The concept of a celebrity chef has been around for ages. Way back in the 60s, Madhur Jaffrey and Tarla Dalal were making waves with their award-winning cookbooks. A few decades later culinary maestros like Atul Kochhar and Gaggan Anand were bagging Michelin stars. Nowadays, no one bats an eyelid when a chef is spotted on a magazine cover or lands a major brand endorsement deal.
Which is why I found it interesting when Kochi Marriott turned the spotlight on their chef de partie squad, this festive season. Unlike some other properties, who promote their executive chefs at every instance they get, this time around Marriott decided to focus on four of their station chefs while ideating a special iftar menu. The concept, at its core, is not particularly fresh—street food found in Lucknow, Kolkata, Hyderabad, and Delhi, during the holy month of Ramzan. However, the contemporary manner in which it is executed compelled us to sample and figure out the four must-try dishes at this festival.
Afroj Alam | Lucknow
The iftar hub of Chowk Bazar may be 2,500 km away, but chef Afroj will ensure that you are never too far from Awadhi specials. “Gosht dum biryani is a highly aromatic and richly spiced speciality from the region. I will also try to bring the famous Potli masala blend to Kochi,” explains the 27-year-old, who’s currently working in Marriott’s Rennaissance Lucknow.
Virendra Kumar | Delhi
Last year at Kochi Marriott, Ramzan specials were almost completely Levantine and West Asian. “This time, the property is shifting its focus to regional street cuisine served during the month-long celebrations,” explains Virendra, urging me to sample his signature Gawalmandi Nihari, a Pakistani tender mutton dish that’s popular in Old Delhi when paired with Baida Roti.
Biplob Debnath | Kolkata
Having previously worked in the City Of Joy’s most popular biryani haunt, Arsalan in the Park Circus area, Biplob knows his Mughlai fare. “But, what I specialise in is traditional Bengali cuisine. And one favourite during iftar is, Kasundi Maach,” explains the 27-year-old chef, as I bite into the pan-fried fish slathered in tangy and pungent signature mustard sauce from the region.
Hemwati Nandan | Hyderabad
During Ramzan, the words Hyderabad and Haleem are usually uttered in the same breath, often followed by the sound of smacking lips. And while some extreme gourmands insist on travelling to Pista House at Charminar explicitly to eat this slow-cooked lush wheat and mutton creation, I feel that 32-year-old Hemwati’s version does justice to the world-famous dish. Fair warning, be prepared to endure into a delightful food coma immediately afterwards.