After regional selections in Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chennai, Cochin, Kolkata, Delhi and Ahmedabad and finally Goa, the grand finale of the annual Indian Chef awards organised by V M Salgaocar Institute of International Hospitality Education (VMSIIHE), Raia was held recently at the institute. The culinary event which had almost 860 entries was themed around forgotten recipes.
The participants were judged by celebrity chefs like Hemant Oberoi, Chef Urbano Do Rego, Chef Vineet Manocha, Chef Sunil Soni, Chef Clement D’Cruz and others based on several professional industry-set norms.
Speaking at a press interaction, celebrity chef Hemant Oberoi stated that being part of the event was special as he has always been propagating forgotten recipes. Having spent four decades of his professional life in the industry, Oberoi has curated meals for visiting dignitaries and celebrities such as the US Presidents Clinton and Obama, the Bachchans, Hollywood movie star Tom Cruise and others. He went on to lead and mentor the team at The Taj Hotels in his role as Grand Executive Chef of the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower and corporate chef for the Taj Luxury Hotels.
“In this age of millennials, people are forgetting their roots, be it with respect to cuisine or anything else and there is no written record of these old recipes. So when Xavier spoke to me about this platform, I told him it should be taken pan-India so as to bring out the best. In fact if we continue this exercise over the next three years we could maybe also have a booklet of these forgotten recipes,” says Oberoi.
Speaking about the history of some old dishes that he uncovered, Oberoi stated that he came across a recipe for a dish called Shunti which had been written in Tamil and Marathi probably in the 19th century.
“The dish originally belongs to Maharashtra. This traditional recipe is actually of a meatball tied down with a banana stem twisted and fried. On the wedding night, the husband and wife had to open this and whoever catches the meatball was said to be the winner for life,” explains Oberoi. This recipe was brought out and put in the Southern Spice restaurant in Chennai along with the history of it. Another dish that they also brought out was the original ghee roast. “This dish belonged to the British era where the chicken was roasted in pure ghee with the pan juices served as a sauce or gravy. What followed was a different story with the addition of masalas and spices etc,” he reveals. The railway mutton curry also has an interesting story. “When the English babus travelled by train before the partition, they would have a servant with them and ask them to get them some curry. This was served with thick bread slices. Since this was in the train, it came to be called railway mutton curry,” says Oberoi.
With so many interesting tales like these, it is important for young chefs today to research extensively and get to the roots of the dish, advises Oberoi. “Youngsters today go to Google straightaway and try to find recipes. If they don’t find it, they don’t try to go beyond. In our time, we used to personally travel to the interiors of a state to understand and know the dish,” says Oberoi, adding that having been invaded by different rulers over the years, each of them have left their influence on the cuisine, but people today don’t know much of this.
Oberoi is also critical of the trend of young food bloggers today. “Today people look at sites like zomato first and then go to a restaurant. This has positives in that it creates awareness but the negatives are that the people who are sharing their opinion may not have proper knowledge about the dish,” he says. “Today we have bloggers who are 20-21 years old writing about food. How can they know the dishes? People who have been in this line for over 15 years are still learning, and here you have these young writers who don’t know the ABCs of the food, writing about it.” However, he believes that ultimately it is the customer who decides and not the blogger.
Apart from giving young chefs a platform to display their culinary prowess, the Indian Chef Awards also wants to help out young people who can’t afford colleges or institutes by giving them scholarships. Next year, the event intends to get bigger and will go to 17 cities, with a special focus on cities with a rich history. Within three years, they aim to take it to a global platform with the participation of 167 countries with the aim of having the finale in Goa. The awards have been dedicated in memory of late Boris Rego, who lost his life in the 26/11 attacks in which Chef Oberoi was a survivor.
The award night to be held on October 27 will see the winner of the Chef of the Year receive a cash prize of `2,00,000/-; the Team Event winner will receive `1,00,000/- and the Individual Category winners will receive `50,000/- each.