Corporate Master Chef (Indian Cuisine) at Hotel Leela Kempinski, Chef Farman Ali has established himself as a pioneer of fine Indian cuisine. He has been involved in the openings of the famous Indian restaurants - The Jamavar at Bengaluru and reopening of Jamavar in Mumbai, Delhi Ka Aangan at the Hyatt Regency Delhi, Darshan at Radisson SAS, Jumeira Beach Dubai, Indian Show Kitchen at Hyatt Regency Dubai and Indian Kitchen at Grand Hyatt Dubai.
Chef Farman Ali is a native of Old Delhi. His professional career started as a kitchen trainee in tandoor at the President Hotel in New Delhi. He then worked at The Oberoi Intercontinental for nine years, climbing up the hierarchy as senior chef de partie. He, later, joined Hyatt Regency and was the part of the opening team of Delhi ki Aangan.
Joining Delhi ka Aangan, gave him an opportunity to go overseas. He took up the role of Indian Chef at the Hyatt Regency Dubai for a period of five years.
In an interview with Restaurant India, Corporate Master Chef Farman Ali speaks why people prefer eating authentic dishes at hotel restaurants as compared to standalones.
50 Years in the Industry
I came back to India as Chef de Cuisine at the same restaurant which I had earlier opened for about two years before I moved to Le Meridian Abu Dhabi as Indian chef for four years. A very important point of my career has been joining The Leela Ventures of which I have been part for the past 17 years. I have been featured as the Star Chef for Lufthansa for the period between 2009 to 2011 and again between 2011-2013 where my menus were served to the First class and business-class passengers.
I am, presently, the Corporate Master Indian Chef for Leela Palaces and resorts and based out of The Leela Palace Bengaluru with an overall experience of 50 years in the Hotel Industry as Indian Chef.
People are on the Lookout for Traditional and Authentic Cuisines Now
All the transitions we see today are a result of the awareness brought about by social media and other important sources. The last decade has seen a lot of changes with a previous couple of years being the peak. As much as there has been an urge to try out new cuisines, new preparations, there has also been a steep rise in people looking out for traditional and authentic preparations from different regions. Awareness about the ill-effects of junk and ready-to-eat foods have seen a rise and people have become more health-conscious and look out for more healthier options in food, and believe to keep it simple.
Over the years there have been many of my preparations which have stood out well and have been made signatures of the particular place. At present some of my signature dishes at Jamavar are Gosht Chaamp Tajdar, Jheenga Sultani, Murgh Abeer, Paneer Tikka Badshahi and Palak Benazir amongst the appetizers and Nalli ka Salan, Gosht Nihari, Murgh Makhni, Murgh Alamgir, Gucchi mutter Masala and Paneer kadhai Masala amongst the main course.
Key Challenges at Restaurants
A major challenge faced often is to do with the specific requirements owing to health and religious conditions which refrain people from certain ingredients; these ingredients are probably the hero in a particular dish.
Another challenge is to ensure the right flavour and balance of that particular cuisine when you are not using the above-said ingredient.
As chefs, we evolve and learn new things every single day and often use our expertise to overcome such challenges in our day-to-day operations.
Keeping the Authentic Flavors Intact
Kokur De Pakore
Being part of the Industry for over 50 years now, I have good exposure. The key to ensuring authenticity is to be able to procure the right ingredients. Another factor is to train the team and make them understand the complete process - all the whys and hows - rather than just asking them to follow a recipe. Periodic refresher training and food festivals conducted often help us ensure authenticity.
Hotel vs. Standalone restaurants in India: The Consumption Pattern
Standalone restaurants have cropped up in huge numbers in all parts of the country and are creating new trends from time to time. There is a lot of innovation that can be seen in such places but in due course, the authenticity of cuisine often takes backstage. The true flavours and nature of dishes are often morphed up with fusion.
Restaurants in Hotels like Jamavar, the Indian Specialty restaurant at The Leela Palace, serve authentic dishes with all the ingredients sourced from the places where the dishes belong to. Having mentioned this, every place has its clientele. Guests who prefer authentic dishes would still prefer hotels than standalones.
Serving Kashmiri Food
In every region, the food habits are based on the culture, tradition, climatic condition and availability of the local produce. People in Kashmir use such ingredients that could provide heat to the body, due to the climatic conditions there. The use of meat in the diet is high considering a cold climate. Most of the dishes are slow-cooked and rich in nature. Use of yogurt, saffron and nuts make the dishes rich.
Lamb is the most predominant meat in use followed by chicken. Beef and pork are seldom consumed owing to religious and availability reasons. Spices of a nature that suits well to the climate include cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, fennel, saffron and dry ginger powder. Vegetables include kohlrabi, turnips, lotus root which grows abundantly in the Valley through all other vegetables can be sourced out.
Organising Authentic Food Fests Affect the Businesses
Periodic food festivals, organized by restaurants, help in many aspects. It breaks the monotony of having a similar menu for long periods of time. It is an occasion to showcase our skills and abilities along with the team of chefs whom we invite from our sister properties to create authentic menus from the region which we want to showcase. It is a great opportunity for us to train our teams with authentic preparations from a particular region which by itself is a motivation to our staff; this also helps in staff retention. In the process of organizing these festivals we also get to learn about new ingredients which we specifically get for the event. Most importantly we give our guests an opportunity to try authentic dishes from a particular region of our country.