Imtiaz Qureishi, first chef to be conferred with a Padma Shri in 2016, passes on aged 93 (IANS Obituary)

New Delhi, Feb 16 (IANS) One of India’s most creative chefs who put nawabi Lucknow’s Dum Pukht cuisine on the world map, and also became the first practising member of his fraternity to ever get a Padma Shri in 2016, Imtiaz Qureshi, passed away on Friday at the age of 93.

An unlettered cook who started working from the age of nine, Qureshi, who was known for his trademark handlebar moustache, Santa Claus-like personality and the chaste Urdu in which he would narrate his stories from the kitchen, was famous for inventing dishes whose ideas he would pick up from conversations with his patrons and fellow professionals.

His influences and inspirations extended from the empress of ghazals, Begum Akhtar, for whom he invented a dessert named Lab-e-Mahshoukh, or pista kulfi drizzled with a sour cherry sauce, to Roger Moncourt, the French chef who ruled the Continental kitchens of Delhi, from whom he picked up the secrets of the sauces that give French cuisine its distinctive personality.

Qureshi started out training to be a pehelwan but ended up as an apprentice to his ustads, Haji Ishtiyaq and Ghulam Rasool, and started working with a Lucknow-based catering company that was serving the Indian Army during the Chinese War in 1962.

It was then that Qureshi got to serve Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, who was being hosted by the Uttar Pradesh chief minister, C.B. Gupta. To make the occasion special, and out of respect for Gupta’s vegetarian sensibilities, Qureshi, who’s best known for mutton and fish dishes, invented the Turush-e-Paneer, escalopes of cottage cheese stuffed with dried plum and oranges, quilted in a tomato plum sauce.

As the fame of his culinary prowess spread, he moved up the professional totem pole, being hired by Lucknow’s then go-to hotel, Clarks Avadh, and then being head-hunted by Ajit Haksar, the founder of ITC Hotels, for the group’s new address in New Delhi — Maurya Sheraton. And from there, he travelled the world, winning accolades wherever he went.

At the Maurya, Qureshi became instantly famous. Diwan Gautam Anand, who was banquet manager when the chef was in his element, remembers how the nation’s high and mighty would shower gifts on Qureshi in recognition of his food, which was then a novelty in the Butter Chicken-soaked national capital.

According to Anand, Qureshi was indeed a self-taught powerhouse of culinary talent, but what made him stand apart was his ‘milansar’ personality, which enabled him to soak in whatever knowledge anyone had to offer.

Anand remembers how Qureshi once came back excited from a dinner he had curated for the Afghan ambassador because he had discovered the brinjal dish known as ‘badin jaan’. Overnight, he recreated it for Dum Pukht, the restaurant at the Maurya Sheraton, that became synonymous with the master chef and a standard-bearer for Indian fine dining.

Dum Pukht’s Badin Jaan consists of wheels of smoked brinjal with a spiced tomato topping and a smooth, creamy spiced yoghurt sauce.

It was at Dum Pukht that the jugalbandi of the doyen of food writers, the late Jiggs Kalra, and Qureshi created sensations such as the Kakori Kabab (the melt-in-the-mouth version of the chunky mutton seekh kabab), with Kalra inventing the story of the toothless nawab in its honour, the signature Dum Biryani, and umami-packed gravy dishes such as the Koh-i-Awadh, the ‘paya’ reinvented with lamb shanks, and Mahi Dum Pukht, red snapper fillet cooked in an almond and brown onion sauce.

He had created this dish first for the wedding of a Mumbai socialite’s daughter in 1972 and he gave it a Bengali twist a couple of decades later with his Mahi Qaliya, where rohu fish cooked in mustard oil is the base ingredient, for a Kolkata-based news baron.

With the passing of Imtiaz Qureshi, India has lost a chef who not only gave Indian fine dining a new lease of life and a personality of its own, but also, despite being unlettered, became its finest and most colourful spokespersons around the world.



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