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India’s Top Chefs: The Qureshi Brothers

Qureshi Brothers

Qureshi Brothers

Bukhara is India’s most famous restaurant, launched by chef Imtiaz Qureshi almost 30 years ago. As a boy in Lucknow, famous for its Mughal culture and etiquette, Qureshi trained as a young boy under his uncle in one of the small kebabs and curry restaurants, found in crowded markets and by the roads. But soon he began to surpass his teacher and began earning a name for himself. His big break came when ITC hotels, one of India’s largest hotel chains with a tie-up with the Sheraton group, brought him to Delhi, India’s food capital and centre of power to open their most ambitious project yet, Bukhara. While Bukhara served, and continues to, food from the north-west frontier provinces, dry kebabs, whole shanks of lamb, tandoor-cooked broccoli and prawns, ITC , that endeavours to research into and revive the micro-cuisines of India and heritage ones, decided to come up with a restaurant specializing in Avadhi cuisine, from Lucknow, marking the synthesis of the Hindu and Muslim cultures and a cuisine favoured by the royal families.

That cuisine was “Dumpukht”, the name referring to a style of cooking where food is slow cooked, allowed to simmer in its juices to retain full flavor, simmered in an earthenware pot sealed with dough. Imtiaz Quereshi was at the forefront of the research into this cuisine and became the first master chef at Dumpukht, the ITC restaurant, that you will find in all its hotels even today. The cuisine is elegant and formal unlike the more informal Bukhara.

The Quereshi family is today spread over all five-star hotel kitchens of India (the country’s best restaurants are often within hotels). His son-in-law is master chef at Dumpukht in New Delhi, while Imtiaz himself looks after the hotel in Mumbai. But his two sons, Ashfaque and Irfan are marching to their own drummer. Educated and more formally trained in catering college, the brothers ironically trained in Continental cuisine and now incorporate its techniques and presentation in their cooking of traditional Avadhi food as well to give a more experimental edge to their creations. They have a restaurant in Abu Dhabi, UAE, called, Zaika, Al Murooj Rotana, Dubai-Winner of Whats On Award, Best Contemporary Indian Restaurant. They have restaurants in Mumbai and plan a contemporary-Indian restaurant in Bangalore soon.

I met them recently at Made in India, a restaurant at the Radisson MBD hotel in Noida, a New Delhi suburb, where they are conducting a food festival. The brothers are busy concocting dishes such as a crème brulee phirni or duck tikkas. Heritage, but with a little bit of twist, they tell me, and, they add, the food that they cook is also much lighter, the oil and spice levels toned down to appeal to a new generation of Indian diner. “Even our father, at this age, is not averse to experimenting,” they say, and even if something doesn’t turn out so well, he is determined to, at least, try something new, they add, explaining their own work in this light.

Once upon a time, when more members of the clan stayed closer (Ashfaque says he now lives between Delhi, Mumbai and Abu Dhabi, where the brothers have a restaurant), there would be Sunday lunches that used to double up as culinary competitions, or so the story goes. All the chefs would present their own creations and take feedback. “No one in our family took criticism to heart,” says Ashfaque when I ask him about fragile egos, though he admits that usually any chef, even if he is a master chef, is great at just one thing. “He can cook other things and an outsider will not be able to tell the difference, but another chef will know that that’s not where his talent lies,” adds Ashfaque. Is this another bit of mystification, I wonder, though I, like the Quereshi clan, too believe in that myth of “good hands” for cooking. In fact, the senior Quereshi once told me how chefs under him at the ITC would ask him to just touch their preparations to enhance flavours and ensure success!

The new generation of Quereshis, on the other hand, are much more matter-of-fact. (Among other places, they have a restaurant called Q’s Kitchen with the Future Group, so you get the drift.) Avadhi chefs have also been known for their obsession with secrets and secret masalas that they will not share with anyone but their own family, or thus go dark whisphers in the kitchens of India. But Ashfaque has been openly proclaiming his take on the perfect biryani. “What is the secret?,” he questions rhetorically. “Seventy per cent of your taste comes from the right ingredients. So the first step is to know the cut of the meats well. Twenty per cent comes from following the right technique and only 10 per cent from masalas. Masalas are not that important, you see,” he tells me.

The brothers run a consulting company called Grande Cuisines of India and their latest is going to be an ambitious restaurant in Bangalore to be called Raquabdar, “what you would call a maharaj, a level of chef who does not have to go to the market to hunt for ingredients but will make a dish out of anything available at home.” That’s a fairly international concept as well, with the best restaurants in the world often selling themselves on such creativity. At Raquabdar, the menu will be seasonal and change every day. Watch this space.

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2 Responses to “India’s Top Chefs: The Qureshi Brothers”

  1. Abinash singh says:

    An excellent jewel for ITC..Hats off to this clan