Hotel Le Meridien’s head Chef Davinder Kumar, has crystallized his three decades of experience in hotel and food industry in his just released second culinary book ‘Just Kebabs: Celebration of 365 Days And One For A Leap Year.’ The Vice President – F&B, Le Meridien, has effectively used the book to break several myths like the Kebabs are a Mughal invention and they are meant just for the non-vegetarians.
In an exclusive tete-a-tete with Smita Mishra of Spicezee.com, Kumar reveals what goes into a scrumptious kebab and how to choose the best chutney with it.
You specialize in French and European cuisines, so how come this book on Kebabs?
When I became a chef, I got the opportunity to travel extensively. This inculcated in me a passion for kebabs. When you are an expert in cooking you easily become a master of any cuisine. It takes very little effort and it is all about your interest in the subject.
Kebabs drew me because they are nutritious, healthy and as they are mostly barbequed, they retain the essential juices and have also very little fat content.
They go well with all kinds of food and can be included in the menu list on all occasions.
Are vegetarian kebabs as delicious?
I have tried to explode the myth in my book that Kebabs cannot be made with vegetables. I have attempted to keep the recipes simple and non cumbersome. In fact, my book is an encyclopedia of sorts on Kebabs. It has nearly 120 varieties of kebabs made of veggies.
What are the basic rules to be followed while making kebabs?
There are a few basic rules, following which you can expect to dish out some of the finest kebabs. Firstly the raw material is of utmost importance. The meat should be fresh and should have low fat content. Secondly it should be marinated rightly. Marination helps in making it tender and imparts aroma to the food item.
For example if you want to make fish tikka American style, all you have to do is to put a little salt in the fish and grill it. But in Indian style tikka, an elaborate marination is needed so that the taste of the spices percolates into the food.
Thirdly, the intensity of the flame on which the kebab is being grilled is also very important. It should be neither too height, nor too low. Cooking on charcoal has a special benefit. It seals the pores of the meat, hence the juices remain intact, giving that succulent taste to the kebabs.
And lastly, there should not be much gap between cooking and serving. It is best when kebabs are served right on plate.
In which city of India do you think, the best kebabs are made?
Let us not forget that during and after the Mughal era, new innovations in the kitchens of Awadh, Hyderabad, Lucknow were introduced. These cities still make delicious kebabs.
Which is your favourite kebab?
Oh it is a really, really difficult question. I love Sarson Wali Machli, Reshmi Kebab, Gilauti Kebab and Seekh kebab.
Have kebabs been totally Indianised? And to what effect?
Kebab making goes back to ancient times. They gradually improved with time. Turkey, Persia, have a history of the earliest Kebabs. There is no proof however that they originated in ancient India.
Why does western palate try Kebabs?
Western food is basically bland. Salt and pepper are their main ingredients. Their lamb chops are plain in taste, but our kebabs are spicy, have flavour and aroma which appeals to the Westerners.
What inspired you to write this book?
Actually in all these years of my profession I found that a good treatise on something as basic as the common kebabs was missing. My main aim was to create an encyclopedia with a contemporary take. I wanted to take cooking of kebabs to the next level. Restaurants mostly serve kebabs with onion rings and mint chutney. But in my book I have attempted to work out on a combination-the ideal kebab chutney combo.
Besides, I have also experimented in kebabs. Like my book has a duck and a lobster kebab.
What made you choose the profession of a chef?
Right after college I was looking for some course that would help me shape my career. Hotel management was an upcoming profession at that time, with promising growth prospects. But frankly speaking at that time this was not considered as a very respectable profession. But once I entered into it, I started enjoying it thoroughly.
You have written on Chutneys, breads, kebabs…now what?
Salads. My next book will be on Salads, divided into two sections. Normal and healthy salads.