In conversation with Chef De Cuisine, Westin Mumbai, Mohammad Danish.
Now in his mid-thirties, he says he started his journey as a chef as a teenager. Hailing from a small town in Lucknow, his first professional encounter with cooking was at a tiny Lucknowi restaurant in the bylanes of the city. “I learnt from the best,” he says, talking about his roots and how working in those hyperlocal pop ups helped shape him as a chef.
What amazed me was his humility and how he’s always payed homage to his humble beginnings with his work. Even after having worked for bigwigs of the hospitality like Fairmont, Taj and Marriott, he has his feet firmly planted in the ground, unlike many other chefs of his standing. Always jovial and chatty, he is adored by both peers and customers. One of his colleagues at a five-star he is now working with enumerated how Danish has become like family in the short period he’s been with the hotel. But that doesn’t take away from the rigorous hold he has over the kitchen. His signature Dal Makhni for instance, which he prides on, is scrupulously cooked for over 14 hours. After which, he himself tastes and approves it, every-single-day! Or the special ingredients that are flown in from Delhi, Kolkata, Kashmir, Rajasthan and many other parts of the country, just so that he can replicate the exact flavors he decided on.
“When work demands it, I often spent days and nights at the restaurant,” he claims casually. He solemnly agrees when asked if that hampers his personal life. He goes on to explain how missing out on major life events of friends and family is an inevitable part of a chef’s life. “I once returned home and my niece and nephew bolted towards me calling out ‘uncle,’ ‘uncle!’, and I saw my son with them yelling ‘uncle’ too!” he laughs, recollecting an incident that he found both funny and scary. “But I’m glad I have an understanding wife,” he says, pointing out to the necessity of a support system in a lifestyle like his. He tells of instances where his wife graciously accommodated last minute cancellations of planned holidays, backing out of anticipated trips, staying out of weddings and funerals of close ones, just because of his work. “Having a father-in-law who also is a chef, helps in my case,” he jests.
However, that being said, he claims that he loves absolutely everything else about his profession- A statement that might seem menial and unimportant but defines Danish as a human, chef and professional. What I personally took back from my interaction with Danish was this very fact. That your path to your dream might not be always easy. You might have to give up on many little pleasures and comforts just to keep at your goal. But in the end, it almost always depends on how YOU choose to make the best of what you have to make place for yourself in the world, and to go get what you set out to.
That’s also what sets apart the finest from the rest. What makes a five star chef, different from a regular chef. And probably the distance between you and the best version of what you want to be.