Tune in to any channel featuring cookery shows that take live calls and you will discover that chefs have become the most revered figures after superheroes. They have a cult following – the kind that would turn even Amitabh Bachchan green with envy.
Newsline interviews five culinary experts who have each developed a huge fan following to get an inkling of what makes them hot with Pakistani foodies.
Hale and Hearty
Chef Zakir is upset that every Tom, Dick and Harry is appearing on cooking shows and professing to be a chef. “You have to receive proper training and go through a whole drill – commis, line cook, first cook, second cook, third cook, etc. – and then appear for a theoretical and practical examination before you are qualified to be a chef. And even then, unless you have gained proper kitchen experience in hotels, you cannot call yourself a chef, just like qualified doctors don’t call themselves doctors until they have done their housejobs. These days, even people with absolutely no clue about cooking have become chefs!”
Having served as a chef in hotels in places like Singapore, Dubai, Botswana, the Caribbean and South Africa, Zakir has 23 years of working experience abroad. He has been sent to all these countries by the Chefs’ Association, of which he is a member, and still has several offers under his belt. He explains: “I have received training in kosher cooking as well, and since there are very few kosher chefs around, we are in great demand, especially since internationally, people are now showing a preference for kosher food.”
Zakir, who appears exclusively on Masala TV, says he has studied a range of cuisines, but finds that the ones he showcases most frequently on TV are Pakistani, Chinese, Thai, continental, Indian and Korean. In his view, the most popular foods in Pakistan are Pakistani barbecue, Indian and Chinese. Fusion cooking, which blends different regional culinary styles, has also fast gained in popularity.
Incidentally, Zakir is not the only person in his family to have adopted cooking as a profession. His father was a chef at the British Overseas Airways Corporation and later at PIA. His brothers and cousins all followed the same line and the third generation is continuing the culinary legacy. Currently, there are 23 chefs in his family, all cooking up a storm in top hotels here and abroad.
The mushrooming of cooking shows has improved the availability of imported ingredients in the market. “There was a time when some herbs and vegetables, like parsley and broccoli, were not available or were very expensive,” says Zakir. “But thanks to all the cookery shows, a demand has been created for all kinds of ingredients and everything is now readily available.”
Interestingly, Zakir feels that it is important to include desserts and oil in our diet, and that health-conscious people should not ban fatty foods from their diets completely. He says healthy eating depends on the way food has been cooked, the number of meals consumed in a day and the kind of activity indulged in right after the meal. He admits he has no qualms about making rich food and states that in no way has its popularity diminished. By the same token, he advises those who avoid eating meat for health reasons not to shun this form of high protein as it is essential for the body.
Amazingly, this well travelled and accomplished chef has simple tastes. Zakir’s favourite food is daal chawal and kharay masala ka qeema, and his own favourite recipe is piyaz pasanda.
Your favourite cookbook?
My own! Actually, I don’t get time to consult cookbooks!
Your favourite restaurant?
Never eat at restaurants – don’t get the time.
Any particular food you want to learn how to cook?
Any one ingredient that you use the most and regard as essential for flavouring your dishes?
Ginger and garlic and all kinds of green leaves – coriander, mint, parsley, etc.
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