Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Chef Interview | Chef Mohsin Qureshi serves the finest Lucknowi fare at lebua Lucknow

Chef Mohsin Qureshi

Chef Mohsin Qureshi’s expertise in Awadhi cuisine belies his age. Although this 31-year-old chef can boast an enviable work experience in some of the leading hotel chains of India, he attributes the finesse of his cooking style to his lineage and the ustaads and khansaamas from whom he learnt the secrets of this cuisine.

Hailing from the Qureshi family, young Mohsin’s early years were spent at his uncle’s restaurant, Shahid, in Lucknow’s Lal Bagh, where he learnt the nuances of Awadhi fare. “Almost all the Qureshis {a well-respected surname of some of the most popular Awadhi chefs} worked or trained at this family-owned restaurant, including the celebrated Chef Imtiaz Qureshi,” he shares. During the two years that he spent at the restaurant, Mohsin also accompanied his uncle while they catered for high profile weddings and events, learning, as they say: ‘on the job’. His professional journey with hotels, however, started after a one-year industrial training diploma from the Taj in 2007, following which he worked at fine restaurants including Masala Art at Taj Palace New Delhi, Paatra at Jaypee’s Siddharth, Fire at The Park, Caraway at The Grand New Delhi and Dhabha at the Claridges. In a nutshell, Mohsin’s training was in Indian cuisine and then he worked in a variety of Indian restaurants where he honed his skills. 

Currently, the executive sous chef at lebua Lucknow, Mohsin claims that his forte lies in perfecting the delicate flavours and specialised techniques of Awadhi cuisine. His endeavour now is to revive forgotten recipes that are on the verge of dying due to all the modernity coming into Indian food. One dish that he is particularly proud of recreating is the ‘majlisi kebab’. Also known as the ‘ghutwaan kebab’ this was a special delicacy that was served during long hours of ‘majlis’ or social gatherings where people sat together for hours discussing various issues ranging from religion to culture to socio-political, he explains. Given the lengthy duration of such events, aromatic kebabs made with very fine minced mutton were cooked on dum, the slow cooking technique that is said to be almost 400 years old. “These days, chicken tikka, galawat kebabs and sheermal are served even at such events because the ‘ghutwaan’ kebabs require a lengthy marination as well as cooking time. Also, dum cooking is highly specialised, in that the dish is sealed and cooked to perfection and opened only when served. Often times, if the cook is not experienced enough in this style of cooking, dishes can remain undercooked or overcooked, hence spoiling the entire preparation.” In order to resuscitate this particular dish, Mohsin has renamed it ‘Majlisi Kebab’ as an ode to the gatherings during which it was specially prepared. He has also graciously shared its recipe in order to popularise it {see box}.

Since the proof of the pudding is in the eating Mohsin served his signature majlisi kebab to us during our recent trip to lebua Lucknow. The marinaded minced meat is sealed with sheermal roti, instead of plain dough, and cooked in a small earthen container, typically on woodfire. The enticing aroma that wafts out upon cutting the sheermal is mouth-watering. And then the kebab – delicious! Perfectly spiced, it melts in the mouth and leaves a lingering flavour of the fine meat and mélange of spices such as jadakush, peepli, patthar ke phool, kachri, elaichi and more. There’s another version that has the addition of bone marrow to make it even more succulent.

But this is only one example of Mohsin’s cooking. While his baghaare baingan, keema stuffed karelas and singhaare ki subzi are sure to leave you licking your fingers, he has so much more to offer from his rich repertoire of dishes. However, this level of skill cannot be achieved in a hurry. He was all of 14 years when he decided he wanted to become a chef, following the footsteps of his father and grandfather. “As the only son, (he has six sisters) I wanted to take the family legacy forward,” he states. While his grandfather, who was a khansaama, was honoured by Queen Elizabeth II, his father cooked and travelled with Indian political leaders such as Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Dr. Manmohan Singh. Mohsin is certainly following suit as he has today’s young politicos and Bollywood stars eating out of his hand.

As he continues to innovate and revive old recipes, and serves some of the finest Lucknowi fare at his restaurant, for now he is happy to be back in his hometown, where he says that most people lead a slow paced and content life.


Majlisi Dum Gosht Kebab

The melt-in-the-mouth Majlisi Kebab

Mutton leg boneless Mince 250 gm
Salt 1 tsp
Onion 1 (ground)
Onion 1 large (chopped)
Raw papaya paste 1 ½ tbsp
Ginger garlic paste 1 tbsp
Gram flour roasted 2 tbsp (heaped)
Garam masala powdre 1 tsp (heaped)
Red Chilli Powder
Nutmeg ¼ tsp (ground)
Mace ¼ tsp (ground)
Potli Masala(Jarakhush, Patthar Ke phool, Peepli, Khash Ki jadh, paan ki jadh, kachri, roseptel, Green cardamom, black cardamom)
Green chilies chopped 4
Coriander leaves chopped 3 tbsp
Lemon wedges
Ghee 1/4 cup

Cooking Method
1st marination
Marinade mince with ground onion, raw papaya paste, ginger garlic paste, salt, red chilli powder and leave it 1 hour.
2nd Marination
Mixed with roasted gram flour, garam masala powder, ground mace and nutmeg, potli masala, crushed roasted coriander, Desi Ghee, chopped onion and brown onion mix all well and leave for 1 Day .
Next Day
Take an earthen pot and put minced in the earthen pot and covered the pot with sheermal dough and Dum it in the oven for next 20 minute.
For Garnish
Lemon Wedges and Chop Coriander.
Garnish with chopped green chilies, coriander leaves and onion rings and serve.

A version of this article first appeared in The Hindu MetroPlus on 4th April 2019.


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