"The Day My Dad Became My Friend"

This Father’s Day, we get some of the happening culinary minds in the country to spill the bean on their most interesting father-daughter/son ritual – and what makes them their absolute must-do even today.

By Madhulika Dash
Let’s face it: We never needed a Father’s Day to celebrate our dads – or recognise the larger-than- life influence he is on us. For most of us, he was and always remained the captain of the family ship, even as we became the ‘man’ and ‘daughter’ he wanted us to be. The formidable figure at home who we learn to revere and love most all through our growing up years. Our first hero, first mentor and first advisor, our dads were everything a superhuman should be. This Fathers’ Day, we ask some of finest culinary minds to share that one anecdote that made their father their very best friend, confidant and a classic mentor to a good life. Here are some of the coolest friendship that was built on love, respect – and a bowl of good food! 1


“I don’t remember when it started, but since my tweenage years, I and my dad follow a simple Sunday ritual – the barber shop, where we get similar cuts, followed by a trip to the mutton shop, then the vegetable market and back home to cook the mutton. Of course, dad cooked mutton, but I was his commi, who did all the prep work: weighing the ingredients, grinding them, peeling onions, garlic and ginger (with a spoon that is). I wasn’t a big fan of the commi life, but the privilege of tasting mutton before anyone else was worth the Sunday effort. His peculiar style of making it allowed me to experiment with my dishes in later years as chef. In fact, one of the best moments were watching him fillet a fish. Even though it was far from textbook work, the sheer joy on his face when he cooked his first fish with me designing the recipe was the best moment. Suddenly, he became the friend I wanted to cook with. Even today, when he is a spirited 80 and cooks no more, just having him around while I cook is an untradeable ritual." 2


“My dad is my hero. Not only because he is my dad, but because of the sheer support that he has been for me through my good times and bad. The incident that made my dad my best friend is when I was 17. I had shifted to Mumbai then Bombay to study science and my dad came to drop me off. He did everything to help me settle down, but a week later I was miserably homesick. I called up my dad and asked him if I could come back to Assam. He said, “Okay, no problem let’s get you back back." Once I resumed my happy face, he asked me to spend two more days finding little things to be happy with my new solo life – and my dream. His words worked like magic. It’s been almost a decade now, I am here, living happily and pursuing my dream of having a restaurant, my style called Arth. The day I realised how he had turned me into a dream-liver, I had made my own version of the Seekh Kebab, which I shared with my dad. Since that day, everytime he is around or I miss him, you would find a plate of fragrant, soft seekh kebab sitting next to me." 3


“Growing up Bong, my dad and I share quite a few common habits – we loved old plays, reading books and eating, especially when it came to Bengali sweets and fish. Food in fact has been both a boon and bane of our lives – it is on the dinner table that we have our finest of food arguments, ranging from what is the benchmark of a good fried fish to how the Bengali thali should be plated. But in all these years, we have never left the table making our peace. It is on this table that I learnt some of my father meticulous ways of working, interesting thinking and discipline. In fact, my first paycheck was the tip he gave me after tasting the fish curry I made for him. In fact, I still get a rupee five whenever I make something which he has loved. And that even today remains as one of our favourite moment to talk mano-o-mano." 4


“It’s strange but true: my dad who taught me all I know about Rajasthani food and heritage never cooked for me. But I guess, it was a blessing in disguise, because what he taught me to do was taste food. My father who grew up in the colonial era became my first culinary teacher who taught be the virtue of understanding our philosophy. He always said, cooking is a good talent to have, but cooking with the understanding and appreciation of your own culinary heritage makes you brilliant. Thanks to his insistence to understand flavours, cooking style and even ingredients, I developed the knack of research and taste. And while we did have our food session sprinkled with history, the one thing that we both loved is the latpata mutton keema (keema in gravy), which is a recipe evolved by him. It was one of our mainstay whenever we sit down to have our bonding over food, history and anecdotes." 5


“My dad was always a foodie, with an inclination towards his own cuisine. And one of the way he appreciated eating is by cooking himself. I, of course, was his defacto helper, who would do all the prep work, setting the table, making the salad – so on and so forth. Back the, I hated it, but looking back now, I think it was those years that turned me into a chef. In fact, I get my streak of researching and sourcing indigenous ingredients from him. The mutton rizala that we have on Lavaash By Saby menu is the one he perfected after making many trips to this little restaurant that he loved. And it dates to 1967." 6


“Since my childhood days, one of my favourite activities would be to go vegetable shopping every Sunday with my dad. He was the chief grocery buyer of our home and would go to extreme lengths to get the right kind of food, fruits and even sweets. The way he shopped was akin to a collector. He would take his time examining the vegetables – thickness of the skin of potato, firmness of tomatoes, tenderness of okra, and so on. I would get impatient, but dad took his time until he was satisfied. Over the years, I learnt the virtue of picking up quality produce – and the difference it made to food. Today while I select my ingredients, I always remember his gurumantra of being careful and patient about what goes in my dishes. It is something that I now love doing with my daughter who loves cooking." 7


"My father was a hotelier, he is a hotel management graduate from IHM and I strongly feel that is one of reasons why I do what I do today, passionately even. While growing up, I don’t remember him cooking much at home, Sundays being an exception. Breakfast on Sundays used to be my father’s responsibility and while my mother woke us up and got us ready, breakfast for four would already be laid on the dining table. His favourite dish was Eggs Florentine, which I first learnt to gain brownie points from him. But later it became a favourite of mine too, and perhaps the single dish that made me understand him better." 8


“There are so many things I’d like to tell my father face to face. I either lack the words or fail to find the time or place. But if I am a chef today with a love for both meat and veggies, it is courtesy my parents, especially my dad, who was a prolific cook of vegetarian dishes. So much so that there were times when I would skip a fish or mutton dish and polish off one of his creation. My favourite dad’s dish was “Kande Pohe". The taste, the story and the aroma were enough to volunteer as an assistant to him every Sunday, when the day began with a nice bowl of moist Kande Pohe. His love for this dish was so evident that it made me fall in love with Kande Pohe. So now every time we are together for few days he will make Kande Pohe for breakfast and the following day I will make – just to see whose are better. We did that even when he was in Singapore this season." 9


“Even though my mother and sister were amazing cooks, the one person’s cooking that would be a unmissable treat for me was that of my dad. A passionate homechef, he would often cook for me when my mom was away at my grandmother’s house. And his style of cooking was much restaurant style – lavish, rich and extremely tasteful. I still recall watching my dad in awe as he chopped vegetable, marinated the mutton and cooked it in the kadai. He was as methodological a cook as he was a host. He would lay the table the same way my mother did when we expected guests. If he wasn’t cooking then we would be out exploring local cuisine of the place and restaurant with legacy. Somewhere growing up it was food that not only helped me bond with my dad better but also played a significant role in getting me interested in kitchens and in being a chef. We still love to cook when we are together – the only difference is now that roles have changed, I cook, he helps."