…and it’s a Guinness World Record!

The first step to accomplishing a task, is to believe that you can do it. This was the sentiment that me and the entire team followed, when we decided to take over this mammoth feat – of creating a Guinness World Record for the largest quantity of khichdi ever made and we did achieve it, that too with a huge margin!

World Food India – the country’s first ever and biggest global food event, a gateway to the Indian food economy and an opportunity to showcase, connect and collaborate with international businesses and investors – served as a fitting platform for an event of this magnitude. While the actual cooking of the khichdi started at the crack of dawn on 4th November 2017, the process and deliberation culminated in this mega event had been on for months! Several protocols, hygiene and safety standards and quality control measures and technological barriers have to be taken into consideration to accomplish this gigantic task. There was no flame involved and the entire cooking was done through steam generated by a 150 meter long pipeline, a good distance away from the podium. Hundreds of kilograms of high quality locally produced rice, dals, bajra, ragi, amaranth, fresh vegetables and pure desi ghee have gone into a 1000 litre capacity, 7 foot diameter kadhai to create 918 kgs of nourishing khichdi and a brand new Guinness World Record.

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The fact that Guru Purabwas on the same day, was a very happy coincidence too. A large part of the khichdi was distributed by The Akshaya Patra Foundation to deserving children in Delhi and the rest to Gurudwara langars across the city. It is events like this that make me believe – the joy of giving is more than the joy of receiving!

The grand success of this event was only possible with the effort and cooperation of several individuals and teams – The Government of India, Honorable Minister for Food Processing Industries in India, Ms Harsimrat Kaur Badal, The Akshaya Patra Foundation, the dedicated team at World Food India,my super talented team of chefs, led by Chef Akshay Nayyar and last but not the least – the team from Guinness World Record who have been cooperative and helpful in every way!

Other than the charity and world record, there has been plenty ofbuzz about ‘why khichdi?’ My reply is – why not? It is nutritious, healthy, tasty and is eaten pan India, albeit in different avatars! Moreover, we need to understand that the motto of making this khichdi was not just to create a world record, but also to create a buzz and demand for fabulous Indian ingredients in the International market. With all the statistics coming in post the event, I would like to believe we are on the right track. It makes me feel closer to achieving my dream of putting Indian food on the number one spot on the world map.

A dream which I can turn into a reality only and only with the continued love and support of friends, family, fans and my fellow countrymen!

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Top tomato substitutes

Tomatoes are an indispensible ingredient in many of our  recipes and are used generously, but with the prices of tomatoes in India reaching a staggering Rs 100/ kg and expected to remain so at least till mid-august, we could do with some substitutes for this favourite.

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Kaddu to the resucue

After years of snubbing kaddu at the dining table, the current prices of tomatoes are going to make you love them. At literally half the price and their slightly sweet taste and creamy texture, pumpkins make the best low cost substitute for tomatoes, especially in the puree form.

Just blend the pumpkins; maybe roast them before that for some more depth of flavor and a deeper colour. Add in a dash of vinegar to replicate the tartness of tomatoes. To deepen the hue (and nutrition) of your pseudo tomato puree add a roasted/raw red bell pepper, a piece of boiled beetroot, boiled carrots or all three to it. A hint of tomato ketchup can also give it that bright red colour, but will make it sweeter than regular fresh tomato puree. If you need to adjust the consistency of the puree bring it to a boil and let it reduce till it is perfect for your recipe. Keep tasting and adjusting the ratios depending upon what your recipe demands.

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Tamarind for tang

Besides adding body, tomatoes lend a delicious tartness to a variety of recipes, especially in Indian cuisine. Tamarind is one of the ingredients which come closest to replicating the fresh sweet-tanginess of tomatoes. Just add a hint of it to tamarind pulp or paste to recipes like dals, curries or stir fries instead of tomatoes. You can also buy a batch of fresh tamarind and dissolve a lemon sized ball in warm water and use the extract to give your recipes a delicious tomato-y taste with actually using them.

Tomato Puree

Yours truly – Yogurt

Yogurt also comes in handy when preparing Indian style curries which have a tomato base. It provides body to the curry and the right kind of tartness – so you won’t be missing tomatoes too much. Just make sure you whisk the yogurt really well and add it towards the end of the cooking process to reduce chances of it splitting. Yogurt works especially well in recipes like biryanis, or thick curries and masalas that require tomatoes.

You can always use a pack of store bought processed tomato paste or puree, but we think these natural substitutes are a better idea. They work out much cheaper, are healthier and also making the perfect no tomato, tomato puree recipe makes for a very exciting day in the kitchen.

Epic night at Khazana!

Things I love – Family, food, music and friends. So when my good ol’ buddy Chef Montu Saini, Executive Chef at the Rashtrapati Bhavan was in Canada on a personal invitation from Canada PM Justin Trudeau, I didn’t wait to invite him to my restaurant Khazana at Brampton. Montu took it to the next level by making it an exclusive dinner for the world’s top presidential chefs! #clubdeschefsdeschefs.

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The hallowed guest list:

  • Katie Brown – Executive Chef to the Prime Minister of Canada
  • Neil Dhawan – Chef to the Prime Minister of Canada
  • Cristeta Comerford – Chef to the President of USA
  • Mark Flanagan – Chef to Her Majesty, Queen of UK
  • Martin Kristoffersen – Chef to Her Majesty, Queen of Denmark
  • Taigo Lepik – Chef to the President of Republic of Estonia
  • Isto Tahvanainen – Chef to the President of Republic of Finland
  • Bernard Vaussion – Chef to the President of Republic of France
  • Maurice Alexis – Chef to the President of Gabon
  • Ulrich Kerz – Chef to the Chancellor of Germany
  • Ingimar Ingimarsson – Chef to the President of Iceland
  • Fabrizio Boca – Sous Chef, Chef to the President of Italy
  • Franck Panier – Chef to His Highness, Grand Duke of Luxemburg
  • Christian Garcia – Chef to His Highness, Prince Albert II of Monaco
  • Jose Roca – Chef to the Prime Minister of Spain
  • Magnus Ake Rehbäck – Chef to His Majesty, King of Sweden

 

Meanwhile the franchisees, my team at the restaurant swung into action. The excitement in the air was palpable.My brief: Once in a lifetime opportunity. Nothing but the best in everything, from food and service to hospitality within the stipulated timeframe! And they delivered! From Signature dishes like Pakhtooni Barra, Harripa Paneer, Trio Tikka, Afghani Malai Tikka, Bhatti ka Murgh, Boti Tikka for starters and mains like Country Chicken a.k.a Puran Singh da Tariwala Murgh, Nalli Rogan Josh, Makhanwala Paneer and 24 Karat Dal to the perfect breads, rice dishes and exquisite desserts!

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I am overwhelmed with pride, kudos to my team’s efficiency for the spectacular show. The wonderful feedback that I’ve been getting on a personal front takes me to cloud nine.

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Thank you and keep up the good work! Loads of appreciation.

As for my friend Montu, you make us all proud!

‘You have been awarded a Padma Shri’

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25th January, 7.02 a.m, I was still in bed and my phone was vibrating by my bed.  As a rule, I never keep my phone by my bed side, don’t know why I had kept it that day. Also, it is always on silent mode. Alyona was up and about as she was getting ready to go for her UK visa, she heard it and got me to pick it up. The caller identified himself as Mr Chauhan, Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs, he said ‘Badhai ho. Bharat sarkar ne aapko Padma Shri dene ka nirnay kiya hain.’ I thanked him and disconnected the call. Alyona asked, a trifle worried as only during emergencies does my phone ring at that hour. I reassured her that everything was fine and the call was to tell me that I had received the Padma Shri. Now the first thing that came to my mind was that, someone was playing a prank, after all one doesn’t expect government offices to start functioning so early in the morning! I then checked the number on truecaller and sure enough it showed up Mr Chauhan’s name with the right designation. But I needed more proof. I logged on to the Ministry of Home Affairs website and Mr Chauhan was featured there as Joint Secretary. As a last measure, I called him back. I told him I was calling to reconfirm the news. He laughed and said it is confirmed, it’s not a prank, you have been awarded a Padma Shri. Now I knew it was happening for real!

In the last 6-7 years, friends, well-wishers and people I know would ask me when I was winning the Padma Shri, honestly I didn’t have an answer to the when, because there have been very few instances of people in the culinary category being awarded, a matter that has come up at many forums I’ve attended. I have also spoken about this at many high end forums about the need of recognition for chefs. Year after year awards had been given for excellence in the field of arts and science and for me, cooking is definitely one of the greatest art and science. So I won’t say that the news came to me as a shock, somewhere deep down I was expecting it to happen sooner or later. Interestingly for the last few years, every 25th January, I would get many calls telling me that my name should’ve been on the list and that I should have got the Padma Shri.

This 25th January, my phone hasn’t stopped ringing for another reason. As my mother always said, you will get what you deserve. Patience pays!

5 fascinating facts about inflight food

They say a lot of things in life are mediocre and love shouldn’t be one of them. Being a chef and foodie I believe the word love can easily be replaced by food in this context. Food should never be mediocre – even when you are on a flight. Being on the panel for Singapore airlines for more than a decade I can assure you that serving food 30,000 feet above ground level is a different ball game all together. There are a number of challenges you need to prepare for to make sure every flyer has a great experience – and this struggle is something a lot of people are unaware about. So here are 5 first hand inside facts about the fascinating world of inflight food.

Taste test

Your taste buds are almost 30% less sensitive at that altitude than at ground level and that is the main reason why in-flight food doesn’t taste as good as regular restaurant food. To overcome this chefs have been known to taste food for an in-flight menu in pressurized cabins, similar to how it would be on a flight and rework the dishes till the desired taste is reached.

Process and protocol

Inflight food has way more processes and protocols than restaurant food. The production base, location, mass production facility, portion sizes, cooking techniques, storing and reheating temperatures, transportation, flight destination, kind and number of passengers and the types of meal options – are all factors that need to be considered. For an in-flight service, everything needs to be planned down to the T. Since all these processes are interlinked, one small glitch could blotch up the entire flying experience for the customer and you definitely don’t want that!

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Time lapse

There is always a big gap between when the food is made and ultimately reaches the passenger. So you need to think about the food being on flight for a couple of hours before being served to different passengers at different intervals. Menu planning involves carefully selecting ingredients and techniques that will remain delicious and look good even after going through all the processes and procedures.

Heated situation

Not much cooking actually happens inside an aircraft, mainly because you can’t reach that kind of temperature with an open flame inside an aircraft. Nothing that will change form, when reheated or needs extreme high temperatures to cook, will work. For example – Leafy greens like spinach won’t retain the bright green colour, prawns might get chewy and deep-fried food like potato chips etc. won’t be crisp like they are supposed to be.

Pilot plot

This one is probably the most fascinating fact – pilots on a flight are served different meals and aren’t allowed to share. This is done as a precaution to prevent food poisoning, allergy or sickness from the food. Even in the times of auto pilot mode, at no point in a flight you want both your pilots to be unwell.

The next time you are on a flight these thoughts will definitely cross your mind and make you look at airline food in a whole new light!

Lastly I must add that if you ever fly Singapore Airlines make sure you try the Ruchithali which is something new we have come up with for economy class flyers to experience the fabulousness of Indian food the way we do in India – even when they are 30,000 feet about ground!

Till I write again

Happy flying, happy cooking and happy eating!

Do the detox!

The festive season in India is in full swing and it’s really a hard time to stick to your fitness goals! Even if you do manage to get the will power to keep away from the delicious mithais and calorie laden snacks, you will always have relatives and friends cajoling you to eat at first and then literally stuffing them into your mouth! Balancing out all that junk you are going to eat is only possible if you inculcate a few healthy food habits that nourish your body and nullify the effects of all those evil goodies!

Here are 5 of the simplest detox solutions I indulge in and you should too!

Drink away!

Start your day with detox drinks and then you are free to eat what you want throughout the day! Burn fat, get glowing skin and shiny hair just by gulping a tumbler of infused waters like Strawberry Lemon Detox Water or nourishing beverages like a Wheatgrass Juice, Lauki Juice, Coconut Green Tea or a khatta-meetha Jaljeera. Nourish yourself inside out – one glass at a time.

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Oats are ‘Owesome’

Oats are not merely a breakfast staple anymore, you can very easily turn it into a fulfilling lunch and dinner! Rich in water soluble fibre it fills up the tummy and keeps it that way for a long time, urging you to eat again only once it is digested. Also, whenever looking for an instant energy boost, opt for oats! Homemade oats and dry fruit bars are your best bet during the festivals. You can add dry fruits, saffron and cardamom and other such desi ingredients to your oats bar and I promise you won’t be missing the mithais too much!

Yogurt will sort you out!   

When eating yogurt or curd, your body automatically is in a probiotic paradise – this healthy bacterium strengthens the digestive system as well as boosts the immune system protecting the body from various types of infections. Pretty useful to cure hangovers too! Make a smoothie out of it – add dry fruits, fresh fruits, spice powders, honey, veggies, oats and actually any ingredients you want or have a bowlful of it just like that and you will be sorted!

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Spice it up!

Spices don’t just help you counter all the mithais when it comes to taste it also counters the negative effect they have on your body! Spices like turmeric, cinnamon and ginger top the list of my detox favourites! You can make the most of the benefits from all three by drinking a cuppa of good old haldi wala doodh (or should we say turmeric latte at night before sleeping – add a bit of honey too! Cumin is another favourite – just boil it with some water and kadi shakkar/mishri and sip on it through the day – easy, peasy and delicious!

Be a fan of fruit!

Fresh fruits are by far the oldest and best way to nourish your body! On a detox diet chart pomegranates, berries and other deep coloured fruits are a favourite. A high anti-oxidant content is assured in all, most of these are also rich in fibre, vitamin c while being low in fat! Pineapples come a close second because of a component called ‘bromelain’, that improves the body’s immunity system. Check out this article on sanjeevkapoor.com to know how to glam up your fruit platter.

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These for me are some of the simple and most organic ways to detox, so you can enjoy your festivities to the max!

Happy cooking!!

Happy eating!!

Running for a cause

In today’s world success is a very subjective term, but I think if you are in a position to reach out to society and bring about a positive change in it – you are successful!I like to believe in a quote by Aesop that says ‘No act of kindness no matter how small is ever wasted’. I try doing my bit by supporting a few causes that are close to my heart – Forum For Autism being one of them.

I was introduced to the Forum For Autism little after its inception in 2001 and by 2004 I full-fledgedly pledged my support. During my decade long association with this parent support group for autistic children the one thing I realized is how unaware people are about this condition. There is a lot of insensitivity, where there needs to be plenty of love, care and patience. There is no doubt that living with autism can be complex and emotionally draining – for the child and more so for the parents. A support group of people who have dealt with or are dealing with the same condition helps make it much easier to go about. It is important to realize that autism is an absolute condition and does not have any guaranteed and miraculous cure. It is a psychiatric disorder that has different effects on different individuals, so much so that two people diagnosed in a similar capacity are likely to act very differently from each other. An early diagnosis and regular tests helps understand the pattern of the disorder and goes a long way in benefitting a child right through his/her life.

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Amongst the several workshops and activities the Forum For Autism engages in, the Standard Charted Mumbai Marathon is a must do for me! Running with these fabulous kids and raising funds for their betterment is something I look forward to keenly year after year. In the past 12 years our run has just got bigger and better – with family, coworkers, employees, friends and friends of friends joining in to support this noble cause!

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I am all geared up to do this run the following year too – Fundraising is on and so is the marathon prep! What cause are you running the marathon for this year? Let me know in the comment section below.

Also to know more about the forum for autism and to pledge support to this cause visit their website – http://forumforautism.org/

Till I write again