He never ventured into the kitchen as a child, so all those theories about getting your children to become future chefs by learning cooking early and smearing themselves with pancake and muffin dough, or even a plethora of masalas, seems to hold no water, at least in his case. In fact, Monish Gujral, CMD, Moti Mahal Delux, hated the thought of cooking for quite a long time.
But when he turned 17, things changed. On orders from his lovable and pragmatic grandfather, the legendary chef Kundan Lal Gujral, and some bit of counselling from his father, an entrepreneur, made him learn, though in an informal way, how to cook from scratch. Even then, he didn’t gravitate towards this vocation chosen for him, very naturally. But he had a burden; of carrying forward the legacy of his illustrious grandad, credited with the invention of butter chicken and the rise of north Indian cuisine, especially Tandoori cooking in India.
It helped that Monish had always been a smart child, who knew how to grab opportunities that other children waived off; so after a point, he became compliant and actually went off to study catering after he finished his schooling from Modern School, Delhi. That changed his life. He realised that the whole thing about cooking wasn’t as bad and also when you’re making money, it helps.
He had an innate tenacity and attitude of competitiveness, that, later, along with his sharp business acumen, helped transform the company and give it a new direction. He learnt to like cooking, enjoyed the interactiveness that one had a s a chef with different people all over the world and you could say, that made the transition all the easier for him. Not to mention the fact that he wanted to invent recipes too.
While this has always been a family run business, Monish took over the reins solely, but a few years ago and the new things he included were an expansion in every nook and corner of the world. An example would be of the Maldives where they have just set up shop and Monish says, go local eat local, so the menu here has a lot of tuna! And believe it or not, this north Indian food giant also has a dish made with the dreaded Bhoot Jolokia (hottest chilli in the world) of Assam on their menu!
At some other places, they’ve diversified the original north Indian menu into other cuisines as everybody wants family meals and kids today are more geared toward pizza and pasta and Chinese. “Without infringing upon the original legacy that is the soul of Moti Mahal Delux, we tweaked and twisted it in a lot of ways and the result is that the brand is still thriving. You need to do that, to move with the times,” says Monish.
At their flagship store in Delhi’s Greater Kailash, which has been around since 1976, he hasnt changed a thing. And going back to history, it was in 1942, right after the Partition, that the concept of Moti Mahal was born. So it’s a legacy that needs protecting. “This is our pride, our identity and other than minor refurbishing every odd year, the look here doesn’t change at all. Where else can people see the original Moti Mahal,” he counters.
Today along with handling the huge business concerns, Monish has authored four books, is a columnist and leads workshops to teach young chefs. And in his leisure time, he is a hardcore fitness freak, a regular gym-goer whos looking out for his chia seeds and barley rotis. At 50, he looks good and credits right eating for that. “Eat what you want but control your portions,” he smiles as he digs into the faux meat or rather soya kebabs at his own restaurant, as I dig into my all-time favourite Moti Mahals Dal Makhni, Butter Chicken and so much more, even though he reassures me that eating big portions is the crime, not the food itself! And I try not to look guilty:)
He has plans of starting a YouTube video feed and has already created many innovative recipes. He shares two of them with me as he reveals that he has a sweet addiction that is so bad that he needs a sweet dish daily. “So, I keep that healthy too by creating and curating recipes that are good for your metabolism and body type,” he adds.
After so many years in the business, he’s still not jaded. He’s like a little child, ever so enthusiastic and eager to learn, innovate and please. That makes him a winner, I think.
Recipes From Monish’s own kitchen
Dark cooking chocolate 400 gm
Silken tofu 2 packs
Dash of cognac
Method: Melt the chocolate in a double boiler
Remove from heat and pour in a bowl
Mix in the silken tofu
Blend with the help of an electric blender
Add in cognac
Set in a Borosil rectangular dish
Freeze for about 40 minutes or till set
Apple Crumble Bread Pudding
Whole wheat bread slices 14-16
Butter, melted 50 gm
Milk ..2 plus 1/2 glasses
Apples cored – 2 large
Raisins 2 tbsp
Cinnamon 1 inch 2 sticks
Brown sugar 1/2 cup
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup oats flour
2 tbsp honey
3 tbsp olive oil
2 whole eggs
For crumble mix all the ingredients for crumble and set aside
METHOD: Cook the apples with 1/2 glass for milk on low heat
Once cooked drain excess liquid and keep the apples aside
In a bowl mix milk , sugar and eggs till completely incorporated
Mix in raisins and add the cinnamon
In a dish layer 12 to 16 pieces of bread
Pour the egg and milk mixture
Now top with cooked apples
Gently sprinkle the crumble
Bake for about 30 minutes at 180 Celsius with heating from below mode
Make sure that dessert does not over dry and remains moist
Turn the upward heat for 4 -5 minutes or till the crumble below turns golden brown