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Chef Irfan Pabaney talks about striking a balance

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Raising the taste bar: Chef Irfan Pabaney talks about striking a balance and his weakness for curry leaf

Chef Irfan Pabaney takes a deep breath before sniffing at the hot fried wings. Pleased at the aroma, he looks up and says, “I love curry patta ya, its fragrance and what it does to activate taste buds.” As the newly-appointed country head of SodaBottleOpenerWala, the Bombay Irani café and bar chain, Irfan was in Hyderabad to oversee how the kitchen is coping with the menu he introduced.

Taking a break from the kitchen, Irfan meets the diners, dressed in a comfortable pair of knee-long shorts, a chef’s coat and his signature bandana (head wrap) that one cannot miss. “Chefs need to wear something to cover their head, I prefer the bandana. This is one of the four bandanas my friend got me all the way from Philippines. For the four-day trip here, I am carrying three bandanas,” he laughs, adding that his bandana collection at present stands at 50.

Born in India, Irfan spent a great deal of his growing up years abroad owing to his father’s professional commitment with the United Nations. “I spent a lot my childhood years in Colombia, Philippines and Sri Lanka before the family moved to Mumbai in 1980,” he recollects.

Irfan is currently working towards creating a food vision while retaining the café’s quintessential spirit of a Bombay Irani Café. “I am excited about my new engagement and our focus will be to make the Parsi Irani and Bombay street food spread even more exciting. So you will be amazed to find a khari pizza on the menu. Besides, we have also worked to introduce more vegetarian food on the menu.”

In the 27 years that he has been a chef, Irfan has been at the helm of some of the most notable restaurants. His professional engagements include Under the Over, Seijo & The Soul Dish, Indigo and Hakkasan among others before he finally decided to branch out on his own, with a partner and co-owner, to start a restaurant, The Sassy Spoon. Right after completing standard XII, Irfan wanted to be a chef for the style and glamour associated with the profession. “I was young and the flamboyance of the job attracted me. Luckily for me, I couldn’t make it because my call letter reached late. I went ahead and finished my bachelor’s degree in Commerce. Soon after that, on my dad’s suggestion, I worked with a family business that belonged to his friend. By this time I was sure of why I wanted to be a chef. I realised a chef is more than someone who posed with good-looking food. A chef is pivotal not just to run the business but also to educate diners. Without wasting time, I enrolled at a school of hotel management. I found the pressures of being a chef thrilling and extremely compelling,” says Irfan.

Irfan has no ‘cooking with grandmother’ story to share. What he shares for a kitchen experience is: “As a child, when our parents were travelling without us, mum would cook some dishes and freeze it in portions. Being the eldest, I was to take it out, thaw and heat it, and cook rice. But that has no connection with me wanting to become a chef,” he laughs.

In Hyderabad, Irfan loves sampling food from different places, with absolutely no qualms about letting go his food restrictions, as he tries out various kinds of biryanis and mandi.

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Printable version | Dec 12, 2019 2:27:01 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/food/chef-irfan-pabaney-sodabottleopenerwala-irani-styled-cafe/article30004550.ece

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