Food Story, Pune, is a modern fine dine offering of simple, yet elegant Deccan and Persian delicacies which ignite your taste buds. The dominance of white, with soothing music in the background and comfortable seating makes time go slow – thereby encouraging food love and conversations.
Chef Shaikh Arif Ahmed brings in the passion and innovation to food that flows in from his ancestors – his great grandfather served as the Royal Chef in the Royal Kitchen of Hyderabad. The Nizam style of cooking shows in his preparations. Not only the non-vegetarian dishes, one’s perception about Hyderabadi cuisine might change when you taste his delightful vegetarian dishes as well.
We got a chance in a pep talk with Masterchef Shaikh Arif Ahmed, and we were delighted by his humble behavior and fresh food conversations. His passion to revive Deccan food showed in his intent, and we had a great time with the Chef.
1) How do you describe your style of cooking?
I have inherited great cooking skills from my forefathers who worked in the Royal kitchen during their time and as time passed working at different places, my styling has also improved. I try to familiarize the visitors with real Nizam flavors as well as take them in a gastronomic journey that’d be unforgettable.
2) How do you keep the kitchen running in chaotic situations? How do you calm everyone around you?
In a chaotic kitchen everyone is quite stressed out as they have a huge work load on them, but I always try taking all their stress and using that in making different recipes. This way the chaotic situations are handled and keep them calm.
Plus I try to share the good as well as the bad times. So the team feels supportive and, nobody thinks of me as a bossy masterchef. (He chuckles.)
3) What was your inspiration getting into this profession?
To be frank, my father was my inspiration because he was reputed chef working in Royal Nawab’s Kitchen, preparing food for people and seeing them satisfied with the food made him very happy and looking at this my passion for cooking also grew more and more and I decided to get into this profession.
Moreover, after I got into this profession, I have been a part of the culinary world for 25 years and have had the merit of working with esteemed hospitality brands like ITC Kakatia Sheraton Towers and Grand Maratha Sheraton Hotels and Towers in Hyderabad and Mumbai respectively. I also had the chance of cooking for the Sultanate of Oman and The Indus. These varied work profiles have only made me finer and passionate towards food and everything around it.
4) What is your signature dish?
As they say, I cook up the Biryani well. Then there’s one of the favorite dishes of Htderabad, the Tala hua Gosht, or the Fried Mutton. Also there’s the Gosht ka dalcha which is Mutton cooked with Chana Dal and flavored with Ginger and Garlic paste.
5) Is there one secret ingredient or spice you love to cook with?
Each and every spice has its own taste; however I love to cook with Kalonji (Fennel flower). It has an incredible aromatic flavor and has numerous uses as a spice.
6) What is the most interesting or fun experience you’ve had while in restaurants?
When I was working at The Leela Hotels, Bangalore, Mr. Sanjay Khan visited once, and he asked me to make Shikampur, a form of Mutton Kebab, and he loved it so much. After 12 years when Mr. Sanjay Khan came to Oman, he again asked me to make Shikampur which he found had the same taste what he had 12 years back at Bangalore. This was quite an experience for me.
Such compliments from renowned persons really make your day, and encourage you to make even finer preparations.
7) One cuisine you would love to experiment with?
Lebanese cuisine. It includes an abundance of starches, whole grain, fruits, vegetables, fresh fish and seafood; animal fats are consumed sparingly. It’s probably the most popular cuisine of all Middle Eastern countries.
8) Name any other chef who inspired you at the start. And who is your best food critic?
Chef Shaikh Saleem Ahmed (my Father) and Ustad Bada Badshu (from Hyderabad) are the two people who have inspired me a lot and I have learnt many things from them. A lot of cooking styles of mine are inspired from them, since I have mostly grown up looking at them cook and please the visitors.
The Best Food Critic for my food can be given only by my father Chef Shaikh Saleem Ahmed. He used to taste all the dishes and suggest me improvements from the start.
9) Favorite places to eat when you’re not at the restaurant?
I love the food at Nizam Club in Hyderabad. One dish which is unbeatable there is the Kachche Gosht Ki Biriyani. This is not just another Biriyani, it requires a lot of culinary skills and experience, and they have got it perfect!
10) Who did you experiment your initial recipes on?
As always, first my father used to taste my dishes and suggest me improvements. Now I taste them first. He then added, from traveling different parts of the world and having tasted many of the cuisines, I have developed a keen knowledge of flavors and aromas.
11) Where do you go when you need to escape for a breather?
Travelling to Mauritius with my wife and kids is always a breather for me. I always have a good time there and there are many memorable moments of times we spent in Mauritius.
12) One thing unique about your favorite city in India.
Hyderabad is the city where I belong to and I love it. One unique thing about that place is the ChaarMinar Fort. And the delicious street food you get around it. Some of the outlets have stayed there since ages!
13) Any advice you would give to budding chefs?
Continuous hard work and listing to your leader and implementing on his words. Also cook with love and purely from heart, this is the only secret for success.
After some more light discussions, we headed out, finally leaving the chef to do what he does best – prepare yummy food for the visitors. Do go there if you crave some traditional, rich flavors, and you won’t be disappointed.