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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!!

Six basic spice mixes – you may call them “garam masala”. . .Part 1 of my garam masala series.

 The above image shows the six garam masala spice mixes. From L to R top row we have the spice mixes for: seafood, vegetarian, poultry; from L to R [bottom row] for: red meat, nilgiri’s biryani mix, kebabs

How do you simplify a complex cuisine which has at least a billion different interpretations, all of them equally correct in their own way?

One way is to call it a ‘curry’ and just leave it at that!

But that is not the point and honestly does not do any justice to the millions of khansaamas, bawarchis, dastarkhwans, aka chefs, who have devoted their lives trying to tell the world that this is an intricate cuisine and not just ’a bit of this and a bit of that.’

So, let’s get down to one of the basics of any dish.

What is it? The type of pan used? Cast iron or copper, or is it the oil that should be used? Or the sort of bread that should accompany a dish?

No folks, none of these is the basics of a dish that I want to discuss [though hold your breath because in the following year I will be touching on some of these]!

But for now I want to direct my attention to spice mixes. This week I want to show you how to make, step-by-step, six spice mixes that we use in my kitchen at nilgiri’s.

Next week I’ll be using one of the spice mixes and over the next SIX weeks I’ll be be using all six spice mixes that I am explaining today. If you want to make the recipes in the coming weeks that use these spice mixes, get started and make all six now – since  they’re spices, they won’t ‘go off’, in fact, the more they’re left to ‘talk’ to each other in the jar, the more infused and enthused they’ll become! But  you must store your spice mixes in airtight glass jars that are kept away from direct heat, sunlight, or any moisture. If you get this right your spice mixes will be perfect for months.

Okay, so let’s start. You’ll need whole spices and six separate airtight glass jars and once you’ve got that, you’re sorted (of course, you can make one, or two, or all, or none of the spice mixes!). The choice is yours.

Follow my method of adding each spice as I have. Want to know why? I believe it is a good habit to add one ingredient at a time even if it is not being cooked as in this case.(When cooking it is important to add the biggest spice first followed by the next  in size and so on…. this gives the biggest spice a longer time to cook and bring out the volatile oils, you know what I mean!!!)

Anyway, the first garam masala mix that we’re setting up is for seafood.

I call this one, guess what? Seafood GM, not too romantic I know, but it does its job and is a sensible name.

Let’s begin.

SPICE MIX 1 ~ GARAM MASALA FOR SEAFOOD

Starting clockwise you have:  1 cinnamon stick, 1 teaspoon cardamom pods, 1 teaspoon cloves, 2 teaspoons black peppercorns, 3 dried red chillies and 2 teaspoons fennel seeds.

Add the cinnamon stick to your bowl

Then add the cardamom pods

The cloves

Then the black peppercorns

Then the dried red chillies

And finally, the fennel seeds

Here is your spice mix for seafood ready to be stored in its glass jar

Place spices in the glass jar

SPICE MIX 2 ~Vegetarian garam masala

As its name implies, this is great for flavouring vegetarian dishes, including dishes made out of paneer, or cottage cheese, or fresh cheese…I like to think of it as my “vegetarian garam masala”. You can call yours what you want but trust me, it’ll taste superb.


Starting clockwise we have:  2 teaspoons coriander seeds, 2 1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds, 2 bay leaves and 3 dried red chillies.


First of all add the coriander seeds to your bowl

Then add the cumin seeds

The bayleaves

And finally, add your dried red chillies


Now store all your whole spices in an airtight glass jar

And as I mentioned before, keep your spices away from direct heat, light and moisture

SPICE MIX 3 ~Poultry Garam Masala

Poultry garam masala is as follows: 1 cinnamon stick, 2 teaspoons cardamom pods, 1 1/2 teaspoons cloves, 3 star anise, 2 teaspoons fennel seeds and 2 teaspoons mace blade.

Add the cinnamon stick to your bowl

Then add the cardamom pods

And the cloves

The star anise

The fennel seeds

And finally, the mace

Your poultry garam masala is now ready for storing in its glass jar

Putting the poultry spices into the glass jar

Voila! All ready for storage.

SPICE MIX 4 ~ Garam masala for red meat

Starting clockwise: 2 cinnamon sticks, 1 teaspoon cardamom pods, 1 teaspoon cloves, 1/2 nutmeg and 2 teaspoons black peppercorns.

Take the cinnamon sticks and place in your bowl

Then the cardamoms

The cloves

The nutmeg

Yes, you’ll have to grate your nutmeg!

But don’t grate it all, about a 1/2 a nutmeg should do

Then add the peppercorns

And your red meat garam masala is ready for storing in your glass jar

The final product for red meat garam masala!

SPICE MIX 5 ~Biriyani mix (nilgiri’s garam masala)

From clockwise: 2 cinnamon sticks, 2 teaspoons cardamom pods, 4 black cardamom pods, 2 teaspoons cloves, 1 nutmeg, 3 spears mace, 4 bayleaves,  2 teaspoons black peppercorns, 2 teaspoons fennel seeds and 1 teaspoon saffron threads.

Take the two cinnamon sticks and place in your bowl

Then add the cardamom pods

Then add the black cardamom

Then add the cloves

Add the nutmeg

And the mace spears or blades

The bay leaves

The black peppercorns

The fennel seeds

And finally, the saffron threads

Place all spices  into the glass jar,except the saffron. Place the saffron in a separate container as this will be soaked in milk when we use it for our recipe for the biryani!!!

And your biryani garam masala is ready for storage

SPICE MIX 6 ~ Kebab Mix

Starting from clockwise:  2 cinnamon sticks, 12- 15 cardamom pods, 2 teaspoons cloves, 3 mace spears, 5 dried red chillies, 2 teaspoons coriander seeds, 2 bay leaves and 1 teaspoon saffron threads.

Add the cinnamon sticks to your bowl

Then add the cardamom pods

Then the cloves

Then add the mace spears or blades

And the dried red chillies

The coriander seeds

The bay leaves

And finally, the saffron threads

Here is your melange of kebab garam masala without the saffron. Place saffron in a separate container.

Storing your spices in the ubiquitous glass jar

Ready to be stored. A visual feast!

Phew!!! Once done we will use each one of the above spice mixes to create a dish starting with the seafood spice mix next week.
My plan is to create a southern style fish with coconut.
Until then. . .

Anah Daata Sukhi Bhava!!!

1.2 billion people, 5 regions, 32 states, 14 official languages, 100s of styles of cooking, and just one dish called CURRY!!!

How is it that this huge country called India, with such a long history and so many cultures, can end up being known for just one dish – “CURRY”?

How is it that this country, which exports besides so many other things the ‘brains’ for the rest of the world, has only one dish to offer to the world – “CURRY”?

How is it that a country with at least 32 states called Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Uttaranchal, Kerala, Karnataka, Punjab, Bengal, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Goa, Assam, Megahalaya, Rajasthan . . . and so many more, each with its different culture, different language, and more importantly, unique style of cooking ends up being mashed together and cooked in a pot like its invented cousin, with a few spices added, and it’s called simply, wrongly, only!  “CURRY”?

The answer is, to tell you the truth, “I don’t know.”

But what I do know is that it is time to clarify this. To put an end to this myth.

We must start somewhere. Let us acknowledge the land that gave us cricket, the civil service and ‘curry’.

Well, we’d love to keep the first and the second but, and with due respect to all my English friends, I don’t want the curry!!

And why is it that I don’t want the curry?

Here are my reasons:

1. It is a term that is derived from, and is a corruption of, the Tamil word kari meaning a pepper-flavoured ‘sauce’, or ‘gravy’.

2. Not all Indian dishes come  with a gravy, or a sauce, and they are not always cooked in the same way.

3. For example, some are slow cooked and then tempered, or given a tadka or a chonk or a baghar or a vagharne [all are different words for tempering] to preserve the dish and also to enhance the flavours, like phodni cha varan [slow-cooked lentils] from Maharashtra.

4. Some are fried [tali hui] like the tali hui machchi [fried fish] from Hyderabad and machchi Amritsari from the Punjab, of course.

fried prawns

5. Yet other dishes are bhunaoed and are sukha, like the slow-cooked bhuna gosht [slow-cooked, dry lamb or goat with crushed coriander seeds] from Bhopal and kandya cha jhunka [tossed green onions with mustard and curry leaves] from Maharahatra.

slow cooked gosht nahari

6. Some are steamed, like the idli [steamed rice cakes] from AP, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, or like the patra ni machchi [fish wrapped in banana leaves in  a green herb chatni] from Gujarat.

Steaming patra ni mach chi (fish wrapped in banana leaf)

7. And then we have those that are pan grilled, like the dosai [pancakes] from TN or the adai from Karnataka or the pesaruttu from AP.

pan grilled dosai

8. And let’s not forget the oven! Some dishes are oven cooked, like the tandoori chicken, ah, that’s a familiar one to you all, from the Punjab.

Oven cooked tandoori chicken

9. Some are baked as well, like the double ka meetha [bread and butter pudding laced with dried fruits and nuts] from Hyderabad.

10. Yet other dishes are cooked in their own juices like dum ka murgh [slow cooked chicken in its own juices].

There are so many more dishes and styles of cooking that exist in this vast land but we can’t sit here all day thinking of them and I’ve got to get a move on with what I want to do.

And so, what is it that I want?

Firstly, I would like every dish to be written in its own script, e.g. kozhi varuval [fried chicken] or yerra varuval [spiced and fried prawns] from TN, and etc.

Secondly, every dish that is written down should describe its unique style of cooking, e.g. paththar ka gosht [stone-cooked lamb with cassia and black peppercorns].

Third. Every dish that belongs to a certain area in India must be acknowledged where it comes from such as a Bengali-style macher jhol [fish cooked in mustard oil with five spices] and etc.

And lastly, whilst we’re acknowledging where the dish comes from, let’s also nod our heads to the creator of the dish, e.g. Imtiazi dal bukhara, should be known that it exists in honour of the great Imtiaz Qureshi who revived the art of dum cooking [where a a double-glazed pot is used to keep the dish piping hot].

And so, what will all this reverential head-nodding and acknowledgement achieve?

Lots!

First of all it will bring a sense of discipline amongst us chefs as we will follow a certain style of cooking when creating a dish e.g. for patra ni machchi we will steam the fish in a banana leaf that has been tempered to retain its colour!!

Secondly, it will give us a sense of  direction as we will have something to compare and contrast our dish with, so for example, we will know that a thakkali rasam should look and taste a certain way.

3. It will also bring out lots of creativity and twists on established traditions. For example, imagine cooking a lamb shank nahari using the dum style of cooking!!

How do we go about achieving this?

Well, primarily we need people who can talk knowledgeably about the different styles of cooking in India through the social media, through cooking classes, at food festivals, and etc.

Let’s call them the ‘Brand Ambassadors’. And here they are:

Satish Arora. This man is an absolute champion, and my hero, and would fit into this league of Brand Ambassador perfectly. Unfortunately, age may be against him today.

Arvind Sarawast. This is the man who was responsible for planting the seed in my mind some 25 years ago with his book Prashad. Unfortunately, again like Arora saab, age is probably against him.

Imtiaz Qureshi. This is the man who single-handedly revived an ancient art of cooking from the region of Awadh, and took the Bukhara Restaurant, at the Maurya Sheraton in New Delhi, to the top 50 in the world! A big Salaam to this master. In his prime, and with that impressive moustache, he would have been the one. It’s just a bit late in the day for this master who’s well into his seventh decade on this plant, but hopefully still going strong.

Atul Kochhar. This guy is probably the most awarded Indian Chef in the world with a few Michelin stars under his belt. I’m not sure if he would have the time to take up this role as he’s got restaurants springing up all over Europe!

A V Sriram. A highly-charged and innovative chef who won a Michelin star last year for his restaurant, Quilon, in London. I have known Sriram for nearly 23 years when we started the Karavalli in Bangalore. Though I’m no longer in touch with him I have kept a track of his progress and rise to stardom. Like Atul, Sriram may be too busy with his commitments to be able to devote time to being a Brand Ambassador!

So, where does that leave us?

Well, it brings me to the two British chefs who I consider ‘geniuses’ in their fields, namely Heston Blumenthal and Gary Rhodes.

Blumenthal is the man behind the Fat Duck Restaurant in England who’s a very intelligent and creative chef who has always strived for ‘perfection‘ and brought a TV series with that very title: In Search of Perfection. With a busy schedule and commitments around the world, I’m really not sure if Heston would be able to give us the time!

And secondly, Gary Rhodes. Now, here‘s a chef with an easy style of presentation and a very friendly face. This is my ‘man’. My Ambassador. His show Rhodes Across India was, and still is, one of the best ‘feel good’ TV shows that portrayed Indian food in its true form. The show was aired on Australian TV a few years back. I watch it every time it makes a reappearance. His style is unobtrusive so the focus is not the presenter but the food! He is my ideal Brand Ambassador, first and foremost for refuting the myth that Indian cuisine is “just a curry”!!

Gary Rhodes

And what role do Indian chefs play here in Sydney (where my restaurant is)?

Well, as passionate chefs who think Indian cuisine is the best bl..dy cuisine on planet earth we have a big part to play.

If he had the time, I would like to have Gary do a food promotion in my restaurant showcasing cuisines from the different parts of India. This promotion could be held, say, over a week with each day given to different dishes. Just imagine what an impact this would have on nilgiri’s chefs who could show off their particular cuisine with pride (my  chefs each specialise in the regional cuisine where they come from).

I am sure other chefs would do the same in their establishments. Indian diners would also be proud to have the food from their area showcased (just as much as a Scot is as proud of his cuisine as is, say, an Italian from Piedmont!).

To further educate people about our food, I’d like to see Indians living in different parts of the world (from Silicon Valley to Sans Souci) invite an Anglo Saxon family (at least once a month) over for a meal and cook dishes which bring back memories of their childhood, just like a French person or an Italian does who has a story to tell about his or her favourite dish!

This way people would learn about the intricacies and diversity of our cuisine. We could all become Marcel Prousts eating our own versions of those infamous madeleines but in place of that delicacy would be a gulab. . .

And you know what people will realise? That there is a link between all cuisines whether it be French or Italian or Chinese or Indian. Here is the  gosht nahari recipea classic dish from Hyderabad eaten along with a bread called sheermal. The dish is cooked using a 400-year-old technique called dum pukht. The French call it confit!!
Anah Daata Sukhi Bhava!!!

gosht nahari

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