By Sourish Bhattacharyya
WHAT’S the secret of the perfect seekh kebab? I asked this question of three chefs, all winners of the Delhi Gourmet Club’s Best Seekh Kebab of Delhi/NCR title, and none of them was as forthright as Pradeep Khullar of Chor Bizarre.
|Delhi Gourmet Club's seekh kebab jury members with chefs|
Purshottam Singh (right) and Balkishen (left) at the Bukhara
|Kwality scion Divij Lamba and Master Chef Bernard Mandal,|
flanked by the men who run the restaurant and seekh kebab
jury members, hold the certificate for the second runner-up.
All images by Ajay Gautam
The bright young chef, who looks as if he never eats the food he cooks, said it was the right proportion of a goat’s kidney fat (250 gm for every 750 gm of mutton mince) to give the seekh kebabs their sheen and bound and Amul processed cheese to act as the binder. “Without these two key ingredients, it is impossible for us to conceive our seekh kebabs,” said the genial chef, whom I had some time back given the trophy for the best roghan josh at Food & Nightlife magazine’s Delhi’s Most Delicious Awards. The other Chor Bizarre secret is to use ginger and garlic paste, instead of using these whole, to produce those juicy temptations that inveigle you to keep eating till you lose track of time.
The Delhi Gourmet Club’s demanding jury led by Rocky ‘Mr Old Monk’ Mohan, though, ranked Chor Bizarre at No. 2, with Bukhara’s meaty seekh kebabs (70-80 gm apiece, I was told, which makes a plate of four a complete meal) besting the Old World Hospitality restaurant by just two points. The styles of the two kebabs are distinctly different — Bukhara’s were mutton-first, chunky Frontier-style beauties, whereas Chor Bizarre were smoother, softer, more gentrified. They’re like the village woman made famous by Nawaz Sharif acquiring an urban gloss. It’s because less fat (not more than 20 per cent) goes into the Bukhara seekh kebabs to maintain their rusticity.
At Bukhara, we missed the on-tour-to-Kolkata Executive Chef J.P. Singh, who, it is said, has fed more heads of state than we can count on our fingers many times over, but we had the good fortune of meeting his able deputies — Purshottam Singh, whose professorial looks and athletic frame (he used to run up to the top of the ITC Maurya’s Towers block every day when he was younger) doesn’t give away his profession, and Balkishen, who has travelled the world, from New York to Ajman to Hong Kong, with the Bukhara brand since the time of the legendary Madan Lal Jaiswal, the brilliant chef who passed away in a car crash. They are the architects of a brand that feeds over 400 people a day and makes more money than any other restaurant in the country.
At No. 3, and a good eight points behind Chor Bizarre, was Kwality. Being a lover of gloss and glam, I am a great admirer of Kwality’s to-die-for succulent seekh kebabs, so I was quite heart-broken by the No. 3 spot, but when the tussle involves 15 formidable restaurants (shortlisted from 30 by members of the Delhi Gourmet Club), final rankings can spring surprises.
I couldn’t resist asking Divij Lamba, the Kwality scion who’s a Cornell and Yale alumnus and has done stints at the Brookings Institute and the Senate Office of Hillary Clinton, how the restaurant always manages to get its seekh kebabs right. He gave the credit entirely to the success of his chefs in not deviating from the age-old recipe followed at the restaurant. Kwality’s Master Chef Bernard Mandal, a man of few words and a welcoming smile, nodded in approval. Beyond learning that the main ingredients were love and care, I couldn’t gather more from the Kwality team, which included the company’s CEO, Prashant Narula.
ITC Maurya’s General Manager, Anil Chadha, asked us who the members of the jury were and how they were chosen. Well, Rocky Mohan, who being the author of four acclaimed cookbooks knows his seekh kebabs better than most, put together the jury comprising a mix of food enthusiasts who had eaten around the world and professionals who took the trouble of visiting each of the 15 restaurants unannounced and assessing the seekh kebabs, at their own expense, on four criteria: quality of the meat; taste; add-ons; presentation.
The judges were Mohit Balachandran, AD Singh’s national business head who’s also famous as Chowder Singh on blogosphere; inveterate travelling gourmand Rajeev Gulati, who’s in the pharmaceuticals distribution business; corporate lawyer Sanhita Dasgupta-Sensarma; restaurateur (Angrezee Dhaba) Rajat Pahwa; young hospitality professional Nikhil Alung; self-employed businessman and hobby cook Vikram Bali; and Yogesh Magon, who’s in the liquor business.
They knew their seekh kebabs well and though they had generally good things to say about most of the places they went to (their big surprise was Kebabs and Curries at Greater Kailash-I, but sadly, it was at No. 8, below the Connaught Place restaurant, Embassy, which is better known for its Dal Meat and Chicken Pakodas), they were unanimous in their expressing their shock at the decline in the standards of two Defence Colony institutions, Colonel’s Kababz and Moets, which rubbed shoulders at the bottom of the heap.
Such exercises are important because they give followers of groups like the Delhi Gourmet Club a user’s guide to the delicacies they all crave for. As the dining world is moving towards giving greater credence to peer reviews, the Delhi Gourmet Club’s hunt for the best seekh kebabs in Delhi/NCR is the right step in the direction of giving these reviews a prejudice-free structure.