How To Become A Five Star Chef

In conversation with Chef De Cuisine, Westin Mumbai, Mohammad Danish.

He pierces chunks of marinated chicken with pointed skewers. His hands unwavering, even as he lowers the skewers into the scorching heat of the tandoor. Within a matter of seconds, he paces towards the other kitchen counter and shapes galouti kebabs with swift motions. Despite the buzz around him, Chef Danish appears at ease. Almost as if it were not a five star kitchen, but his home. But then again, with the amount of time he has spent inside kitchens like these, it very well might be one.

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.

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I Knew

When do you know it’s love?

I used to think I’d instantly recognize love in a crowd

I was wrong.

The first time I set my eyes on love, I got defensive.

I almost thought it was an intruder, only set on plundering the best bits of me.

I shut my windows and fortified my walls.

I held myself back. I told myself I had to “tread cautiously.”

But all love wanted, was to make me laugh and see me gleam.

Love wanted to stay awake late nights to talk politics and world peace.

I didn’t understand love.

I couldn’t comprehend why it would see the worst in me and still stay.

Love didn’t try to strip me naked of my emotions and pull the no-strings-attached move.

And I couldn’t, for the life of me understand why!

For the first time, love stayed after promising it would.

For the first time, love held me as I cried and listened to what I had to say instead of just ‘hearing.’

In all its Glory, love laid itself bare and exposed it’s vulnerability.

For the very first time, love looked at my scars and wasn’t intimidated by the past that lay behind them.

I thought the movies had it all figured out- how love ought to behave.

Turns out, love doesn’t confine within the squares of definition.

Love didn’t look like anything or anyone I thought it would resemble.

Now that I think of it, I certainly didn’t fall in love as they say;

I grew into it- one day at a time, until the day I knew we were meant to be.

Have Fun The Organic Way At This Eco-Farmhouse

Merely two hours away from the bustle of Mumbai is the perfect weekend getaway. Nestled amongst the mountain ranges of the western ghat, ‘Hideout Farm,’ is an organic farmhouse run by Hemant and Sangeeta Chhabra for over a decade now.

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Hemant and Sangeeta Chhabra

Complete with tribal style villas that are fueled by solar energy, sheltered by thatched roofs and adorned with rustic woven furniture, Hideout glamorizes simple organic living in every way.

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Individual rooms at Hideout
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Main Lounge Area

Hideout is located very close to Jawhar, a village that houses one of the few remaining tribal settlements in Maharashtra. The Chhabras have created a setup of eco-tourism wherein visitors get a chance of interacting with the locals and also live life their way during their stay in Hideout.

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What I personally loved about the place was that you are completely cut off from the outside world. You can trek around the hilly countryside, or chase hens and butterflies; pet cows or collect wild berries and flowers if you wish. You can choose to take a dip in a hidden lake or stargaze laying beside a bonfire. The possibilities are endless!

What surprised me was that even though I didn’t have access to the internet or television I still had so much to do at Hideout.

Pets all around
Visit to the organic pineapple farm farm
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Picking wild berries from the orchard
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But the highlight of my visit to the farmhouse was the food! Pure, delicious, organic food. A luxury that none of us have in the city. I for one am a hardcore meat eater and when I heard that Hideout serves only vegan food, I was taken aback.DSC_0191

But my disappointment only lasted till I had my first meal there. From piping hot aloo paranthas, to pulav and moroccan salad to chocolate and jaggery laddoos, I didn’t miss meat at all. In fact, the meals made me feel lighter and more active during the course of the day while I was there. The Chabbras also indulged us by us by sharing the recipes for their infamous pickled veggies.

Preparation of organic food

Apart from all of this, I could also avail of the special Neuro-Massage Therapy by Hideout’s in house masseuse. The massage left me feeling energized and centered.

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Image used for representative purposes Source

At hideout, we were encouraged to practice meditation and be mindful of our environment by the hosts. And trust me when I say this, in a place where you can only hear birds chirping and trees swaying to the breeze, even sitting idle feels like meditation!

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I also had the chance to visit a local artist who made paper mache sculptures out of organic materials and witnessed the entire procedure that goes behind its making.

What’s more? The artist was kind enough to sell me a few pieces for a huge discount!

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Oh, and if you are a fan of organic products, the Chabbras have a stock of wild organic honey, lentils and jaggery that you can purchase from them.

The goodbyes were the hardest bit of my trip, because I really didn’t want to part with such a beautiful slice of heaven. Nonetheless, I was happy that I was returning home re-energized, mentally and physically with priceless memories and warm hugs from the Chhabras!

I’d definitely suggest everyone to visit this gem of a place at least once or more and be a part of the Hideout Experience! For more information you can check out http://hideout.co.in/

Womanhood in 2018

A few days back I had started a photo-series where women spoke about what it is to be a woman in today’s day and age. Is it inconvenient as many would say? Is it empowering? Is it tiring? Is it confusing? Well, womanhood cannot be boxed into any definition because the expressions of womanhood are infinite. Through this photo-series I aim to tap into those infinite expressions and discover how a woman in 2018 perceives the idea of being a woman and womanhood as a whole.

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Part II

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Nandana James, 21.

It’s a rather strange time to be a woman. While feminist discussions and assertions are abound, instances of sexism are just as rife. Seems like the wrath of patriarchy is going to linger around, but fortunately, people are willing these days to engage in pertinent discussions.

dsc_001511388637.jpgNandana is a journalism student.

 

Shubhita Chawla, 22.

I’ve come to the realization that being a woman comes with its own set of responsibilities- To help other women grow, to be a good human first, to have the strength to follow your dreams through to name a few. There are so many facets to our being. Mothers, sisters, wives, caregivers, goddess, we can choose to be one, or choose to be all of them. But our biggest responsibility is towards ourselves. To love our flaws and overlook our insecurities. To embrace our vulnerabilities and to flaunt our scars with pride.

 Shubhita is an aspiring media professional.

 

The perception of ‘womanhood’ in today’s day and age can be different to different women. In the upcoming blogs I will bring out more such descriptions about how the woman of 2018 perceives womanhood.

What It Means To Be A Woman

On the 8th of March we celebrated International Women’s Day, like we do every year. In college, me and all the other girls in my class were given a packet of chilli power with a message that said, “Spice up the eyes of all those words dare harass you.” Looking at that packet one couldn’t help but think that we live in a society where we actually might have to use this on someone one day or another. We live in a world where some women are still not allowed to venture outside without a male companion by their side. A world that sometimes looks down on you for taking certain decisions or living a certain way of you are a woman. But on other hand, we now live in a world where women are CEOs of muti-nationals and Vice Chancellors of countries. The same world that thought women were incompetent to drive (Read UAE), now thinks we deserve the right to drive if we choose to.

Being a woman in today’s world is a complicated affair. We are constantly processing threats and looking at infinite opportunities all at the same time. It’s not all great for us out in the world, but it’s not all that bad either.

So what exactly does it mean to be a woman in 2018?

I asked a few women and this is what they had to say.

And I’d like to present it to you in a three part photo-series.

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PART I

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Zoya Mateen, 22.

For me, womanhood is simply the art of becoming. It’s an inward journey rather than an outward one. I choose to give very little, or perhaps no importance to what someone might choose to identify me as. Sometimes a Muslim, sometimes a woman, the daunting expectations that come when you combine the two. Add a dash of modernity and a spoonful of arbitrary judgements on what I wear what I eat say or think and I already feel like I’m going crazy!
So no. I refuse to listen to them. I refuse to let them choose for me. My battle is within me.

I’m proud of who I am. my gender, faith or thinking have very little role to play individually in making me feel like that. Womanhood for me is this act of faith in yourself. For whoever I am and whatever I can be. I have the strength to accept myself and in the process learn, learn and keep learning

dsc_0061228821267.jpg Zoya is an artist.

Prashasti Awasthi, 21.

Being a woman is a tiring job especially when you advocate feminism. One is always misunderstood.
Having said that I can’t trade being a woman with anything else. It is the most powerful and amazing feeling. We are endowed with the quality of a nurturer and an empath. I cherish it as much as I cherish my physical growth.
I feel fortunate to be chosen to be a woman.

dsc_0047714435329.jpg Prashasti is a war journalist in the making.

 

 

Well, one thing we can agree on is that ‘womanhood’ cannot be defined. It can be perhaps be perceived in different ways by different people. In the upcoming days I will be showcasing more such women sharing their perceptions on womanhood, and what it is to be a woman in 2018. Stay tuned!

 

Someone For Everyone

Why each of us needs friends.

Third grade can be a difficult phase. Especially for kids like me who found making friends to be a daunting task.

I grew up in a building full of old people, having to spend most of my time indoors reading books or watching the television. And being the only child of a working couple didn’t help either.

Moreover, I studied in a convent school where clans of Catholic kids who were friends since kindergarten refused to include ‘outsiders’ (like me) to be a part of their group. To top it all, I was an introvert.

Hey, I wasn’t shy alright! I attempted to mingle with my classmates and thrust myself into one clan or the other; but once I realized that none of the third graders I’d spoken to had read Alice in wonderland or the secret seven, I didn’t know how else to make conversation.

I couldn’t care less about what to wear for the annual Christmas party in school like the others did and I was always the last one in class to know of the latest piece of gossip.

I could never understand why everyone hated writing essays in the literature class and why most of my classmates preferred sitting on the last benches.

You’d think I was one of the toppers or the teachers’ pet, but I wasn’t one of those either. I was stuck somewhere in the middle trying to make sense of the world in my own pace.

Well, this continued through most of my school life and even though I’d managed to make friends, they weren’t really “Friends.”

As I grew older I wondered if this is how things would always be. Me trying to make superficial conversations with acquaintances, passing them off as friends. With no one to trust my secrets with, without being judged. With no one to talk about things that really mattered to me.

I had learnt to be my own source of happiness for so long that somewhere along the line I began to think that I didn’t really need friends.

Boy! I couldn’t have been more wrong about that. The right people were yet to find their way into my life. And one day I finally chanced upon them.

But they didn’t resemble anything I thought my friends would look like.

They didn’t like the books that I did. They liked to party. They loved to dress up (I hated to!). They believed in sharing emotions (which I thought was absurd back then). They were loud and obnoxious. And I thought they had a terrible sense in music. However, we came to befriend each other’s oddities and fall in love with our differences.

I didn’t know how much I needed them until I met them. And today, if I could go back in time and talk to my school girl self, this is what I’d say:

Dear Little Girl,

Someday, you will find people who would understand exactly what you’re trying to say. They will know what shade of blue you’re imagining while you speak of a blue ribbon. They will know how much you feel for the children affected by the war in Syria or how much you worry about climate change.

They will know your likes and dislikes.They will know that you’d never want to watch horror movies at night and that Salman Khan movies are a big no-no!

They will always be honest with you. They will tell you, you look like shit in the dress you’re wearing or that you’re looking great with the new haircut. They will argue with you and tell you you’re wrong when you are. But they will stand by you when they know you’re right and the whole world thinks you’re not.

They will pay attention to the details. They will notice and appreciate things about you, most people won’t. They will know that you’re hiding something from them without you having to say a word.

They will protect you from the glare of the world. They will know about your deepest darkest secrets and take them to their grave. They will know of your worst fears and help you overcome them. They will hold you when you cry and let you douse their shoulders with tears. They will listen patiently when you rant your heart out and lighten your burdens.

At the same time they will also help you stand on your own feet and make sure that you’re strong enough to curve the problems life throws at you. They will push you to do better and grow each day. They will point out your flaws and help you mend them.

One way to tell for sure if they’re there to stay, is their ability to prioritise you. Your friends will always be there for you when you need them, no questions asked.

You will have an active role to play in this relationship too. You will be expected to be vulnerably honest, I know that’s scary, but trust me, it’s also liberating. For the first time in life your happiness will depend on others, and happiness will come to you when you least expect it. You will learn to share: things, experiences, success and your failures. You will always have someone to talk to at the end of a hard day.

But remember, for each person who fits this description, there will be ten others who won’t. So sit tight till you find the right ones and be ready to make memories to last for a lifetime. For when they do arrive, you’ll know it in your heart.

Love,

Your 23 year old self.

Cover picture credit- Haranish Mehta.

Story Of An Overthinker In Love

What goes on in the mind of an over-thinker in love

I live my life inside my head. I often want to tell you everything that goes on in it, but can’t seem to find the right words. And even if I did, I won’t possibly know where to begin!

Sometimes I wonder if you’d even understand if I told you. I wonder what you’d think of me. Would you like me more? Would you hate me for it? Would you think of me as strange? See….now I’m overthinking! This is what happens most of the time. I want to tell you one thing, and my mind spirals into something else all-together.

I get distracted very easily. I like to look at the skies while walking. I would almost ALWAYS stop to admire a little puppy or a cat on the road. I would sometimes talk to the old beggar or the kid playing on the footpath. I would look at the vendors in the market and wonder what they do once they return home at night. Oh, and it’s a different ballgame altogether when I’m by the sea.

I like to take in as much of it as I can. The smell of fish, the feel of salt on my skin, the noise of waves crashing, the sticky breeze flowing through my hair, all of it stimulates my being. I can spend hours just being there, feeling it drip in, bit by bit.

But you know what? That’s me even otherwise. I’m hardly a passive bystander in life. I’m actively processing everything that’s going on around me. It might come as a surprise to you, considering how lost I look, but inside me- I’m alive with imagination.

That’s why I like to take my time while I’m outdoors. Actually wait, not just the outdoors. I hate to rush anything. Be it eating a meal, reading a book, talking to you or simply strolling in the park by myself. I like to take things slow. Relishing each and every moment. It’s as though my mind is constantly imprinting each and every detail, trying to make sense out of it all. Continuously weaving a story.

Amidst all this, I’m contemplating life. Sometimes death. In the middle of the night I have dark thoughts of losing people I love in some freak accident. It gets my heart thumping, I wake up all sweaty, trying to catch my breath. Other times, I imagine what would happen if I died. Would it matter to people at all? Would it make you cry for days? I wonder if I have had any impact on the lives of people I’ve met in my lifetime. I wonder if they remember me fondly. Are any of them thinking about me right now? Do they recollect their time spent with me with a smile on their faces? Do I have any haters? I bet I do. All those arguments on Facebook and Whatsapp groups ought to have made me some enemies.

Well I can’t really help it. I have opinions and I feel strongly about them. It’s either yes or a no, there’s no “maybe” in my dictionary. I can be completely detached and not even blink about things or people I don’t care about. I can be distant and cold hearted. I can be cruelly unemotional at times. But mostly I’m brimming with emotions. I’m raging with anger every morning when I read of corrupt politicians, I’m filled with empathy when I find old people shivering in the cold- begging for a meal, I’m amazed to see the stars shine bright through the polluted skies on a tiring monday evening, my eyes tear up when I listen to a song that I like, my heart skips a beat when I think of you.

Talking of you; I think of you every other minute. At times I feel so happy that you exist that I start sobbing. I imagine ways in which I can show you how much I love you. I want to call you right at that moment and tell you that you’re the best thing that’s happened to me. But I know I would be dumbstruck. That’s why I write to you. It helps me align my emotions with my mind. I often picture you smiling at me, or looking at your phone with your eyebrows furrowed as you read a mail from work. Sometimes I picture you gobbling down food or staring into space as your cigarette burns itself out. Other times I imagine you gently caressing my hair as we kiss. I imagine your warm body curled up against mine. I wonder what goes on in your mind when you look at me? I wish I could get inside your head and understand what is it that you love about me. What is it that you hate. What is it that you wish you could change about me. I wonder if you look at me and think about the same things. But sometimes I have this gripping fear of losing all this happiness somehow. What if I disappointed you? What if something terrible happens to you, or me? What if you contract amnesia and forget that I ever existed! Oh God, so many things that could go wrong! Do you know what do I do when that happens? I pray.

Surprised? Well, it’s because now I have so much at hand that I might lose! I pray that I always find my way to you, and you to me. I pray that we rise above our differences and remember what we love about each other when times get tough. I pray that we strive to understand each other. I pray that you’re always happy. I pray that you’re always surrounded by family and loved ones who genuinely care about you. But mostly, I ask the universe/God to help us grow with each other every day. I have only you to thank for all this praying and talking to the universe!

You’d say I worry too much. I’d say, yes, “I worry, I worry”, but that’s just how I am! But it’s not all that bad always. It’s just that my mind just works overtime. Imagining the infinite possibilities of life. Perpetually finding my space in each moment. Finding my purpose in the universal story. Collecting moments & memories from my everyday life in my head. And as an over-thinker I pride myself for it. For if not an over-thinker, I can’t possibly imagine what else I’d be. Or, can I?