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Delhi Wine Club
Star Chef: The Kabab King at Radisson

Posted: Saturday, 18 January 2014 13:45

Star Chef : The Kabab King at Radisson

Jan 18: Master Chef Merajul Haque is the celebrity chef at Radisson Blu Plaza, Delhi with a long track record of making and innovating kababs and also participation in the NDTV Show ‘Foodistan.’ He charmed the members of the Delhi Wine Club with his delicious kababs and more, with wowed members vowing to return soon, writes Arun Batra

Click For Large ViewThe previous dinner of the DWC Wine Club was drawing to a close at The Great Kabab Factory (TGKF) at the Radisson Blu Plaza after an absolutely amazing meal with one of the most mind boggling selection of kababs I have ever had at one sitting. The chefs who had orchestrated this kabab parade, including the executive Chef Srinivasan had been persuaded to come out of the kitchen for the customary post- meal felicitation in front of the gastronomically satiated guests.

It was then that an eagle eyed member, Arvinda Arora yelled out, ‘that’s the Chef from Foodistan”! There was an immediate commotion as we all realized that we’d had a celebrity chef who had masterminded the food train that evening. Foodistan as you might know, was a hugely followed chef- centric television serial  involving cook –offs between the top chefs from India and Pakistan a couple of years back.

Click For Large ViewAnd so, thanks to the good offices of Sumit Bansal ,the F&B director at the Radisson Blu Plaza, I found myself and Subhash back at the same venue a week later,  sitting across the table from a genial boyish faced cherubic gentleman whom had I not known earlier. Merajul Haque, the chef behind the runaway commercial success of the Great Kabab Factory, is a lover and craftsman of good food.

Chef Haque hails from Lucknow and is proud to say that his lineage is part of the famous Qureshi family though he says “he’s made his own roadmap”. Growing up amongst so many talented chefs, there was not only great food to eat but also a wealth of recipes and ideas he picked up around the family food pot. So food preparation and his interest in it was something he grew up with and is second nature to him.

His career started off at Al Kauser at Malcha Marg in Chanakyapuri in 1984– that iconic Delhi kabab joint of the 80s and the 90s. Interestingly, it was during his stint in New Delhi that he learnt English. However, foreign shores beckoned and he took off for Singapore in 1988 for a stint at the Holiday Inn in Singapore and then at a standalone Indian restaurant. It was during this time that he met Jiggs Kalra, when he would come to his restaurant where the Chef would cook for him. Chef Haque says his Singapore stint taught him all about modern kitchens and production of food in large quantities. It was only a matter of time after Jiggs had spotted the Chef in Singapore that a job offer followed and he returned to India.

After over a decade of working closely with this stalwart of the Indian food industry, Chef Haque decided to move on and in 2004 came home to roost at The Great Kebab Factory. Now ten years later, it is a hugely successful eat-all-you-can multi city franchised venture with 49 outlets at the last count where there is no complex or fixed menu and the only choice is whether you want veg or non-veg!! Thanks to Chef Haque’s presence, the one at Radisson Blu supposedly serves the best kababs.

Click For Large ViewChef Haque’s approach to food is simple – keep giving your customers change yet maintain the quality’accordingly the kabab menu changes every month. At the last count he had a shade over 500 varieties of kababs in his repertoire! Asked about some of his recent innovations which have been a hit, Chef Haque mentions the Sonay ke Mohre (Paneer coins with varq-a golden leaf).
According to Chef Haque, a meal must always start with a Galouti kabab –that’s the way he was brought up. There are some 32 masalas which go into the making of these melt- in- the- mouth kababs. Unlike the industry practice to use pre made pastes and sauces, all the masalas at TGKF are made fresh in- house every day. He says part of the Galouti’s legendary popularity is due to the freshness of the masalas.

Whilst he attempts to showcase the flavours of India in TGKF’s offerings, he does have a weakness for Kaali Mirch (black pepper)  as his favourite spice. During a trip to the US in 2000 he was exposed to different kinds of peppers and he found that it as a generic spice it gave more taste and flavour to food than red chilies. He adds that if he were stuck on a desert island there were only one spice he would like to have with him only garam masala!

Asked about his favourite dish , he was candid in saying that despite the  lakhs of kababs that have moved out under his nose from the kitchen , he still regards a Gosht (mutton meat) biryani to be his signature dish- in fact he has served over 50 types of biryani at the TGKF over the years.. His style is very much Lucknowi with Dum being the preferred cooking option.

Click For Large ViewDespite being located so close to the airport and the expats loving Indian food, Chef Haque admits that the foreigners constitute only 5% of their clientele and so he is not hampered by the need to temper down his masalas to suit foreign palates. He says “we make no apologies about appealing to the Indian palate”. He also draws attention to the limited number of chutneys which are quite mild, offered with his kababs and says that “chutneys are meant for those diners who don’t like the food and wish to add to the taste. But with our kababs being so flavourful, I see really no need for chutneys and we certainly don’t want them to overpower the complex flavours of the kababs”.

Over the years Chef Haque has seen customer preferences changing if ever so subtly, towards fewer spices, lighter cuisine with lower levels of oil and ghee usage. In a typically savvy comment he says the Delhi diner is very unadventurous – for example staying with fish and prawns as far as seafood is concerned even though he has tried to tempt them with tandoori squid and crab.

Television fame doesn’t seem to have given Chef Haque any airs what so ever, as he recalls the Foodistan TV series with a wry style. He feels there is really no difference between Pakistani food and ours, either in use of masalas or in techniques of food preparation. Even today, he says there are a couple of diners who recognize him every evening at the restaurant and ask him for a photo op.

Click For Large ViewWalk into the busy TGKF kitchen behind Chef Haque and you see a man transformed. This is his territory and where he wields long skewers of tandoori kababs deftly like batons whilst casting an experienced eye across the steaming platters of kababs exiting the kitchen or exhorting his colleagues manning other stations.

What about the man behind the Chef? His days are long and he gets back home late at night but he always says his prayers before eating and sleeping. Like many of his ilk, he lets his wife be the master of the kitchen at home and does not interfere unless it’s a special occasion demanding his attention.

I was indeed surprised when Chef Haque told me that the daily all- you- can- eat buffet is priced at  Rs.1400++ and the Sunday brunch with unlimited alcoholic beverages including wine and Prosecco, is priced at just 2200++. At these prices I would seriously recommend you visit the Radisson and partake of some heavenly kababs with a celebrity touch.


Arun Batra

Arun Batra is a Delhi based food and wine enthusiast and a long-time member of the Delhi Wine Club


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