Enchanted by the stories of spices, Chef Qureshi is passionate about classic Awadhi cuisine and has successfully been developing and managing new culinary initiatives at the hotels he has worked with. Prior to joining The Westin, Gurgaon, New Delhi and The Westin Sohna Resort and Spa, he was associated with Taj Lands End, Mumbai since April 2017.
The tradition of authentic cooking is passed on from generations, says Sadab. Taking us back to his earlier years, he shares, how he used to walk to the narrow lanes of Lucknow, to see the authentic cooking, with his father and grandfather, who were both chefs. The 34-year-old chef can boast of an enviable work experience at some of the leading hotel chains in India.
In conversation with Restaurant India, Chef Qureshi Sadab talks about the Awadhi cuisine, how he is curating dishes for The Westin, Gurgaon, and why it is imperative today to preserve our culinary history.
You are bringing Awadhi cuisine to this restaurant. Tell us about this particular cuisine and why this cuisine appeals to you most? Do you think there is less awareness regarding this cuisine in India?
Awadhi cuisine is my staple. I have been devouring it since childhood and growing up in Lucknow only ingrained it more into my soul. The rich flavours, the traditional style of cooking in a dum and age old secret recipes are some of the many things that appeals to me most about the cuisine. I don’t think awareness is the issue – but idea of having variations served in the name of Awadhi is not something, personally I would like to cultivate. This food has deep-rooted history and seeks commitment to traditions, which is highly evident in its use of ingredients and application of cooking techniques.
How do you decide the dishes in the menu? What changes you made to the menu when you joined Westin, Gurgaon?
Within a month of me joining The Westin Gurgaon, New Delhi – we conducted Shaam e Awadh–a fifteen day long Awadhi food festival which was a huge success. One big learning that we inferred from that event was that people love Awadhi food and want to try and go beyond the classic signature dishes. So over the next two months my team and I worked closely with our Executive chef – Chef Anurudh Khanna – and we devised an extensive menu inspired by the land of Nawabs. While non vegetarian dishes are plenty in Awadhi cuisine – we also have an equal number of vegetarian delicacies from the bygone era. We have a specially curated set menu as well as an ala carte menu for the convenience of guests.
Today when high end restaurants are trying to innovate with the dishes and its presentation. Do you think our country’s authentic recipes are getting lost?
Not really. It’s imperative that chefs spend considerable amount of time and effort towards innovation and presentation – after all – it’s important to delight the guests with unique offerings featuring a variation in ingredients or cooking style, every single time they dine with us. The cuisines of India are so rich that it can never get lost. I have served my food to people across all ages from different nationalities and a true food enthusiast is never disappointed. The way our authentic food balances flavors and textures – no cuisine can manage that. The idea is to stay true to our legacy and have the most authentic version served to our guests.
According to you, how important is it today to preserve our culinary history?
It is extremely important especially for a country like India. We are steeped in our diverse cultures and our food is an extremely important part of it. We should be proud as our food today is a major identity factor across the world. The thing about traditional cooking is that there are no shortcuts. Each dish is a masterpiece. I have seen it myself chefs taking shortcuts with ingredients and preparation, which make it impossible to stay true to traditional recipes even if they gain mainstream popularity.
India has a pool of cuisines. What are the cuisines you think chefs are largely ignoring today?
The culture and taste from rich diversity, native ethnicity, unique flavor of each region and different customs are best encapsulated by the Indian cuisine, which became enriched over thousands of years due to the intermingling of people belonging to different religions, languages and eating habits.While a lot of cuisines have been touched upon and relished by people across India, the cuisines however are limited to only a few star signature dishes. There is very limited variation in the menu. There are so many secret recipes that are being cooked in traditional homes until date simply waiting to be unlocked.
Tell us about ‘Royal Flavours of Awadh’. Any similar project you are currently into?
Unlike other food festival, which are usually for a limited period of time– The Royal Flavours of Awadh is here to stay within the realms of our all day dining- Seasonal tastes. With live music on the weekends, traditional décor and an extensive Awadhi menu, my team is gearing up to take diners to back in time of regal dining experience, which Nawabs used to have then.
All the dishes that I have grown up relishing and learning every day for a very long period of time are a part of the menu. We have ensured that not just spices but even the utensils like Biryani dums are handpicked and sourced all the way from Lucknow. Every small detail has been paid attention to, to ensure nothing but only the most authentic Awadhi flavours are plated to perfection.
The extensive set menu and a separate ala carte menu encompass a variety of decadent Awadhi delights like BhunaGoshtHussaini, GilawatKe Kebab, NalliNihari and more. There is also a plethora of options available for vegetarians like NimonaTikki, SubzLifafa, KhumbLazeezHandi, Subz-e-Gulfam, and LahsooniPalak, all paired perfectly with an assortment of Indian breads like Bah Khummach, Taftan and GilafiKulcha. The menus also feature a sumptuous array of shorbas, biryanis, tikkas and desserts from the land of Nawabs.