicious recipes,” says Kashmir-based home chef Feroza Begum. She along with her daughter-in-law Nahida Majeed Bhatt have five recipes—including cheukh vangan, a sour tomato and brinjal stew and al hach, a sun-dried gourd and waer masala (Kashmiri wet masala) preparation—between them that feature on the menu of Mool: Kitchen & Bar, a new multi-regional Indian restaurant at Fort in Mumbai.

Joining the duo, are 12 other home chefs from around India who have contributed recipes–like Shubha Nair from Mallapuram, Kerala with her chatti choru fish and rice dish, Aakash Kumar from Jharkhand with his ahuna mutton and Asha Kedia from Rajasthan with her bajra khichdi, raab and gatte ki sabzi. An entire section of the menu is crowd-sourced. “When we decided to bring regional food all in one place and out of one kitchen, we realised that this was something no one has ever tried before. To make it even more interesting, we decided to collaborate with home chefs/cooks. We did this to source authentic recipes. We had researched and met families that have been cooking these recipes for two or three generations,” says Dipti Shetty, Mool’s co-owner.

However, she’s quick to bring to the fore a very interesting and important aspect of this multi collaboration. “To ensure that the home chefs were noticed and credited for their work of holding on to these recipes for all these years, we felt that we must give something back (not that they asked for it). As this can be our way of supporting families in smaller towns and rural areas. So, we decided that whenever someone orders from our home meal menu, that home chef will be credited a certain amount as royalty”.

All this, showing us that inspiration is a dish best served straight from the heart while paying homage and putting the spotlight on those often unseen.

Raul Dias is a Mumbai-based food and travel writer.

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