Kundan Lal Gujral's family has extended the famed tandoori enterprise to include Moti Mahal, China Wall, Darya and Dosa n Chutny outlets in India, the UAE and around the globe. Here's what his heir, Ashim Gujral, has to say:
How does it feel to be the grandson of the inventor of tandoori chicken?
After 91 years, they still talk about my grandfather when they talk of Indian food, and his legacy means pride and honour for our family. Old newspaper clips about him always form a part of my presentations, and the most valuable are my grandfather's pictures with various Indian and international dignitaries. The Shah of Iran was once advised to visit two places in India — the Taj Mahal and the Moti Mahal.
Being his grandson is invaluable, often at unexpected places. I was at the German Embassy, and the interviewing officer turned out to be a regular visitor and great fan of Moti Mahal. The Ambassador of Mauritius to India lent me personal support for getting Moti Mahal to Mauritius.
As the grandson of a legend, I try to keep his family name alive and growing. Today, I can boast of a chain of 75 restaurants worldwide.
How does the Indian tandoori chicken match up to Arabic shish taouk or the continental roast chicken. What do we have that they don't?
Every chicken dish is popular with people in specific places. But with the world becoming closer and a universal desire to try different foods, they have also become popular worldwide. To my surprise, my wife became a great fan of shish taouk in Dubai, while she hardly eats tandoori chicken at home.
It is a common sight to see foreigners at my restaurants feasting on tandoori chicken and other delicacies such as tikka masala — a boneless extension of the dish, with additional spices in a thick gravy. One in seven curries sold in the UK is chicken tikka masala.
The most important aspect of the Indian dish is in its name; chicken cooked in a tandoor derives an earthy aroma from the clay mud used to make this unique oven. The 16 aromatic herbs and spices in the marinade and grilling on live charcoal also make a huge difference to the flavour of our chicken.
Do you have any advice for brave — or foolhardy — folks who want to cook a classic tandoori chicken at home?
I say: attempt, attempt, attempt. If my grandfather was not bold enough to try, the world may never have known tandoori chicken. Though the herbs and spices we use are closely guarded secrets, many recipes are available for trial at home.
Will you share some tips, tricks or treats with this adventurous lot?
• Always use fresh chicken, never frozen.
• Wash the chicken thoroughly, add salt, lemon juice and a little vinegar and leave aside for 20 minutes before marinating.
• Proper slits help get the marinade deep into the chicken.
•Marinate for at least six hours at a proper temperature, but overnight is best.
•Do not use artificial colour to get the bright fiery red. It spoils the taste.
What about the tenderiser question: yes, no, or never?
While tenderisers do their job, they kill the delicate flavours of aromatic herbs. Another point to consider is the size of the chicken. Many people tend to buy large chickens weighing 1kg or more. To get soft and tender results, use birds that weigh between 700g and 800g.
How should a table of foreigners tackle a full tandoori chicken when introduced to it for the first time?
Indian food is best enjoyed when eaten with the hand, especially the tandoori chicken that takes all ten fingers to savour. My teams always advise foreigners to use their hands and not cutlery, and when they do, they have smiles of satisfaction. I remember a childhood incident at one of our restaurants, amid a party of foreigners, where a man tried to eat his chicken with a fork and knife. As he cut into the chicken, a piece jumped out from his plate and landed inside my dad's shirt pocket, causing great laughs.
How many tandoori chicken can one really hungry person eat in a single sitting?
I have a story dating back to my school days. When my father came to drop me off at the school, our team was leaving for the All India Public Schools Athletic Meet. He then declared that if we won a gold medal, all the students and sports teachers would get a free dinner at Moti Mahal. Winning the gold medal was definitely an honour, and when the day came, all 30 members were present at Moti Mahal. We each ate five tandoori chicken before we moved on to other dishes. This almost equated to another gold medal.