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Cuisine with class

To the Qureshi brothers, cooking comes as naturally as music to the koel. They have refined Awadhi cuisine, making it a fine art.

THE BLOODLINE is impeccable. Appearance nearly identical, suave with heavily jelled hair and tufts on chins `a la Dil Chahta Hai Amir Khan'. Talk with conviction about their art. That's the Qureshi brothers, Mohammed Ashfaque Qureshi and Mohammed Irfan Qureshi, in a nutshell.

Their father, Imtiaz Qureshi, needs no introduction to gourmets all over India. Hailing from a family of royal cooks, he brought forth the dum pukht cuisine from the confines of the narrow bylanes of Lucknow.

The Qureshis are in the city for an Awadhi fest at the Radisson GRT Hotel. It was Ashfaque who held forth that afternoon with his younger brother, Irfan chipping in every now and then. He started off explaining why Awadhi food is so much fussed over. Awadh had cordial ties with the Mughal emperors and later, with the British, for a long time. Art and architecture flourished in the peaceful environment and the nawabs promoted culinary art also by taking a personal interest in it. The result was a highly refined court food.

When you compare it with other cuisines, for example, Bihari food, which is simple and good, the difference is stark, pointed out the chef. Ironically, the representatives of a cuisine noted for its overwhelming richness are votaries of a lean cuisine. Even more ironic is that these die-hard non-vegetarians are working on a line of purely vegetarian kebabs for the Haldirams of Nagpur.

Personally I feel it is a misconception that Awadhi or any other food has to swim in oil. Dum pukht is steam cooking without extra oil or water, said Ashfaque. When a man avows passionately that food is something that goes beyond eating, a detailed background check is called for.

As little boys the siblings used to spend their summer vacation playing in and around the kitchen at the ITC's Maurya Sheraton where the big Q worked. Those were the most beautiful vacations we had, they smiled nostalgically. Being a big family the juniors had to pitch in often. Cooking came naturally to them as music to the koel. The call was so strong that all the five brothers are chefs, the eldest one even giving up medicine for it. One of the two sisters is married to a chef and the youngest, the only exception to the rule, is a fashion designer.

Early Indians were canny about food. Much attention went into classifying food into various types, suitable for consumption by different strata of society, and its preparation. Another interesting clue to the status chefs enjoyed in olden days is the term of address, maharaj. The king and the chef were the only two who were referred to by this title. Now this art form is left in the cold in our country, complained Ashfaque.

Later, savouring an Ulta tawa paratha and a few melt-in-the-mouth Galouti kebabs you can't help agreeing that it takes an artist to bring out such beauty. After the exquisite Kubani ka meetha or stewed apricots garnished with malai and topped with apricot nuts I too was convinced that pedigree matters.

MARIEN MATHEW

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