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It’s only been 15 years in the making. . .

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My restaurant, nilgiri’s, turns 15 on the 9th of July and it seems like only yesterday that we started this dream project.

Fifteen years is a long time in my industry, just like it is in cricket, another of my dream games!

Longevity in the kitchen, or on the pitch, is not a hallmark but a necessity. The longer you play, the better your credentials; just go and ask Don Bradman.

Well, running a restaurant is like playing cricket and just as in cricket there are lessons to learn.

These fifteen years have been a h-ll of a learning curve for me personally.

I had a dream, when I was younger, that I would run my own restaurant and here I am, to this day, living this dream!

But as in cricket there are some good ‘ups’ and some not so good ‘ups’. And yes, I mean “not so good ‘ups’” because there are no ‘downs’.

Success is not about what you have but how you deal with it.

They say cricket is the great leveller, a hundred today could be a first ‘ball duck’ tomorrow.

Well, running a restaurant is also a great leveller, a full house today could be a ‘duck’ tomorrow.

However, be that as it may, you must believe in yourself and back yourself and keep going, just like a good cricketer does; he keeps on going and going!! We have tried doing this for nearly two decades. You get caught out, you get stumped, you’re LBW but you keep batting for your team. Well, that’s what my team and I have been doing!

Nilgiri’s has been a memorable journey for us all, and to tell you the truth there have been a few regrets [these might appear in a blog one of these days], there aren’t many regrets, but overall, I would not change a thing!!

Every day brings something new. There is a cooking class to do, or a chef’s table to cook for. Then there is a cooking demonstration at a primary school, or at the restaurant. A new menu starts every month, or there is a birthday party to cater for, or there’s even a wedding reception to cook for. So, you get the picture, there’s never a dull moment. There’s always something happening!!

And last week was one such week that I will never forget.

happy faces at the function

We had the most amazing function at the restaurant.

No, it was not a birthday party, or a wedding reception, or a cocktail party to celebrate someone’s 21st. These are all amazing in their own way but this was different.

This was a charity dinner.

And it was a charity dinner for the game of cricket!!

Imagine that?! I get to give a charity dinner for cricket!

Basically, my son is going to Sri Lanka to play cricket against the local Sri Lankan clubs and schools and I am told it is going to be a ‘cracker’ of a tour.

Two teams of 12 players each, and some parents and coaches, will be on this island for about 12 days to give some up-and-coming cricketers from Sydney a chance to play on a different kind of turf [literally and metaphorically!].

The tour is self funded which means there are no sponsors and so all the players and parents must foot their own bill.

Some are comfortable with this idea, some parents are happy to fund it with a little stretch to their budget, and some just can’t stretch that far, no matter how keen. Well, there are three very talented kids who just can’t make it unless someone can dig deep into their pockets and sponsor them to go.

So, we had a highly difficult, but not an impossible, task to raise money to pay for these kids to go on this cricket tour.

We discussed it and thought that a charity dinner could possibly help in getting the kids over the line.

The target was to raise $14,000 to take care of the travel, accommodation and food for these kids.

So, I said that I’d host and cook for the dinner. We advertised at our restaurant, the cricket club did the same and we got 98 guests who paid $75 per person which immediately gave us $7350.

Wine supplied by Samuel Smith & Son

But we needed at least $6500 to make up the deficit.

And this is what I love about Australians, they are always supporting the needy and the underprivileged and Sydney did not let us down!!

Mitchel Starc speaking from England

We had Mitchel Starc speak to the gathering from England via satellite and at our end Josh Hazlewood (he’s an Australian fast bowler for those of you who might not know), Alysha Healy (she’s the wicket-keeper with the Australian Women’s cricket team) and Chandika (he’s a former Sri Lankan opening batsman),Lachlan O’Connor (former NSW U-17 captain) came in to do their bit, at no cost.

Jeff Bolt brought in the audio visual system and was also the DJ for the night, at no cost, and the wines were supplied by Samuel Smith & Son, the beer by Mumbai Pilsner, the soft drinks by Coca Cola and nilgiri’s provided the food and service, at no cost.

beer by Mumbai Pilsner

The menu included methi murgh, laal maas, kalonji baingan, and for starters we had our speciality cocktail dosai, followed by kozhi milagu varuval with roomali roti.

Chefs Reddy and Durga in action, cooking naans and kebabs !!

But there is more, in spite of the generous gifts from all the above. If you can believe it we are still short of funds, so we decide there must, of course, be a few items to auction on the night to raise the extra few thousands. I mean, who has ever gone to a charity dinner and not had an auction?

Jeff Bojt and Ash ‘live’ auction

So, more generous donations appeared in the form of: Mr Greg Chappell donating his training cap, Kashmiri shawls were given from Meenakshi, the NSW Blues donated a fully autographed cricket bat, Mark Waugh donated his training shirt, and one Mr Sachin Tendulkar donated an autographed bat!!

Well, when I saw the last item I just knew who was going to bid for this one!

(No, not me, my son of course! The poor chap put in all his savings to get it, and he did!!)

My son, Aniruddh, helping out on the night, ‘no charge’

But there is more, all the photography was given free and the photos on the night taken by my friend JS (John Slaytor) and to celebrate 15 years of ‘survival’ in a tough business nilgiri’s did not take a cent.

And what a night it was.

Alysha Healy having a good time!!

We raised $9000 from the auctions and then came the icing on the cake . . . my friend Dr Alok Sharma promised $2000 from the Rotary Club of Wagga Wagga!!

Unbelievable! We asked for $14000 and we ended up raising $19000. You Beauty!!

What more could we have asked for to celebrate our anniversary month, good food, good wine and some good cricket talk?!!

Akhil on the floor

And, as I look back on that night and the extraordinary generosity and goodwill of all involved, the words of a Scottish minister come to mind, “You will find, as you look back on your life, that the moments that stand out are the moments when you have done things for others.”

Anna Datha Sukhi Bhava!!

Can I have a keg of beer without a curry?

Yes!

Royal Mumbai beer on tap at nilgiri's served by Akhil!

You may have a beer anytime you choose.

Can I have a beer and a curry?

Of course, but let’s see where all these drinks take us. . .

Since I started my research on the kind of beverages that ‘go well’ with Indian food, I have to tell you that the results have been fascinating and also confirmed what I thought might have been the case.

Here is what I discovered.

Indians have been drinking alcohol before, during and after meals for G-d knows how long; even before man came to earth!

Legend has it that in the epic Ramayana, Sita promises the goddess Ganga that she will give her a thousand jars of wine if her exiled party are permitted to return home safely. Well, after they do so her husband Rama, with his own hands, feeds Ganga with maireya, a spiced wine!

In the Mahabharata, the longest epic in the world, Lord Krishna is seen enjoying a drink with Arjuna, and the Yaadavas are finally killed in a drunken brawl!!

Drinking scenes are also depicted in sculptures on the Saanchi stupas!!!

In these traditional stories and in images, all of the characters are drinking either a wine or a spirit made out of a fruit or a grain.

But where’s the keg of beer?

Well, fast forward a couple of centuries and the keg, or the beer, was introduced by the British in the 18th century to . . . well, we all know why they wanted the beer, and to be absolutely honest I just loved the fizzy drink as well!

During my working days at the Taj in Bangalore the beer was the best, sorry, the only incentive that I needed to perform my tasks well!

Kingfisher beer served with a smile by Lovedeep!

My general manager would give me special permission to have a bottle or two, or three!, to drink (with my chefs) at the end of the late and blo..dy tiring nights of functions!

I just loved it and so did my chefs!! Time passed and we all did what we had to do with the moving on of history, we spread our wings, we grew up, we went on to different things!!

I came to Australia with two ambitions in mind: the first was hoping to meet one Mr Don Bradman and the second was to have a beer called Fosters (but not with Mr Bradman, my ambitions were modest!).

Well, I did the second but I never got to meet the Don!

However, I’m not downcast as I know that one day I’ll catch up with this legend when I meet him up there, and we’ll have all the time in the world to chat. He was, and still is, my favourite cricketer!

Fosters beer was light and easy to drink and went very well with my style of Indian food, however after the second bottle was drunk I soon lost interest in the food and reached for more beer. Know the feeling?

This was mainly because the beer was filling me up with gas. Not a great combination.

It was not until 1996 that I got a taste of the beautiful elixir called “wine” and I caught onto it as a bee does to honey!!

This was not only a beautiful drink but it was also a perfect companion to my cooking; it actually brought life to the food and not the other way round!!

I have not looked back since!

Over the years, and after attending numerous classes on wine tasting, I have finally concluded that the best beverage to accompany Indian food, especially the regional kind of food that we cook at nilgiri’s in Sydney, is wine.

A good wine, whether it be a white like a Semillon or Chardonnay from the Hunter or a Shiraz, again from the Hunter or the Barossa Valley in South Australia, is an excellent accompaniment.

Iron Gate Chardonnay from the Hunter Valley

Other good wines with Indian food are the Pinots from the Mornington Peninsula!

As for the beer, a light beer like the Japanese Asahi, or even Kingfisher which comes from Victoria, are great to kick-start your Indian soirée, along with some nibbles, or even starters, followed by a good Shiraz to go with any red meat, especially goat.

My friend, Roger Lilliott, does a great sweet Shiraz from his vineyard in the Hunter called Iron Gate and actually recommends that you chill it before it is poured. Absolutely brilliant!

Iron Gate Shiraz

A good wine to accompany white meats and paneer is a Pinot from a vineyard called Nazaaray, owned by Paramdeep Ghumman who was a doctor in his previous life! This man makes some of the best Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris in the land.

A selection of Nazaaray wines from the Mornington Peninsula

Well, that’s the alcohol drunk, but what about our non-alcoholic friends?

How about the lassis?

”]This is a great drink and can be refreshing if made properly.

I mean, everyone knows how to make a lassi, it’s not rocket science, not till you go to the Punjab and realise that lassi making is, in fact, rocket science, it’s an art form! Here the yoghurt is set in an earthenware pot and is churned using a wooden stirrer called a ravi.

There are generally two different versions of lassi, one is sweet and the other is salted with a hint of spice!

Mango, spice and rosewater lassis

Mum would make a good sweet lassi on a hot day in New Delhi, when we lived there in the early 70s, however personally I do not like a sweet lassi with my food as it is like having a dessert with your meal. I prefer to have my desserts after the meal.

When they make lassis in the south of India the yoghurt is churned till the fat rises to the top and is then skimmed off leaving behind the mor, which is then tempered with spices and curry leaves. A similar drink in the north is called chaach or chaas, but up here it is not tempered.

And what of our spiced teas, known as masala chai?

Lovedeep serving masala chai

Most Indians prefer not to have tea with their food, mainly because it contains tannins which make hot food (both the temperature and the flavour) taste hotter and that is also the reason why a young red wine, which is high in tannins, is also not recommended for the very same reasons.

However, as with our sweet lassis, spiced teas are another great way to round off an Indian meal!!

And, finally what about the simplest drink of them all, served in a jug, or nowadays in bottles either fizzy or still?

Water!

Many people feel they need to drink copious amounts of water to ‘cool themselves off’ if they feel their meal is too spicy, and indeed, water is the perfect drink to go with an Indian meal.

However, be warned, it is not recommended to drink it during a meal as it tends to bring out the heat in the chillis and makes a hot dish taste hotter!

Water, the simplest liquid of them all, is by far the most popular beverage to have at the end of an Indian meal.

Well, as for me, I need to make up for all the lost years that I missed having fuqqa (as the Moghuls called it in Hindustaan way back in the 15th-17th centuries), so I will stick to the “poetry in a bottle”!!

white poetry in a bottle - Nazaaray Pinot Gris

Red poetry in a bottle - Nazaaray Pinot Noir

Anah daata sukhi bhava!!

As Summer is approaching, why not try one (or both!) of these refreshing lassi recipes? Meethi (sweet) lassi or masala lassi (a savoury/salty lassi).

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