That rustic scent of a simmering haleem, slowly nourishing each flavour into its velvety fold, coupled with the spice-laden aroma of a masala biryani nestled in its earthen pot, trigger flashbacks of a childhood spent huddled around the home fires during Ramadan.
Our neighbourhood khaala’s (aunt) kitchen would transform into a community sanctuary for harried wives, hours before iftar, frantically searching for the right ingredients to salvage a feast that would become the talk of the table for the next few seasons.
It is perhaps stories similar to these that planted the first seed to create a TV show that could become a communal meeting ground to share personal anecdotes, recipes and experiences of a hearty feast during the month of Ramadan.
“The idea behind Flavours of Ramadan was to bring about a show that was like no other in this region,” explains creator and host, Gaurav Tandon. “Most Ramadan cookery shows feature recipes that can be called ‘typical’; but I felt that people wanted a lot more while having iftar or even suhoor.
“So we decided that we will bring together chefs from different nationalities and let them prepare dishes that come from their country and cuisines that go well with Ramadan.”
Indian celebrity chefs Kunal Kapur and Ranveer Brar will feature this season, whipping up culinary wonders as the latest edition of the show kicks off from May 18 on Sony Entertainment Television.
Tandon adds: “This season people will have a lot of variety in the recipes that we will offer. While Kunal Kapur will give Indian food and traditional recipes a modern twist, Ranveer Brar will unleash recipes that come from a pre partition Punjab and also from his early memories of iftar in Lucknow.
“We [also] have chefs from the Dukes Dubai who come from different restaurants of the hotel and will be sharing recipes….”
Now in its sixth season, the K Kompany production has also previously featured music icon, Asha Bhosle, whose culinary skills are legendary in the close knit circles of Bollywood. This year, the makers have also added a doctor to the mix who will also be sharing recipes that will provide a healthier take on the traditional iftar menu.
Ahead of the season, Gulf News tabloid! chats with the show’s two celebrity chefs and takes a peek at what’s cooking this season.
Chef, restaurateur and judge on reality show, MasterChef India
What are you planning to whip up in the kitchen for viewers on Flavours of Ramadan?
This is my third season with Flavours… and this year I am cooking up a marriage between Indian and international cuisines. The recipes will be quick, easy and fun, and above all, doable in a home kitchen. The idea is to bring excitement on to the dining table for Ramadan.
What are you and Ranveer Brar planning to whip up in the kitchen?
Not many know that Ranveer and I go a long way back when we were trainees at Taj hotels. I admire his passion and our chemistry will make you laugh and hopefully inspire you to cook as well.
In your opinion, what is the perfect Ramadan menu?
Something that nourishes you first. People should forget and forgive on these days and come together and eat and food. As for the perfect Ramadan menu, catch the new season.
What is your earliest memory of an iftar feast growing up in New Delhi?
Going out to small restaurants and feasting on haleem.
What’s your advice for someone planning a Ramadan feast at home?
Food does not have to be complicated to impress someone. Keep food healthy, clean and experiment in the kitchen a bit.
Over the years, you’e cooked for heads of states and VIPs. What has been the most memorable meal?
My most memorable meals are always what I cook for my son. He is a picky eater but I make him sit in the kitchen when I cook for him and feed him with myself. Nothing compares to that.
What is comfort food for you?
Pyaz [onion] paratha with sweet lassi [buttermilk].
What has been the most memorable part of judging the reality show, MasterChef India?
MasterChef India have touched and inspired so many lives. It is the show which started a food revolution in India where people openly started accepting chefs as important people. It also gave a huge importance and recognition to home cooks. For auditions we had thousands who lined up with their food and somewhere it became impossible to taste each dish.
If not a chef, what would you be?
A banker. My father would have seen to it that I became one.
If you could host a dinner for three of your favourite people, who would they be?
My grandparents and Mahatma Gandhi.
Any plans to open up a restaurant in Dubai?
Psst. Coming soon.
Chef, food stylist and judge on season four of MasterChef India
What treats do you have in store on Flavours of Ramadan?
I am planning to whip up flavours representing where I come from, that’s Lucknow and flavours from the family I was born into, that is Punjab. I am [also] trying to highlight food from erstwhile Punjab, the Punjab before partition, so one will see influences of Lahori and Amritsari food.
Will viewers catch you and Kunal Kapur cooking up some magic in the kitchen?
Yes, absolutely! Kunal and I go back a long way; we have cooked together in three hotels, but this is the first time it’s happening on television. Viewers are sure to be treated to some good fun. We cooked some dishes together, spiced with a lot of nostalgic conversation. So, I am particularly looking forward to that episode.
What would be your perfect Ramadan menu?
The perfect Ramadan menu would start with a dose of sugar to immediately kick in the energy, dates are best; followed up with proteins, fruits. I, personally, would like to see a lot of colour on the table because colour is nutrition and you need it after fasting the whole day. After the first few days, however, my iftaar would become subtle, less loud basically.
What is your earliest memory of an iftar feast?
I was five to six years old. We lived close to a neighbourhood called Subhani Khera [Lucknow], where most of my friends lived. The first iftar would be at my friend Shahbaaz’s house. I cannot forget the flavours of those kebabs and how everybody just came together, purely to celebrate the joy of eating.
Your advice to someone planning to cook a Ramadan feast at home?
Save energy and prepare tasty food. If you are planning an iftar, try stuff that requires longer marination and less cooking. After a daylong fast you wouldn’t want to be tired strenuously cooking. Use tender cuts of meat that require less effort. One-pot stews are another option that can just be left to slow-cook.
What has been the most memorable meal you’ve ever prepared?
It was a 17-course meal for the then captain of the Boston Celtics, Paul Pierce. Being an NBA fan myself and still a Bostonian at heart, it was pretty exciting when he called and wanted this arrangement to propose to his girlfriend. It is easily one of the most memorable experiences and it was an exciting menu, too. Obviously, the answer was a yes.
What is the most rewarding and the most frustrating part of being a chef?
The most rewarding is the immediate gratification you get, when people’s eyes light up as they eat your food. The frustrating part on the other end of the spectrum is, when people expect the process of cooking good food to be at the push of a button.
If not a chef, what would you be?
A travel or wildlife photographer. I also paint and sculpt in what free time I get.
What is comfort food?
Khichdi, anytime, any day, of course with its best mates — papad, pickle and curd.
If you could host a dinner for three of your favourite chefs, who would they be?
Tough one, but I would like to pick Thomas Keller, Mossimo Bottura and Gaggan Anand.
If you had plans to open up a restaurant in Dubai what would it be?
Definitely not an Indian restaurant! Everywhere I look there’s an Indian restaurant and various shades of it, some little Indian, some more Indian, some conventional, some unconventional. I wish to do something that’s more offbeat, maybe open up a bar and say I don’t serve food! Let’s see...
Quick five with Gaurav Tandon
If there is one celebrity chef you could bring to Flavours of Ramadan who would it be?
It has to be Guy Fieri. I am a believer that every dish has a story and there is no better chef than the one who can tell that story. I love the way Guy speaks about his food and I would love to bring him down to this region.
Have you personally tried to re-create any of the recipes yourself at home?
Oh no not at all! I am a guy who has no patience for mediocre cooking and hence I never even try.
Who is the better cook: you or your wife?
Hands down Kritika [Dubai-based radio presenter] is a better cook. To be fair, she is a phenomenal cook. In fact, if I am lucky and she is in a good mood, Friday meals made by her are something I look forward to.
If there is one dish that signifies Ramadan for you, what is it and why?
As cliched as it may sound, biryani signifies Ramadan for me. But these days I have moved away from Indian biryani and I am really enjoying Yemini versions like Haneeth and Zorabian.
What’s next for you?
This year, we will launch the regions first ever digital series. [I] can’t tell you much more now but it’s going to be very exciting.
Don’t miss it!
Flavours of Ramadan will air on Sony TV from May 18 every Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 5pm in the UAE.