A while ago, I had tried a few delectable dishes from Rajpootana Kitchen. Different from your regular Rajasthani fare, I enjoyed the food so much that I decided to write the Diwali Issue of the Grape vine on them.
Rajpootana Kitchen is owned and operated by the Bhainsrorgarh Royal Family. I had the privilege of sitting down and talking with Hemendra Singh Ji of Bhainsrorgarh Fort Hotel and Rajpootana Kitchen and discussing a variety of topics related to Rajpootana Kitchen, their food and the Bhainsrorgarh Fort.
Part 1 of this conversation focuses on the origins of Rajpootana Kitchen, and their philosophy on cooking which includes the cooking utensils that they use.
How did the idea to start Rajpootana Kitchen come about?
Rajpootana Kitchen was started 3 years ago in a small way. I was spending a lot of time at our heritage hotel in Bhainsrorgarh which is family run.
The hotel required a lot of personal attention. That left my wife alone in Delhi a great deal. Moreover, we saw there is a lot of ignorance and misconception about Rajasthani food in Delhi. People would speak of “Ker - Sangri” as if it was one vegetable. We wanted to clear the misconceptions and move beyond the stereotyped menu of the “Gatte Ki Sabji” and “Laal Maas” and bring the authentic taste of our food to Delhi.
We decided against opening a restaurant in favour of staring from our home in Vasant Kunj.
Initially we distributed fliers in the neighbourhood and advertised in the local yellow pages.
Slowly the orders started coming in. Party orders and word of mouth publicity helped in expanding our customer base and now we have regular customers.
I am happy to say that the reviews have been very positive. The next step forward was to participate in Food Festivals. We cooked at the ITC for the Royal Food Festival. It was good exposure cooking in a large commercial kitchen. In February 2016, we took part in the Mini Palate Festival. The excellent response gave us a lot of confidence, and that is how we have reached here today.
Could you please tell our readers a little more about your food?
Our menu is pan Rajasthan. In Rajasthan as in other places, different classes in society cook differently. Our menu is more on the lines of Royal Rajasthani food. We have a tradition of good food in our family. My Grandfather was a connoisseur of good food. Although he didn’t cook himself, he collected recipes which we tried out and modified in our kitchen.
My father and brother are also interested in food.
Bhainsrorgarh is surrounded by forests and it’s close to the river Chambal. So, fish and game feature prominently in our cuisine.
My mother who is from the dessert part of Rajasthan is very fond of cooking. Since I am considerably younger than my siblings, I used to be left alone a lot with my mother and used to give her company while she was cooking. That is how, without even realizing it, I had learnt the basics of cooking at a very young age.
I related cooking to art. The changing colours of the masalas and the meats, the fashioning of the rotis that reminded me of clay modelling all seemed like another art form. By the age of 10, I could fashion a perfect makki ki roti, and by the age of 11, I had cooked my first meat curry. Every body liked it.
I find that there is so much variation in our food. Every family’s recipes are different. Even a simple daal will taste different in different homes. The famous Laal Maas is actually only a mutton curry, and all over north India, you will find variations of this curry using the same basic haldi (turmeric), dhaniya, namak (salt), mirch (chillies).
I feel that the richness of a dish is not just in the ingredients like almonds or cashews, but in the effort put into making it. The complexity of technique, gives richness to the ingredients and to the dish.
What is the maximum no of people you cater for? And how far in advance should orders be placed?
We have done up to 200 people for pre- wedding functions, and we have done many events catering to 80-100 people. We can do a full event with waiters etc, or we can do just the food.
Are there any special cooking instruments or utensils? the old methods vs the new?
My personal preference is for slow cooking in copper vessels.
We first used a pressure cooker in Bhainsrorgarh in the 50s, but I would still call it a new method of cooking. I am not against pressure cookers and I use them myself in my kitchen. It keeps the flavours intact and can be used effectively for slow cooking. If you allow the pressure cooker to come to full pressure and then allow it to cook on sim, it is a form of “Dum” cooking.
Unfortunately people tend to use pressure cookers to cook fast on high flame.
I would like to educate people on the benefits of slow cooking in traditional heavy Copper vessels. However, there are some drawbacks in the Copper vessels. For one thing, they are much more expensive. To cook 2Kg of meat the Copper vessel needed would cost Rs 5,000 at least. Even if you are willing to spend the money, the next big challenge is getting the kalai done on the vessel. Even 10-15 years ago kalai walas could be found going house to house getting kalai done. This is essential because without kalai, Copper vessels cannot be used to cook or store food.
I still have a man who comes and does kalai on my utensils but perhaps I am his only customer in our locality in Delhi. People have sold off their brass and copper utensils and the same trend has caught on in the villages too and bought steel vessels instead. Only big hotels use copper vessels still. When I cooked at the Maurya, I was so happy to see that all their vessels were copper.
Heavier vessels are more economical on gas consumption and are better for health.
This concludes part 1 of 2 of the series on Rajpootana Kitchen. We hope you enjoyed reading it and look forward to your comments.
Rajpootana Kitchen is a delivery only food service operating out of New Delhi. Please refer to the menu above if you would like to contact them.