A couple of months ago when the invite to participate in the world’s 1st Heritage cuisine summit and Food Festival 2018- Amritsar came to Qatar Culinary Professionals (QCP), Chef David the President asked me if I would be interested to be a part of the team that would represent Qatar. All I heard were the two words “heritage cuisine”, and spontaneously said YES Please.
Since that moment, I was curious to know what this event was all about and how as team QCP we can showcase Qatari food at its best and make an impact on this platform.
Plan A: Find a Qatari chef
As the event is all about local traditional cuisine, we started shortlisting the local chefs and locked in on one who expressed interest to be a part. Unfortunately, the chef withdrew with just 10 days to go for the event due to unknown reasons.
Plan B: Find an Arabic chef with Qatari food knowledge
David was determined that no matter what, we were not cancelling. “Let’s find someone who can cook a Qatari dish” and another chef from our team volunteered to step up. The dish decided, recipe sorted, tickets booked. Checklist complete.
Time to fly
Two days before the event we were in a situation where the Arabic chef had an important task to finish and decided to fly a day after me. No big deal, right? (The demo was only on the 2nd day of the event). Surprisingly at the airport, I bumped into Chef Thomas Gugler-President of WACS (World Association of Chefs’ Societies – WORLDCHEFS). After a quick intro and some hi-hellos, we flew on the same flight to Amritsar.
Landed early morning at the little Amritsar airport, the air was slightly nippy with a thin layer of mist as I was waiting for Chef Thomas. Three more chefs -2 from Lebanon and 1 from the USA joined us. After a round of formal introductions, we were promptly dropped at our respective hotels.
Day 1 started with the ‘Turban tying’ ceremony. No better way to kick start with an age-old tradition which signifies happiness in the magnificent state of Punjab. We (Me, Chef Sulieman & Chef George) and every chef in the lobby thoroughly enjoyed the turban tying process.
After loads of selfies (which is also a tradition these days), we headed to Sri Harmandir Sahib also known as The Golden Temple. The holiest of all Gurdwaras.
Chefs from 40 different countries in whites, sporting colourful turbans walking towards the Golden Temple was a splendid sight in its own right. We were absorbed in all the positivity in the environment.
We were also allowed to visit the Langar kitchen. Once entered, I understood that it indeed was the world’s largest community kitchen which serves around 100,000 tourist and devotees every day. All the chores are fulfilled by volunteers also known as Sewadars. Being from a manufacturing background, I could see the whole system was streamlined in such a way that things are done and completed seamlessly. We also had an opportunity to savour langar and ‘divine’ is how would like describe the taste.
Now it was time to head towards the event venue
Qila Gobindgarh/Gobindgarh fort.
Gobindgarh fort has a history spanning across 250 years plus. How thoughtful of the event organisers to choose this venue when it’s all about heritage and traditional cuisine.
The entire Fort ground was segregated according to the different programmes planned with different kitchens for all the chefs to perform their demos.
After the opening ceremony, the event kick-started in style. The whole day was filled with action-packed demos by talented chefs who were super proud to represent their respective countries.
Since this was my 1st event representing QCP outside Qatar and being alone (Oh yeah. still ALONE), I was pretty busy introducing myself and knowing the chefs. Let me tell you that it was overwhelming but in a good way. I was like a kid in a candy shop.
Almost all the chefs that I met were damn friendly and shared the same passion. There were few events happening simultaneously, so we had to carefully observe the happenings.
As the long day finally came to an end, we were invited to Taj Swarna for an amazing dinner with a wide spread of authentic Punjabi food and drinks.
The very moment where the chef from Qatar intimated me that he wouldn’t be able to make it. Devastating!
I approached Chef Madhu one of the organisers and explained the situation. She was as cool as cucumber telling me not to worry and that I can make some Qatari desserts and introduced me to Chef Jodha. Situation managed.
Plan C: That never existed
During our breakfast the next day, I told my story to Chef Sulimen and Chef George. They suggested I cook Machboos.” We will be your commis to assist”. Now that shows the respect they have for a fellow chef even though both of them are top chefs in the industry. SICA chefs Ramu & his team offered to help as well so as the Welsh team and Kenyan team. This spirit put me at ease.
All smile with Team Canada- Chef Leo and Chef Milton. I wanted to cook an authentic dessert and suggested ‘Eesh Al Saraya’. Chef Suleimen offered an age old recipe for Ashta which can be used as a filling. Recipe noted, Yash-a trainee was assigned to assist me in collecting the ingredients etc. Once the 1stbatch of samples was ready, and a score of 8/10 from Chef. Suleimen, I was relieved. Now was the time to fine tune the recipe.
3rd day morning Chef Suleimen helped to perfect the recipe, and shared some tips and tricks. This is one of those moments you thank your lucky stars for being in the company of such culinary experts.
Using this amazing Ashta I decided to make Esh Al Saraya, Qatef, and Zenud El Set
We reached the venue after a quick hustle I was assigned a kitchen for the demo. The whole session was interactive (at times repetitive as and when new people joined) a couple of students kept me busy with their outstanding technical questions.
Zound El Set was pre-rolled and chucked in the oven to finish it off. In the mean time, Qatef was filled and garnished. Finally, Eesh Al Saraya was presented in two different ways. Finished products vanished with in few seconds with the familiar happy “ummms”. Gratifying!
Closing ceremony was planned after the grand finale demo by Chef Gill and Chef Thomas themselves. During the closing ceremony, each and every effort by the team member was recognised individually. The customary group photo wrapped it up.
Organising an event at such magnitudes isn’t child’s play. The organising team did an outstanding job making sure each & every chef, volunteers and their assistants from all the countries were well taken care of.
I have learned a lot of things from this event. A simple conversation with the chefs during a drive, over a coffee or just when you sit in a shade to relax can tell you all about their journey throughout their career. Enlightening.
I would like to especially thank Chef Madhu for her impeccable ability to handle any situation and outstanding hospitality. Chef Sulimen for his amazing support. Chef Jodha for fixing everything when it came to the demo. And the whole Hyatt bakery and kitchen team. There are many more chefs whom I met in this event and want to thank all of them for making this event and unforgettable affair.
This is where you think this post ends. Am I right?
The climax of the whole trip was when I decided to go for last minute shopping before the flight. Decided to skip the final dinner at Jalandhar Haveli. I joined Chef Sanjukta who also had an early flight and previous experience with Amritsar streets and Chef Sanjay.
We visited the Golden temple for some photos, exploring the street food of Amritsar under the expertise of Sanjay while Sanjukta proved her mastery in bargaining skills. Along the way, we shared our professional experiences and realised we had many things in common.
This called for a drink by default once we reached the hotel. The plan was “A” drink but we ended up with countless and spent the whole night laughing which made the night extra memorable.