EXCLUSIVE: Salman Khan loves haleem, can’t stop at one, says Master Chef Mujeebur Rehman
Much has been written and talked about Awadh and its cuisine. Often called a distributary of the great Mughal culinary river, constant R&D in the royal kitchens of Awadh led to the great tradition that Awadhi cuisine symbolise.
With Master Chef Mujeebur Rehman visiting Kolkata, where he would be orchestrating Daawat-e-Awadh, a 10-day Awadhi food festival at JW Kitchen of JW Marriott Kolkata, gastronomes of the city can look forward to a fabulous spread of Awadhi fare.
The soft spoken 43-year-old chef, who owns Afreen Foods, that runs four eateries – two in Lucknow, and one each in Dubai and Riyadh – supervises the kitchen for Salman Khan’s birthday bashes, rustling up delicacies for all the invitees. Besides Sallu Bhai, he has also cooked for Shilpa Shetty and Captain Amarinder Singh, the chief minister of Punjab.
Indulge hijacked Rehman on the sidelines of the festival, for a sneak peek into what’s Awadhi and what’s not.
What makes Awadhi biryani so special and different?
It’s different because it’s not a biryani in the first place. It’s a misnomer. It is actually Awadhi Pulao that is mistakenly called, or represented, as biryani. But it is essentially very different from the latter. First, unlike a typical biryani, the use of spices and ingredients is very limited in case of Awadhi pulao.
To make the pulao, milk is used and the rice is not congealed. Spices such as cardamom and saffron are well absorbed by the rice. In fact, though Awadhi or Hyderabadi cuisines originated from Mughal cuisine, they all imbibed and absorbed the local flavours, which lent them a distinct taste. You will be surprised to know how some of the dishes were invented.
Please tell our readers.
Since the nawabs of Awadh were fond of all kinds of foods, their royal kitchens became cradles of culinary experiments and gave birth to some of the finest dishes. For example, a nawab found the seekh kebabs to be too spicy and grainy. Hence the khansamas (Royal chefs) were asked to tone it down, which resulted in the softer, creamier and less spicy kakori kebabs. The royals also used to eat a lot of fish from the river, but could not withstand the odorous smell of it. Therefore, the fish were skinned and coated with sandalwood powder and kept overnight before being cooked. I am sure you have heard about Nawabi Khichdi? Can you guess what it’s made of?
Rice and daal and peas, just like we cook it?
No, they used to carve the almonds like rice and pistachios were used instead of daal, it was rich in colour and flavour. But that also led to early deaths, with none of the nawabs living more than 6-70 years (Laughs). They imitated the Persian cuisine a lot since that was the place from where their ancestors hailed.
Were you always interested in cooking and that, too, Awadhi food?
No, in fact, I am a science graduate with an MBA, and had never thought of doing anything even remotely connected with cooking. But I hail from a family that has been closely connected with the Lucknawi royalty for many generations. My forefathers used to often advise the royalty on the menu and things connected to food. Since childhood I heard stories of how the royal cuisine developed and that helped grow an interest in cooking, perhaps.
Your company, Afreen Foods, already runs four eateries in India and abroad, do you plan to expand further?
Oh yes, in fact, in some time we have plans to open an eatery in Bhopal and then in Mumbai.
Any plans for Kolkata?
Of course, we want to give the city of gourmets an authentic taste of Awadhi cuisine and plan to open an eatery here by next year.
You have rustled up Awadhi delicacies for Salman Khan many a time. What does he like most?
To be precise I have cooked for Salman Khan and his guests thrice, and every time it was his birthday, so, you can well imagine the number of guests we had to serve. Salman loves haleem and he can’t stop at one. Besides haleem his favourites are Awadhi pulao and tawa parantha.