Dum Pukht, at the ITC Maurya in New Delhi, is renowned for elevating the refined culture of courtly dining to a sublime art. It recently completed 25 glorious years of keeping alive the traditions of royal repasts. The restaurant pays tribute to the finer aspects of life with its unique slow-cooked recipes from the kitchens of Awadhi nawabs. The dishes are prepared in a traditional way (handi-sealed with dough) and presented flamboyantly. It is said that the ancient recipes of Dum Pukht have been handed down from generation to generation. In an interview, Master Chef, Gulam M Qureshi, talks to Guardian 20 about his journey with Dum Pukht, the origin of Awadhi cuisine, dum pukht biryani and more.
Q. Dum Pukht recently celebrated its 25th anniversary; how does it feel to be master chef at one of the best restaurants in the country?
A. It has been a learning experience and I am privileged to be associated with a brand that is globally recognised as India’s best representation of Indian fine dining. Dum Pukht is not a restaurant, it is a philosophy that ITC believes in, to bring ancient Indian culinary traditions to the fore.
I feel extremely proud to be a part of this legendary culinary destination. This also comes with great responsibility as I have to ensure that we consistently preserve the authentic and unique experience that Dum Pukht endeavours to offer.
Q. Your father-in-law, Ustad Imtiyaz Qureshi, is often credited with bringing the dum methods and recipes to Delhi. How does it feel to carry forward the baton handed to you by Ustad himself?
A.Dum Pukht is a collective effort that ITC initiated. From the management team to the master chefs, each person has played their role in bringing alive the concepts. Dum Pukht would not be what it is if it weren’t for the collective efforts of the entire team at ITC Hotels.
The humble rice dish entered the royal kitchens where it combined with the Indian “pulao”, … my take on this is that basically a “pulao” is cooked in water together with vegetables/meat, whereas in a biryani, the meat/vegetables and rice are fried and cooked separately; the half-cooked vegetables/meat and rice is layered in a “handi” with a lid sealed with dough — it is then “dum” cooked or slow-cooked in this form.
Q. What is the difference between Mughlai and Awadhi cuisine?
A. Awadhi cuisine is a part of the wider sphere of Mughlai cuisine. Awadhi cuisine was discovered by Nawab Asaf-ud-Daulah in 1784 when, in the grip of famine, he initiated a work-for-food programme. Large cauldrons with rice, vegetables, meat and spices were sealed to make a one-dish meal. The Nawab caught a whiff of the aromas emanating from the royal kitchens and ordered them to serve him the dish, thus discovering the “dum” cuisine.
Q. What are your views on the debate: biryani versus pulao?
A. Biryani means “fried before cooking” and was introduced to India by Taimur the Lame in the 14th century. The humble rice dish entered the royal kitchens where it combined with the Indian “pulao”, transforming into the stately biryani. There are many schools of thought on this — my take on this is that basically a “pulao” is cooked in water together with vegetables/meat, whereas in a biryani, the meat/vegetables and rice are fried and cooked separately; the half-cooked vegetables/meat and rice is layered in a “handi” with a lid sealed with dough — it is then “dum” cooked or slow-cooked in this form.
Q. Tell us about Dum Pukht Biryani; what sets it apart from the biryanis served elsewhere?
A. Dum Pukht Biryani follows the unique recipe from the kitchens of the Awadhi Nawabs. The meat used for the biryani is of a specific cut and size; the slow cooking over long hours in a sealed “handi” seals in the flavours and aromas while retaining the natural juices. All our ingredients are authentic, fresh and locally sourced.
Q. What are the key ingredients that you can't live without in the kitchen?
A. In the Dum Pukht kitchen, we use our secret “Dum Pukht Potli Masala” — a blend of 20 unique spices, which help bring out the flavours of Dum cuisine.
Q. What is your favourite recipe or dish, one that you are proud of?
A. The Dum Pukht Biryani, Kakori Kabab and Shahi Nehari.
Q. Any favourite TV cookery show? And do you believe that one must take proper training to be a good cook?
A. I used to enjoy watching Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen. Yes, training is essential and you must master the basics to become a good cook.
Q. What according to you makes for a perfect meal?
A. I enjoy biryani, salan and shab deg, a Kashmiri dish.
Q. Do you see the food scene changing in India?
A. While people are experimenting with more contemporary cuisines, authentic, traditional Indian cuisine will always be popular, since it is part of our rich culinary heritage. It is also ITC Hotels’ continuous endeavour to preserve this legacy.
Q. Advice for cooks beginning their journey?
A. Stay rooted to the basics and traditions even when you blend things with contemporary forms of cooking. Also, patience is key. There is no short cut to hard work.