Naushad, Big Chef, speaks about how he popularised the biriyani and earned this moniker
This BIG story started small around 50 years back in Thiruvalla. “Those days biriyani was not common in Central Travancore. Kozhikode was known for its biriyani and Kollam too. My father used to have a hotel in Thiruvalla those days. And my mother belongs to Kollam. When they got married, he took an expert biriyani maker from Kollam back home. And…”
Naushad or Naushad Big Chef, as he is better known as, narrates his version of how biriyani came to Central Travancore. He is the man behind a cookery show which has been on for almost seven years now; a catering business; and a budding chain of restaurants, Naushad Big Chef (NBC). Bangalore will get one soon and also one in West Asia. And it all started with his father's catering business, Naushad Catering. The ‘Big' refers to his girth and he is a good sport about it too, “I have always been like this.”
We are at the NBC, Sahodaran Ayappan Road with Naushad. Presiding deity-like, he observes the lunch time crowd in the restaurant, a smile here and a nod there. “When plates are cleared we have the indication of how the food is,” he says with a smile.
He goes on flashback mode. “I was interested in cooking when I was young. Later on, I did a hotel management course from Bangalore and learnt more. For instance, baking or Chinese cuisine or the importance of presentation,” he says. While there he understood the potential of the catering business and “made things more professional at his father's catering business”. With a cookery show on TV that has been on for almost seven years, and a ‘BIG' fan following, a chain of restaurants was inevitable.
Professional he clearly is. Although the menu in the two eateries, the one on SA Road and MG Road, is more or less the same, each caters to a niche clientele. The MG Road NBC lunch buffet is a Central Travancore style ‘meal'. At SA Road, on the other hand, here is no ‘thali' meal because “our customers here are predominantly North Indians. We did a market survey.”
Talk veers to standardisation which is crucial for a chain of restaurants. For instance, his biriyani, which is the current flavour of the town, had better taste the same at both the places. How does he ensure it? “A centralised kitchen. Since the biriyani is ‘dum-cooked', there is a firewood/charcoal stove where it is cooked. It involves a lot of smoke etc. which is not conducive in a restaurant kitchen where other kinds of food is prepared.” Sticking to a brand (or kind) of rice is important because some will not absorb the masala or the cooking time varies.
Since his restaurants serve a lot of seafood and meats, he ensures that he gets the best quality that is available. “We need huge quantities, so our suppliers are happy and they give us the best – be it meat, poultry or seafood.” Seafood by the way is vast at NBC - lobsters, prawn, squid, octopus he reels off. Octopus? “Yes! I'll show you,” he says, we keep it for another time.
He says in full earnest that food is his passion and not just business. The kathi roll joint in Bangalore or the kebabs in Karims in Delhi, or trying out local eateries, he is clearly all about food. It is not just eating; he seems to know his food. “The food typical of Kottayam has a continental influence because of the estates and the ‘Sahibs'. Stew, Fish Moilee etc. are typical examples. In fact, some folks had barbecues grills before people got to know such things existed.” He seems to know what is trending as far as eating out in Kerala goes. ‘Naadan food,' which is why there are some typical dishes on the menu.
It is not all food to Naushad, there is the other ‘addiction' – films. “Blessy and I were classmates right through school and college,” he says. One thing led to another and he produced Blessy's ‘Kazcha' and went on to produce some more films ‘Chattambinaad', ‘Best Actor' and took on distribution rights for ‘Pramaani' which did not augur well for him. He is also producing Lal Jose's ‘Spanish Masala'. Did he have a hand in naming the film? “No! Benny (Nayarambalam) told me ‘I have a name which you will like, ‘Spanish Masala'.” Hope it lives up to the Big Chef's reputation.