‘Wazwaan’ with Pride of Kashmir Umesh Mattoo, Corporate Chef (Facility Planner – Trainer Chef) Ascot Hotels Pvt. Ltd. & Legends of India
1. Tell us about yourself, your journey from the spicy lanes of Kashmir to Corporate Cooking?
Chef Mattoo: I am an Alumni of Institute of Hotel Management Pusa, New Delhi, India (1982 Batch).
I started my career as a Kitchen Management trainee with Centaur Group of hotels in New Delhi, Mumbai and Srinagar (Kashmir). It was only after I finished my program that I was appointed as Chef De Partir at Centaur Srinagar. I handled Kitchen & different cuisines and was responsible for the launch of Daawat Khana at Centaur Srinagar. It’s been a great journey of 35 years in the hospitality business. I now enjoy working on projects that are more of business collaborations.
2. Kashmiris are known to be either Doctor’s or Engineer’s. How challenging was your decision to be a Chef coming from a traditional Kashmiri family? Did you face questions like “Luk kya Wanan” (Sarcasm from Relatives)? And how did you face it all?
Chef Mattoo: My family was a lot liberal and gave me all the freedom I required. There was no pressure of academics, scores or grades. While I wanted to join an engineering college like my peers, the turning point came when I landed up joining a Hotel Management course instead, with the help of my childhood friend Mr.Tej Razdan (presently principal CIHM) and my brother in law Dr. R.K. Kaul. Both these gentlemen have been instrumental in laying the foundation of my career and my first love- Cooking.
3. What’s so good about Kashmiri cuisine and what are your favorite dishes?
Chef Mattoo: Kashmiri cuisine has a lavish spread of vegetarian and non-vegetarian Platte. The cuisine is rich in flavour & grand in appeal. Each recipe has a history of how and why it’s cooked? What’s most important is that nothing is wasted in this cuisine.
My personal favourite is ‘Gogj Siun’ (Turnip & Meat) cooked on simmering wood fire on earthen pots. It adds wonders to the whole eating experience especially during winters in Kashmir. I also relish ‘Hokhsuen’ (The sundried vegetables).
4. There is a myth about Kashmiri Cuisine that it’s mostly Non-vegetarian. Vegetarian Dishes are not very popular, what’s your take on it?
Chef Mattoo: True or False, I do not know, but it surely is a perception. There is no lack of vegetarian dishes in Kashmiri Hindu or Muslim Cuisine. Our homeland produces some unique varieties of vegetables like ‘Hakh’ (Green leaves on likes of spinach and Collard Greens), ‘Kangich’ (Morrels), Sauchal (kind of green weeds), Wostahakh (Greens), ‘Monj Hakh’ (Kohl Rabi) and many more. Non-vegetarian cuisine has been more popularised and is commercially suited well. As a chef, I only see a limitation in desserts as there isn’t much variety to offer.
5. Your wife is a non-Kashmiri, does she relish the cuisine and is it a part of your family food Platte?
Chef Mattoo: My wife hails from Goa. Food from both regions is a contrast in taste and preparation. I take immense pride in the fact that my wife Anita is an excellent cook and makes equally authentic Kashmiri Cuisine. When we were in Houston, she would cook Kashmiri food for social gatherings and also help me in the restaurant. Together, we catered to many important social occasions including Shivratri celebrations (Kashmir’s eminent festival) for Kashmir Association in Houston.
Yes undoubtedly, Kashmir cuisine is our regular food Platte and my wife’s preparation of Dumaloo (Potato In red gravy) is to die for.
6. With globalization and cross cultures entering our homes, how do you see the future of regional food flourishing in India?
Chef Mattoo: With Global Food Platte entering our homes, it’s evident that people today are looking at variety and authenticity. They are willing to try new cuisines and open to paying a premium. Today, you cannot take a “whole” potato, mix it in red gravy and call it Dum Aloo of Kashmir. Awareness on food and its origin is immense. Hence, I feel authentic regional food will get its due and at the same time, culturally cult & fusion food too will carve a niche for itself.
7. Do you travel to Kashmir often? Tell us about your favorite destinations that a traveler- tourist must cover in his sojourn to the valley?
Chef Mattoo: Well, of late, I haven’t been to Kashmir owing to work commitments. But it’s on top of my travel list.
As far as places in Kashmir go, the main iconic places are well known, so I won’t talk about them. I am a foodie and what I would want your readers to know is about the Food of the valley and places known for those.
6 Must have places to eat in Kashmir
- Luchi & Halwa at Kheer Bhavani.
- Kanti & Toast at Ahdoos.
- Seekh Kebab, Demina (stomach of the lamb) Pakmond (lamb trotters), Goshtaba, Rista, MethiMaz on Badshah Chowk.
- Gadh Monj (Fish & Kohlrabi) at Habakadal
- Bhutta (corn) on Cheshmashahi Road and Alchi Chutney.
- Kashmir Breads delicacies Like Katlam, Telwor, Kulcha, Girda, Lavasaa and many others served warm and fresh from tandoors by the traditional Kandurs (Bakers) early in morning and evening.