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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!!

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?


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

Ever heard of the Paranthe wali Gali (the lane of breads) in Delhi?

In 1989, just before I took over as executive chef of The Gateway Hotel on Residency Road, Bangalore, my boss (well, let‘s rephrase that, I had so many bosses, not just the one, starting with the food and beverage manager, the general manager, the area general manager, the corporate chef west and last, but by no means least, the corporate chef north!) who was the vice-president of sales & marketing, who also happened to be a director of The Gateway Hotels, asked me to check out the possibility of having an Indian bread stall at the hotel on Sundays. What a great idea!! So off I went on a mission to find different kinds of breads in the nearby countryside.

at nilgiri's we always check our breads are lighter than air!

My first stop was at the Shanbagh Restaurant in Bangalore which had a reputation  for making the best pooris. They were crisp, puffed-up and so small that you could just keep on popping them into your mouth. Little explosions of perfection. . .

My next stop was a restaurant in the old city of Hyderabad near the Charminar, and this place made the best kulchas and bakarkhani served with nihari. After eating these flat and layered breads dipped in a meat stew that’s been slowly cooked overnight, it really feels as though one’s mission on this planet is complete as this is pure nirvana!

Another day I visited a restaurant in Ernakulam where the Moplahs make a bread called Kerala parantha stuffed with the most delicious vegetables and freshly cooked minced lamb or chicken.

It was at my final port of call, a place in Delhi called Paranthe wali Gali, that I learned the real meaning of making bread.

I had only heard of this place but never visited it although my family and I had lived in Delhi in the early 70s and I had even worked in hotels in New Delhi in the 80s. So here I was in Chandini Chowk in Delhi looking for the famous Paranthe wali Gali.

This place had about eight shops and each shop sold paranthas with a variety of fillings. One parantha shop even had a staggering 26 fillings!!! During my short stay in Delhi I must have dined in one of those shops at least six times! Why? Because it was here that you could feast on a mirchi parantha that tasted unlike any other; the bread was crisp on the outside and soft on the inside, it was never overcooked, it was never burnt –  and it always tasted the same, every single time I ate there.

at nilgiri's we also check our breads are translucent!

The paranthas came served with an assortment of accompaniments such as peas and potatoes, or potatoes and green peas with home-made paneer, a tamarind chutney, and maybe even a dal, and this was the best of the lot!!

So how did they manage to keep their paranthas so consistent?

Being a family-run tradition, and also for fear of losing their secret recipe to ‘spies’, this family had evolved a simple technique, namely only one person did each stage of the bread-making. So, the dough was kneaded by one person. Indeed, before the kneading process started, another person mixed the dough using the same quantities of wholemeal (stoneground) flour with added salt, oil and water. After the initial mixing, which was nothing more than just a few ‘gathering’ motions of the dough, the dough was then passed on to the next man in line whose job was to knead the dough until it was ready!! The dough was never over kneaded, nor, by G-d, under kneaded; it was kneaded until perfect, that is, when it comes off the palm easily.

At this stage the nearly-finished dough now reaches its final destination where it is kept covered with a moist cloth; it is never refrigerated and definitely never frozen!!

The dough is then rolled into equal-sized balls and filled with different kinds of fillings to make a mirchi (chilli) parantha or a mooli (grated and spiced white radish) parantha, a gobhi (cauliflower and spices) parantha, the ever-so popular aloo (mashed potato) parantha, and the list goes on and on.

The balls are then flattened and filled with all the different fillings and then they are rolled out into even-sized parantha. As I watched the chef roll the balls with such speed and ease, I also noticed that at no stage did he dust the surface with flour. This is important as dusting your surface with flour means that when you cook the parantha the raw flour simply burns when placed on the hot kadhai (skillet), as does the ghee which is used for frying the paranthas.

The consistency of the dough, which is the key to successful parantha making, is more important than the filling itself because the dough is the body that encases the filling. If the dough is too soft it tears when it’s being rolled, which really isn’t acceptable even if you are only paying a few cents for each parantha! Just as if the dough is too hard you won’t be able to roll it easily.

The paranthas were made more in pride in a long-lasting family tradition than in wanting to make money. As we all know anyway, if the product is good enough it will sell and then the money will follow, just as we know the opposite truth that if the product isn’t good . . . well, if this is the case you’re a goner, you’re history, and speaking of history but on a happier note, bear in mind that Paranthe wali Gali has been in Delhi since 1870!!

Now, even though I watched the bakers and tasted many of their wares I’m not saying that I have learnt the secret of making a soft dough that comes out the same day-in and day-out.

Nor that I have any insider information from the Prasad family who run the shops (I do hope they are still going strong); but in the years that have passed since that visit, I have come to the conclusion that bread-making is not just an art but a tradition, which means you need to pass on the ‘tradition’ of one batch of dough to the next by adding a ‘starter’ to each new batch of dough you make (this is also called a ‘culture’). A starter is nothing more than a small quantity of the dough kept aside from the previous batch that is added to the next batch of dough before being kneaded. It’s as simple as that!

It was interesting to see that at the Shanbagh Restaurant in Bangalore chefs used yet another technique to make the dough soft; they simply added milk instead of water to the flour and boy did it work!!

At nilgiri’s we use the whey that’s left over from our home-made paneer to make the dough soft (see my blog: “I’ve been cooking Indian food all my life; I don’t need to do a cooking class. . .”). Adding the whey works with plain flour (and needs no baking powder) which is used in making naanyou know what I mean, the pear-shaped bread from Tandoor that’s so popular all over the world!!

At home, when I don’t have any whey,  I use buttermilk along with the water to make the dough soft – a technique that works as the dough is ready as soon as the kneading is over; with buttermilk it also doesn’t need any further time to breathe, or rest, as is the case when only water is used.

There is nothing more pleasing to an Indian ear (be it man, woman or child) than hearing one’s mother say, “Betae roti tayaar hai!!!” And on that happy note of warm-smelling roti straight off the griddle pan, please try the following roti recipe , Paneer ki roti,  a flat bread filled with a spiced paneer.

Anah daata sukhi bhava!!!

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