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A delicious answer to every question



Time to catch up with the food habits of veteran quizmaster Derek O'Brien at New Delhi's Marriott WelcomHotel. Photo: K. Ramesh Babu.

SITTING AT Pan Asian restaurant in New Delhi's Marriott WelcomHotel, he looks quite tired. He is just back from his alma mater, St. Columba's School after conducting a well-attended session of quiz. He whispers to some member of his team headquartered at Kolkata perhaps to check on some facts - wild life, science, music, literature and what not; it's all encompassing. After all while dealing with seventh to twelfth standard children concerning everything under the sun one has to be absolutely on guard. Yet, he even qualitatively squares up to his reputation of being the world's busiest quiz host. The starters are here on the table but the master has other things on his mind.

Who could he be other than Derek O'Brien, one of India's well-known quizmasters? He is known to present tailor-made quiz contents to suit the given audience. He also invented the child's knowledge measuring tool which he calls as KQ, i.e. knowledge quotient. Details are available at www.kqscore.com. For satisfying his palate also he uses his capabilities to appreciate the various ethnic cuisines. Laying his hands on fresh salad, he reveals his special liking for Pune's Parsi food, particularly Dhansali mutton daal rice and Ahoori. As the main course rolls, Derek proves himself to be a light eater but likes helping himself to some dim sums.

Experienced chefs

Incidentally, at Pan Asian, there is a team of enthusiastic chefs from ITC Welcomgroup and from countries such as China, Thailand and Indonesia supported by experts from Mongolia and Malaysia. On offer for this meeting is delicately cooked fish and noodles in subtle sauces that we seldom see in the city, barbecued specialties from Mongolia, spicy multi-textured Thai dishes and the wonderful combinations of flavours that are a part of the Malaysian repertoire.

Relishing the chicken variety, Derek meanwhile takes a trip down memory lane and recalls his father, Neil, as his first ideal. But then Derek is fascinated with Siddharth Basu, Amitabh Bachhan, Harsha Bhogle, Shaan and Anu Kapoor too. As the chef, Vitaya Saw, helps us with the dishes, one learns that Derek tries to make knowledge interesting to help people grow intellectually at a faster pace. Let's, for example, consider the mind twister "ten horses have twenty four legs" (Hint: 20 fore-legs).

He takes pride in not forgetting his Bengali maachhi bhaat roots though he has of late developed a taste for Japanese sushi and steamed rice with steamed chicken.

Derek started his career with The Telegraph as a sports journalist and with Ogilvy & Mather as creative director. He polished his sophist acumen by organising events like Kolkata's inter-pooja contest, weekend quizzing in eastern States, writing about goings-on in Agartala, Shillong, Aizawl and Silchar. His later stints at Bata and Blue Ribbon Company and more recent series of quizzing sessions sponsored by Cadburys facilitated his flight to unchartered heights.

Book of Photographs

His famous "Book of Photographs" is an outcome of his ingenuity. He bought the photos of the legendary Mother Teresa from a street person in dire need of money and devoted the whole of himself in developing these into what later came to be known as the "Book of Photographs". It received kudos from all and sundry including the great apostle of love and sympathy for Kolkata's downtrodden herself. However, though for inexplicable reasons, it was during this period that he developed life-long dislike for lady's finger, rajma and Gujarati food.

Derek's quiz love took him to Oman, UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal. He is sure to host a big session in Pakistan this year. His forays into the corporate world have left indelible imprints with CNBC, Sony, NTPC and Maruti. Yet, his presentation in CRY adds a feather to his cap of philanthropic credentials.

As Passion Fruit Cheese Cake finds eager takers at the table, Derek, who has pioneered India's first multilingual quiz with the launch of a national online initiative, seems completely at ease with the sweet dish. He loves every bite of it but as acall of the profession poor Derek has to abhor nature's blessing - cold water; he keeps gargling day in and day out with warm water. But, if his favourite dish Bombay Duck is available his day is made. As indeed was the evening at Pan Asian with sumptuous food, soothing ambience, and a man who knows what it is to have an answer for every question.

S. ZAFAR MAHMOOD

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