How do you interpret your relationship with food?
It is a spouse-like, fun-filled relation. I see it is an extension of me and honestly, now it feels like over 20 years of marriage.
How did this relation come to be?
As a child, I was always intrigued by hand-made seviyan (vermicelli) that my grandmother used to make. Growing up in Lucknow, food becomes a part of your being. Coming from a Punjabi landowning family, I was expected to pursue engineering, medical or defence studies. Inspite of clearing the nda entrance exam, I found my calling in food while training under a popular local kebab vendor of Lucknow, Munir Ustad. Ustad gave me the duty of grinding masalas and packing them in potlis which were numbered. That’s how the journey began.
Who are your culinary inspirations?
In 2000, while collaborating with a German chef, I got introduced to (late) Chef Charlie Trotter. He took food seriously and never allowed commercialisation to dilute the quality of his food. All my other inspirations lie in the streets of Lucknow, which harbour many unsung heroes like Afsar bhai and Abu Bakr (famous for Idris ki Biryani) who have been making the same recipe over and over for 45 years. I cannot match their prowess.
But today, ‘coming from the streets’ has become a celebrity jargon…
Indeed it has! People use it to evoke emotions. I don’t need any added pretense. I can never be a traditional karigar or rakabdar. I am happy to be a celebrity and play the game. If I have an opportunity, I might as well take and utilise it to give these people their due credit and much-deserved recognition in whichever form possible. They are way ahead of me.
Which are the two values you keep coming back to as a chef?
I never let myself forget that in the end it is all about food. You can be as much of a celebrity as you want to, but good food is the ultimate hero. Second, most important thing is that food is a means of transferring emotions. The food you serve reflects your mental and emotional state. It should always be a medium to share happiness.