In 1988, just before I left the Taj Residency, Bangalore, to come to Australia, I had the ‘privilege’ of cooking for the boss of the Kingfisher Group in Bangalore.
This guy is the ‘liquor Baron of India and probably owns half the liquor industry in the world.
Well anyway, Vijay Mallaya was on his way up, fast.
His star was shining brightly, and in this stellar brightness he had gone on an acquisition spree picking up pharmaceutical companies, bio-tech companies, aviation companies and he was on the look out for more. . .
Now, I had done a number of functions for this man over the past five years, but this event was special.
There were some very important people from the Middle East, Iran, Iraq, the USSR, as it was known back then, who also had interests in petroleum, horses and all things automobile!!
Mr Mallaya wanted to impress his guests and had asked for a unique menu, the kind that would make a sheikh “shake”.
So, the food being presented had to be none other than my favourite cuisine, Hyderabadi, of course!
We had paththar ka gosht, lukmi, followed by kachache gosht ki biryani, murgh zaafraani, dalcha, baghar-e-baingan, mirchi ka saalan and finally there was a dish called murgh kali mirch and much, much more besides.
Now, there are possibly 10 different ways of making murgh kali mirch and each state in the southern part of India makes its own version which has a different name depending on the region it’s made in.
For example, the Tamil Chettiars call it kozhi milagu chettinad, kozhi molavu varuval. . . but the Hyderabadis claim theirs to be the most authentic and superior to the rest.
Rahamatullah (remember him? I wrote about this chef in my blog Why add the damn-d nuts?), had come down to Bangalore, from Ooty, to learn how kitchens in the big hotels worked. He didn’t do this so that he could show-off on his CV, but being sent to watch an hotel kitchen in action was the corporate way of recognising his services to the company that he had served as a humble and honest servant for many years!
He was posted to all departments of the kitchen including the bakery, the butcher and the banquet kitchen with yours truly at the helm!!
For Mr Mallaya’s party, chefs from my banquet kitchen were assigned a dish each to cook and Rahamatullah was given the murgh kali mirch.
After almost 23 years, this dish is still one of the most amazing dishes I have learnt to cook. It is simple yet very technical as it uses pepper, the king of spices, in three different ways in the same recipe.
First it is used whole to create an infusion in the hot oil; second it’s crushed, or cracked; and third it’s as ground with garlic and curry leaves to add that extra ‘oomph’ to the dish!!
Anyway, at the outdoor event held at the Kingfisher House we do our job with army-like, but friendly!, efficiency, serving the guests and their partners.
Plenty of food and grog is being served. Conversation is continual.
Desserts are then served, followed by cognac and coffee.
It’s late and time for us to leave when I am summoned to the chambers of Mr Mallaya.
Never before in my five years of serving this man had I ever been into the ‘private chambers’, so why today, I ask myself as I leave the kitchens. Am I going to be. . .?
So, I knock at the large doors, enter and no sooner have I stepped into the room than I hear a voice, “Ajoy,” says the man, exhaling thick smoke from his Havana cigar so that at first his face is hard to see, “I believe you are leaving the Taj and going to Australia.” It’s more a statement than a question but I reply all the same, “Yes Sir, that is right. I finish here in a few weeks.”
“Well,” he says, rolling the thick cigar between his fingers, “If you ever change your mind, come and join me as a corporate chef for the Kingfisher group……”
And as he smiles at me and takes one more puff, I smile in return but say, “Thanks for the offer, Mr Mallaya, I am honoured but I am off down under.”
And he nodded his head slowly as I said this, watching me carefully.
So, from down under in Sydney, here is Rahamat’s murgh kali mirch recipe if you want to try it out for yourself.
It’s a straightforward recipe, just remember those three styles of peppercorns and rejoice in the versatility of the humble peppercorn!
Anah Daata Sukhi Bhava!!