Imtiaz Qureshi talks about how he became a renowned chef

There are very few people who get a chance to make a career out of their passion but given such an opportunity, one should make the most of it. Chef Imtiaz Qureshi did just that. At 85-plus, the chef is as passionate about his work as when he started at the age of nine at his maternal uncle’s catering unit.

At a recent kabab and biryani promotion held at New Delhi’s WelcomHotel Dwarka, Chef Qureshi walked with confidence in black jodhpuri trousers complementing his white chef’s coat. He came up to me and taking my hands in his said apologetically, “Maaf kijiyega humko thodi der ho gayi.”

Touched by the warm gesture by the stalwart, I paused to feel the palms that have prepared master dishes for some of the most significant people in the world. I joined him taking a round of the kitchen where the biryani was on dum. While shaking the biryani he said, “It is very important, otherwise the flavours will not travel and the whole joy of eating a nice dum biryani would be lost.”

Born into a Qureshi (butcher) family on February 2, 1929 in Hussainabad, Lucknow, Imtiaz was the fifth of the 11 children of Murad Ali and Sakina Qureshi. Who would have thought that a nine-year-old child who used to accompany his father to the army camp to supply meat in the hope of getting custard or a pudding in return would one day have Prime Ministers of the world eating out of his hands?

“I belong to a family of bawarchis. My grandfather’s cousin was known by the name of Ahmad Chaapwala in the whole of Kolkata. My ustad, Haji Ishtiaq who was a relative from mother’s side, was a renowned caterer of his time. But when I started to surpass my mentor, my mother said you leave and start your own work. I left and got a job in Krishna Hotel at a monthly salary of Rs.100.”

But how did he land a job with the reputed ITC group?

“It all started with Kakori’s,” he said. “My mother’s grandfather’s in-laws used to stay in Kakori so when he visited them, as a hobby and for a living he would make some reshmi kababs in local city melas. Within no time those mouth-watering kababs became so popular that people used to ask each other, ‘have you eaten kakori ke kabab? And later when I became a chef I made them at a party in Aurangabad where the ITC Chairman A.N. Haksar met me and later called me for an interview in Delhi.”

Further delving into his past, the chef said, “The good thing was I already had an appointment letter from Taj Coromandel, Chennai, so I was not worried but an interview in Delhi was a golden opportunity. I was shocked to see around 100 executive officials of ITC during my cooking test. Believing in my abilities and having faith in Allah I made some dishes out of which I was selected when people tasted my Kakori kababs and biryani. Later in a competition, M.F. Husain declared my Kakori as the ‘King of Kababs’ — and the rest is history.”

Chef Imtiaz started his journey with ITC Mughal Agra and now is settled as the Grand Master Chef of ITC Maratha, Mumbai. The family legacy is going strong. He said, “My five sons and almost 30 members of my family are in the culinary industry.”

A family that cooks together…

Chef Imtiaz Qureshi’s five sons are all in the culinary business, as are 30 members of his extended family:

Ishtiaque Qureshi — Kebab Hut & Kakori House

Ashfaque Qureshi — Co-Founder, Grande Cuisines

Irfan Qureshi — Co-Founder, Grande Cuisines

Imran Qureshi — Kebab Hut

Ehsan Qureshi — Grande Cuisines

Ghulam Qureshi (Imtiaz’s son-in-law) — Master Chef Dum Pukht Delhi

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