Meet two young chefs from Kochi who are paving their own paths
A recent survey ranked the career of a chef amongst the five most stressful jobs in India. Caught in the rat race of professional growth, most individuals spend entire careers breathing the soot within someone else’s kitchen. We found two trailblazing youngsters who figured out unique ways to beat this strenuous career path and rediscover their passion for cooking.
After garnering in-depth knowledge from the industry chef Nirmal Kutty is experimenting with age-old recipes
People say don’t dwell on the past. Chef Nirmal Kutty, however, loves to do it and I find it a rather productive preoccupation considering the ‘tasteful’ outcome. His merely weeks-old new collaborative endeavour—which also includes three others namely Maria Thomas, Sruthy Ravindranathan, and David Joy—The 90’s Kitchen (which they wish to rename to 80’s - yesterdays & beyond) serves classic continental dishes including different kinds of bread, pastries, infused oils and cookies. “I grew up in the eighties when chefs like Julia Child and Anthony Bourdain were in their prime. Raised in Goa during the era, I now realise that food had more integrity and goodness in it back then,” says Nirmal, whose industry exposure extends from stints at The Oberoi Grand, Kolkata to Goa Marriott Resort.
My hands can’t resist moving towards a cane-sugar infused chocolate cookie made of premium Belgian chocolate from the basket. “We won’t make some fancy-looking dish and overcharge people. Instead, we’ll use authentic organic ingredients, even if they have to be sourced from elsewhere like smoked pepperoni from Germany and chorizos from Goa, to make quality products,” informs the chef. Reminiscent of a pizza, their naturally-fermented airy sourdough starter Sicilian bread roll is stuffed with three kinds of cheese, rosso sauce, and smoked sausage.
Without a brick and mortar outlet at the moment, the team initially plans to take orders for their products through the week and deliver fresh on weekends. Playing with some flavours, their cupcake menu features salted caramel and hazelnut, bacon cheesecake and chocolate with sea salt. Their no-flour suzy cake, rich in cocoa, surprises me by holding the same texture even after the passage of time from being out of the oven. “We’re also planning experiments like importing supreme steak cuts from New Delhi to mix it into a naadan achaar,” Nirmal smiles with confidence.
Meet Habeeb Rahman, one of the hardest working chefs in Kochi’s street food scene
Not many 22-year-olds within the hospitality industry work two jobs to make ends meet. But Habeeb Rahman is a rare exception. This Malappuram-based individual works at a heritage resort within Bolgatty Island and co-owns a two-month-old thattukada! So, what’s a typical day in the life of this Food Craft Institute alumnus like? “After wrapping up my training at Bolgatty Palace (from 6 am-2 pm), I head to my central kitchen/home to work on the dishes (between 2.30 pm - 6.30 pm) for our street cart, Uppum Mulakum. Then, everything’s a blur as our outlet stays open till the foodstuff runs out (which usually happens between 7 pm - 11 pm),” shares the chef, whose curb-side outlet is located on Panampilly Nagar Avenue near Supplyco.
Within his humble abode at the LIG Housing colony, Habeeb and his five-member squad prepare dishes which reflect their thattukada’s daily changing menu. “The only two constants on our rice menu are mandhi (a chicken-flavoured Yemeni delicacy) and neychor. Then we cycle through Bukhari (Afghanistan), Hyderabadi, Mexican, and Arabic rice variants amongst others,” the chef claims, adding that no item on their menu costs more than `100. Another unique facet about the fare at this eatery is that they provide unlimited servings of flavoured rice, gravy, and free black tea! After interacting with the chef, we stopped by Uppum Mulakum ourselves to find out more.
Despite the friendly and quick service, the ambience at the spot is what you would expect from a thattukada. Things can get a bit crowded, so the raised walkway and benches in the area double up as a dining space.There’s a constant smell of ghee-laden, aromatic rice and naadan kozhi curry wafting through the air. We quickly grab a plate and eagerly help ourselves to a bit of everything on the menu. Though their boiled kappa could have done with a sprinkling of salt, it pairs well with the piquant beef varattu and crispy beef dry fry. We recommend trying the majboos, gravy, and excellent chicken fry. By 10.30 pm, most of the rice has been consumed and Habeeb whips out the puttu kutti. As the old adage goes, there’s no rest for the wicked.