Masterchef India judge Chef Ranveer Brar believes food is about feeling and connect as he digs into Marathi food at Aaswad By Smita Tripathi Photograph by Umesh Goswami
AS WE WALK TOWARDS AASWAD,
a small restaurant right opposite the Shiv Sena headquarters in Dadar, Mumbai, the first thing that strikes me is the long queue of hungry Mumbaikars waiting outside for a table. “Ifyou serve good, honest food, people will come back for more,” says Ranveer Brar, host of various TV shows such as Snack Attack and The Great Indian Rasoi on Zee TV and judge on Masterchef India. It’s on his recommendation that we are dining at Aaswad, a restaurant that he loves for its traditional Marathi cuisine and homely flan on epateela of quissas (pot full of stories),” he laughs. Brar volunteered to work for free at a small eatery serving mouth- watering kebabs .“Iusedto trick the cook-owner, to divulge his recipes and methodology. If you asked him directly, he never said anything.
But if you said, how come your kebabs are tastier than the other fellows, he would glow with pride and tell you,” Brar reminisces fondly. It was there, while doing odd jobs such as drying coal, grinding spices or ‘stirring nihari in his sleep’ that Brar learnt his biggest lesson — there is more to food than just tingling your taste buds. It is about con
necting with people.
And that’s just how I feel as the waiter serves me a plate of pola usal, with great pride. It is the typical food of the Maratha Kshatriya community, he explains. I bite into the dosa-looking rice cheela (pola) and take a spoonful of usal (made of beans and black peas). It’s delicious.
I smile appreciatively and he beams at me. I immediately feel the connect — his Marathi pride and my taste buds are on the same plane.
Brar’s first job was with the Taj group. He set up the newly renovated restaurants at Fort Aguada, Goa. “Goa gave me a chance to develop a style of my own,”
says the IIHM Lucknow alumnus. His experience in Goa came in handy when he was hired by Radisson Blu, Noida. As the executive chef he set up four restaurants, including Made in India, which reflected his Luckijawi roots.
In 2005 Brar joined The Claridges, New Delhi. Seville, the Spanish restaurant set up in place of the erstwhile Corbett, was one of Brar’s great success stories. As he tells me all about it, we are served thalipith, a crisp multi-grain chapatti. Two dollops of white butter enticingly melt over the hot chapatti. “It’s popular in Ratnagiri, Raigarh and the Malwan area. In the arid areas of Maharashtra where due to water shortage rice is not grown, they use various multi-grains such as jowar, bajra etc,” explains Brar as I lick butter off my fingers.
Next we try amba dal.
It’s seasonal and I’m just in time to try it, informs my waiter. Amba dal is made of raw mango, chana dal and aambe halad, a particular kind of raw turmeric that smells like mango and is available only towards the end of winters. It’s cooked particularly during the month of Chai- tra (generally March-April as per the Hindu calendar) when Marathis celebrate New Year. While it is a standalone dish, during New Year celebrations it is generally served with kairy panhe — a drink made of raw mango and jaggery.
Brar spent six years in Boston running several Indian restaurants before returning to India, and
joining Novotel, in Juhu, Mumbai. While he was there, TV happened. “When you see food in different forms and how different people connect to it, you evolve as a chef. And your evolution reflects in the wayyou cook. That’s what food travel and TV has done for me,” says Brar as he asks me to try the rice bhakri, a chapatti made of rice. Rice powder is cooked with boiling water and then kneaded and made into chapattis. “This has been my big learning from this place, howto make good chawalki roti. See, I’m still evolving and learning,” he smiles.