the-south-asian.com January 2004
WHATíS COOKING, ROCKY!
WHATíS COOKING, ROCKY!
Isidore Domnick Mendis
Some years ago he didnít mind when friends called him Old Monk or Black Knight---two of the many popular brands his company manufactures. But things have changed now. Today, liquor baron Rocky [Rakesh] Mohan wants to be known for the food rather than the booze he makes.
Apart from being the executive director of the Rs. 550 crores Mohan Meakinsí group, Rocky is reviving heritage Indian cuisine. Hard to digest? No, not for Rocky and his reasoning is simple, " Whatís so surprising? After drinks itís always food, isnít it!"
As founder of the chain of eateries Zila Kebabpur he is re-discovering the lost art of vintage Mughlai cooking. As food columnist and author of exotic cookbooks he has a fan following not many foodies can boast of. In fact, the brisk sale of his latest book Rice & Spice [Roli Books] is testimony to that.
The book is a celebration of rice dishes. A collection of 40 different preparations from different regions ranging from Shahjahani Biryani to Cheemeem Pulau and from Dewanee Kitchree to Tamatar Palak Bhaat.
" Though a lot of people can afford good basmati rice, not many know how to get the best results and extract the true qualities of this wonder grain. My endeavour is to educate people on how to get the best results from basmati rice," says Rocky.
For example, says the author, if you donít soak basmati for 30 minutes before cooking, it will not yield the desired results. When you cook basmati after soaking it for 30 minutes, a seven-millimetre long grain elongates to around 18 mm. And it will yield an amazingly aromatic aroma.
" I tried out all the recipes Iíve given in the book to see if they taste and look as good as they seem in pictures. This was absolutely vital as these days there is so much cheating going on in the name of cookery books. When you set out to actually make a dish it is nowhere near to whatís shown in pictures," says Rocky who has authored two more books, Art of Indian Cuisine and Wazwaan--Traditional Kashmiri Cuisine.
Evidently, food is a serious pursuit with Rocky in more ways than one. " I had always wanted to hone this skill so I took it up as a leisure activity which has now turned into a serious affair," says the man whose grandfather Narender Nath Mohan acquired the liquor business from Britisher, Dyer Meakins in 1949.
" Like any other person born in a business family I too inherited a certain amount of business skills. But I didnít just want to be known as a man who got a liquor empire in legacy. I wanted also to be known as an individual with a skill of my own. And there could be nothing better than cooking which has been a passion with me since I was a child. For me cooking is like any other art Ė painting, dancing or poetry."
He had his first tryst with his art when he was doing his masters from Mount Ford College in England. At his rented apartment he usually cooked his own food. " The taste and flavour of home cooked food would haunt me and I decided to try and replicate food that was made in our home."
When he came back to India for his sisterís marriage he was in for a pleasant surprise. Chefs were specially flown from all parts of the country to cook various cuisines. Rocky spent four fruitful days with cooks specializing in Punjabi, Awadhi and Rampuri cuisine jotting down recipes and keenly observing how each delicacy was made.
This passion for cooking, says Rocky, is in his genes. " My father Ved Rattan Mohan was also a connoisseur of good food and my mother Camilla was one of the most gracious hostess Iíve ever come across." Like his parents he too is a generous host and also enjoys cooking for his guests despite his hectic business schedules.
Rocky has not created any new cuisine but has crafted a style of cooking that is uniquely his own. Mutton, fish, daal, paneer and potatoes are his favourite and, in that order, he reminds you. . " Mutton is the king of all meats. Unlike chicken which hardly has anything to chew upon, mutton has its own flavour and taste," says Rocky whose favourite dishes include Falaknuma (masala meat) Keema Lal Mirch ( mince meat in red pepper) and Natt Yakhni (lamb cooked in yogurt).
Apart from family and close friends, even dignitaries have relished food prepared by Rocky. During his state visit to India in 1997, the then Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago Basdeo Pandey was treated to a sumptuous meal at Rockyís sprawling bungalow in Lajpat Nagar, Delhi. When he was the leader of the opposition, even Vajpayee took time off to sample Rockyís exotic non-vegetarian fare.
In addition to honing his skills as a chef par excellence, Rocky runs a chain of 16 restaurants going by the name of Zilla Kebabpur specializing in kebabs and curries.
" Indian cuisine is so diverse that there are several ways of making a dish. Take rice, for example. In places itís the main course (biryani) in others itís an accompaniment (pulao), some have it as bread (dosa, uthapam) while many serve it as a dessert (phirni & kheer)."
Rocky also cites the example of Wazwaan the traditional Kashmiri cuisine, and says " It has 36 courses of which delicacies like tabakh maas,, rogan josh, ghosht korma, ghustaba [various mutton preparations] , firni [rice pudding] and kahwah [herbal Kashmiri tea] are the essential parts."
Rocky is perhaps the only person to have documented in English the evolution and development of Wazwaan. " I had to literally sit at the feet of Mohammad Sharief Waza - considered to be the countryís best Wazwaan expert - to learn the art. For months I would accompany him to the butchery at 6 a.m., get the meat cut and then cook it till 4 p.m. It was a real learning experience on the lines of the guru-shisya parampara. Once I had mastered it, only then did I write the book on this great art of cooking," says Rocky.
However, Rocky has a poor opinion about the quality of cookery books available in the market. " Most of them are trash as they are not properly researched. Many have wrong ingredients. I can say with pride that I test and taste all my recipes before giving them for printing," says Rocky who also does columns for indiatimes.com and India Today Plus. His column in Hindustan Times was carried non-stop for eighty weeks."
Apart from writing about food and running a chain of restaurants, Rocky is also a food consultant for Kurry Korte of the Holiday Inn group, Pune, Colours & Spice (Kwality group) and Noodle Bar, a popular Chinese restaurant--both in Delhi.
The second in command after his uncle Kapil Mohan the present chairman of Mohan Meakins Ltd., Rocky is now planning to take time out to document the dying cuisine of the walled city of Delhi which was a blend of Mughlai and Bania cuisines. Once thatís done he would embark on a book on the famed nawabi cuisine of Lucknow .
As he says, " If these forms of cookery are not documented, they will soon die an unsung death. They are being fast-tracked into extinction by the invasion of burgers, French fries and pizzas!"
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