Warning! Reading Chef Sandeep Pande talk about Kakori kebabs and makhana will make you want to book the very next flight to Lucknow! Which is a good thing, given that this former Executive Chef of Renaissance Mumbai has taken over as the Director of Culinary for Renaissance and Fairfield properties in Lucknow. “Everyone thinks of either Tunday or Galouti kebabs when heading to Lucknow, but have you tried Kakori?” he asks. “Kakori is a kebab, cuisine and a place,” he tells me.
If you’re wondering why the fuss about Lucknow, then I must tell you that the city remains one of the most underrated and under-promoted to travellers. But recently, I’ve seen efforts being taken to promote the city as the must-visit place after stopping by in Agra. Chef Pande tells me that the Marriott as a group, with the two brands that he will be managing in Lucknow, is looking to become a hotspot for leisure travellers, business travellers and even ‘shaadis’. “Yes, shaadis, not just weddings, because for us in India shaadi includes all the functions… it’s such a beautiful word, isn’t it?” he asks me before telling me that he can’t wait to draw up a mix of regional and international foods for shaadi guests against the backdrop of such a historical city. “Of course, there will be nachos for anyone who likes them, but what about some ‘chana jor garam’ instead? Or ‘makhana’ instead of popcorn?” I’m in, are you?
Before I say goodbye and wish him luck, I had to ask him for some pro tips for us home chefs, and Chef Pande, who is an Army brat like yours truly while his brother continues to serve in the Forces, obliges with some true gems! Here goes –
1. “Don’t follow recipes, cook from your heart,” he says promptly. Except those from my blog, people, I have to add that (wink, wink).
2. “When you have to use eggs, ditch the refrigerated ones for fresh ones, try to get them that very morning.”
3. “Buy your veggies from a thelewalla – they might not be packed beautifully, but at least they will always be fresh and seasonal.”
4. “The whey you drain from yogurt? Save it. Leftover water from boiling rice? Save that too! Use them to knead your atta and notice the difference.”
Cooking really is about getting small things right, isn’t it? I’d love to know if you incorporate any of Chef’s tips in your daily cooking. Also, you know who to give a shout-out to if you’re in Lucknow, right?