Mutton Biryani is king of Indian cuisine: Scotland’s top chef

Mahrukh Butt, Pakistani-born Scotland`s first female Asian head chef, has been declared Chef of the Year at the Scottish Curry Awards in Glasgow. She has the distinction of being her home country`s first female head chef. Working in top hotels across the world, Mahrukh has won several awards and accolades for delicious curries and sumptuous biryanis.

Her cuisine is a combination of cooking traditions in both India and Pakistan.

In an exclusive chit-chat with Smita Mishra of Spicezee.Com, she talks about her love for cooking, her journey from Pakistan to Glasgow and her imagination-infused sub continental food that has taken UK’s curry connoisseurs by storm.

From Pakistan to West Scotland, how did this journey happen?

While working for Pearl Continental Hotels in Pakistan I was spotted by a Human Resources Manager, she was visiting Nepal, India and Pakistan sourcing new chefs for the Sheraton Hotel in Dubai.

After tasting my Chilman Biryani she was bent upon hiring me for the Sheraton in Dubai.

Archie Sharif, the owner of the Lorne Hotel in UK, personally asked me to join his group as the new Head Chef. After that, there was no looking back.

Bukharah is a new player on Glasgow’s vibrant curry scene and yet you managed to bag two awards. How did that happen?

For me it’s a combination of the restaurant’s atmosphere as well as the quality of food that worked. The restaurant is stunning and has a very warm and relaxing ambience. Guests and curry connoisseurs in Glasgow love to eat here. We have been able to create a lot of new flavours and dishes, bringing something quite different to the curry scene.

I also received awards in Dubai for ‘Best Curry Restaurant’, for 3 years running, it makes me feel very proud.

What do you specialize in?

I specialize in traditional sub continental cuisine…I am very particular about food preparation, I don’t cut corners and I don’t rush my cooking, it’s all about cleanliness and fresh ingredients. I spend a lot of time working on my recipes and preparing the ingredients for cooking, I am always very focused in the kitchen and like my chefs to be the same.

How do you manage to give the original taste to biryani, cooking it in olive oil?

The taste palette is different here in the UK and everything is moving towards health eating. We try to keep up with customer preferences hence cooking in olive oil becomes necessary.

But actually more than the cooking medium, it is the flavour of the spices which matters. If you are using right spices in right proportion in a dish, you are bound to charm your guests.

Though cooking comes naturally to a woman, yet there are more male chefs than female, the reason being?

It does come naturally to women, but that’s in the kitchen at home. Cooking in restaurants is quite different. It’s heavier, more difficult and demanding and hence women tend to shy away from that.

Also the hours can be very unsociable, especially if women have young children. Hence it doesn’t attract women so much. Cooking Indian cuisine is especially hard work and therefore not as attractive to women within the Indian culture.

Is being a woman helpful in being a better cook?

I wouldn’t say it’s helpful, you have to have the passion and the drive to begin with no matter who you are, I do think family background helps, I started cooking with my mother at a very young age, so it came naturally and since then it has always been my passion.

What’s your favourite cuisine and dish?

You may be surprised I love Rice and Masur Dal, it’s a simple dish but very tasty. I love to eat that most nights when I come home from work.

Do you think a rising consciousness towards zero calorie food has diminished the charm of cooking good food?

We are moving away from traditional tastes slightly with healthier dishes, but we have to keep our customers happy and allow them to have healthy options.

Have cookery shows made cooking more charming?

Yes, cookery shows encourage people to experiment and it keeps the passion and interest in food going, it’s great for the restaurant trade.

Which dish would you like to call your signature dish?

My signature dish is definitely Mutton Biryani. It’s the king of Indian cuisine, it’s very traditional and made in layers. It is a delicious main dish, but also very hard to make.

Do you have a taste for Indian food? Which is your favourite Indian dish?

I love Indian food and also love cooking Indian recipes. There are about 4 or 5 different Indian dishes I love cooking, but if I had to choose a sweet dish it would be Kheer.

Kheer is a delicious pudding, it takes about 6 hours to make, it consists of fresh cream, rice, milk and sugar, you have to spend time making it, the taste is so delicious. It’s a traditional dish and often made at home on special occasions within the Indian community.