Known as the Godfather of Goan cuisine, Chef Urbano Cruz do Rego who is presently a consultant for Goan cuisine to Taj Hotels, talks about his culinary journey and the obstacles he had to overcome
Maria Fernandes |NT
A resident of Divar, Chef Urbano Cruz do Rego moved to Mumbai at a very early age with hopes of becoming a professional footballer. An injury to his eardrum during a practice session however brought an end to this dream. “I was crazy about football and hoped to make it big in this field but fate had other plans. My brother, who was always my mentor, consoled me and suggested I apply to The Taj which had just advertised for apprentices,” recalls Rego. And thus in 1970, he joined the Taj group as an apprentice and had to go through all the trials and tribulations that come with the position. “It was extremely tough, firstly because it was a field that was absolutely new to me and secondly it was long hours and tough work,” he says. From peeling and cleaning sacks of onions and prawns to facing the jibes and discouraging comments from some of his co-workers, he had to put up with more than he had expected. Citing an example, he speaks about the time in 1971 when the war between India and Pakistan was waging. “It was a time of great turmoil and with blackouts and curfews we had to work in difficult circumstances. I remember doing a night shift and cooking by candlelight,” he says. Tough times however, he says, only make one tougher. “It was a trying period but I learned so much. Focus is very important and I learned that no job, however small is ever insignificant,” he says.
His hard work, focus and dedication, were soon recognised and in 1976 he was transferred to Muscat, Oman. “In those times, Muscat was a desert and I literally cried when I landed. I kept asking myself, where had I landed? Not only was it so different from home, the conditions were such that we were just three in the kitchen and had to cook for the royalty and often for large numbers. We had military guards watching us, as we cooked.” This period too passed off quickly and so impressed was Qais bin Abdul Munim Zawabi, the deputy prime minister that he took Rego to Orlando, Florida to look after his guest house. “Adjustment, the will and courage to carry on and complete undertaken tasks, are essential if one wants to move ahead in life,” he says.
In 2008 however, Chef Rego’s life came to a standstill when his 23-year old son, Boris, lost his life in the terrorist attack on Taj, Mumbai. “It was a tragedy that my family and I have still to come to terms with,” he says while also thanking his Taj family for the love and support that has helped him to move forward.
Today, with close to 50 years with the Taj group of hotels where he is a consultant on Goan cuisine presently, Rego has served dignitaries like King Hussein of Jordan, Henry Kissinger, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, the Shah of Iran, George Bush senior, and of course an unending list of India’s jet set and politicians.
And he has some words of advice for everyone. “For excellence in any field, passion and dedication are required in great measure. Stay motivated, explore the possibilities and learn as much as you can,” he says.