Ishtiaq Qureshi, 55, Kakori House chef-owner
C Y Gopinath, 70, author and communications strategist
They especially bond over meaty food. CY Gopinath (Gopi), now settled in Thailand, largely charted the journalism landscape of Bombay from 1979 to 2000. Celebrity chef Ishtiaq Qureshi, whose forefathers stoked the fires of the Awadhi nawabs two centuries ago, can never be confined to a menu. Kebab King’s genial powers extend beyond shaping lauki musallam like a fish or serving kathal (jackfruit) biryani, leaving diners wondering how it couldn’t be mutton.
Currently a mid-day columnist, Gopi’s professional skills include advertising, film production, marketing, graphic design, TV serial production and music writing. Many of today’s senior writers and editors are alumni of Soul Features, the writers’ collective he runs, which provides fresh, readable stories at rates that writers can make a living off of journalism.
Ishtiaq with his father Imtiaz Qureshi, who put North West Frontier cuisine on the culinary map
With Kakori House outposts across the city, Ishtiaq honors its forefathers who uniquely perfected the cooking of dum pukht, a style that cooks food in its own juices, sealing the sides of the pot with dough ( Dum is “closed vessel”, pukht is “sophisticated”)). His father, Padma Shri Imtiaz Qureshi, established Bukhara and Dum Pukht restaurants at Maurya Sheraton, Delhi. Believing that tehzeeb and tehseer ideally combine for proper appreciation of cuisine – tehzeeb is food served in a civilized manner and tehzeeb its effect on health – Ishtiaq ensures that dishes such as Kebab-e-Tanjeel Vegetarian dishes are preferred by meat lovers.
Reviewing his friend’s temperament, Gopi once wrote in The Bombay Times: “Ishtiaq Qureshi controls the food. If he doesn’t want his onions to brown now, he will patiently wait for further instructions. If he wants garlic to fall asleep, he’ll fall asleep pretending to be almonds… I was happy to be his guinea pig in the experiments. In one he served what looked like almond pudding, except the ‘almonds’ were garlic pods, whose arrogance he tamed by careful ministrations into boiling milk, turning him into something nawabi and aristocrat.
CY Gopinath: We met for the first time at Dum Pukht restaurant in Sea Rock Hotel, Bandra. Ishtiaq’s father Imtiaz Qureshi introduced the Lucknowi Dum dish at ITC’s Maurya Hotel in Delhi and it was the talk of the town. I had a few words from Ishtiaq while writing about the restaurant.
Ishtiaq Qureshi: Rewinding a bit… When I was 12 years old, my father cleverly coaxed me into operating Maurya during school holidays. Along with the temptation of swimming in the pool and eating in the bakery, also gave pulses in the kitchen. Fond of science, I harnessed that interest. Fermentation and irradiation are important processes for cookery. I applied to college, but my father insisted that I join work immediately, and I moved to Jeddah in 1986. On my return, I interviewed YC Deveshwar, the chairman of ITC, at the Maurya Sheraton in Delhi in 1989 and found myself in Dum Pukht, Bombay. His marketing department invited journalists to the restaurant. In the meanwhile Gopi came. Another noted critic was Jiggs Kalra with his Evening News column, Platter Chatter.
CYG: Ishtiaq’s cooking is what drew me to him. He has an infectious enthusiasm when talking about food. Or used with new recipes – such as sweet milk pudding – with, of all things, garlic. Through hours of slow cooking, he reduced the flavor of garlic, describing it in unforgettable Urdu: “Lahsun ko doodh mein shaheed karna hain.” So that was Shaheed Garlic Milk Pudding. There were others like this too.
Intelligence: Despite worsening working conditions with Datta Samant’s union demanding “Dilliwale Murdabad”, Bombay appealed. I especially liked Bandra with joggers like Coastal Parks, and different friends like Gopi that I could make in the city.
CYG: I have mainly met Ishtiaq in kitchens and restaurants. The only other time there was a farewell party was when we left with my family to work in Africa. Ishtiaq gifted me a tandoor grill which he himself designed and came to me to deliver it.
Intelligence: My upbringing has been about the importance of manners. Etiquette. The added openness to customization is thanks to people like Gopi who say, “do something new.” When he was here from Bangkok in 2017, he and I prepared a whole feast of ustkhuddus, or lavender: lavender pudding, chicken in lavender, and meat chops in lavender.
CYG: He is a good sport, always playing where others hesitate. I admire their willingness to fool around with new recipes, combinations, and flavors. I worked for a year at Reader’s Digest, followed by five years at Calcutta’s famous JS magazine. But after that I set out like Ishtiaq to find my way in the jungle.
A lone eagle doing his bit while younger siblings have salaried jobs in hotels, the Ishtiaq family has been the “black sheep”, but in a good way. I believe he is his father’s favorite. Now, with his handlebar moustache, he looks like his father too.
Intelligence: Amazingly, Gopi remains calm through the din of the kitchen. I’m impatient and restless. He measures me, keeps my cool.
CYG: Our meeting is very irregular. We got in touch only recently after years of separation. Whenever I am in Mumbai, I try to see if it is around and is free. When we meet, it’s instantly friendly and the years melt away. Like picking up a conversation where you left off.
Intelligence: Gopi’s creativity with words and ideas is superb. Kakori House is dedicated to the softest Seekh Kebabs in the world. With the closure of Deonar abattoir, lockdown, unavailability of mutton and the larger issue of non-availability of beef, I was inclined – compelled – to make a separate red meat item with chicken. Gopi Murgori hit: Simple, crisp, to the point. And also created a unique brand design for it.
CYG: I’ve lived outside India long enough—16 years in Bangkok, six years in Africa—to know about Mumbai’s food scene. Ishtiaq recently made his tricky chicken kakori kebabs, which I suggested he call murgori. It’s sure to be disruptive in the world of grilled meats.
Writer-publisher Mehr Marfatia writes monthly on city friendships. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org/www.meher marfatia.com