Did you know that Tarla Dalal is the only Indian from the field of cooking to have been awarded the nation’s fourth highest civilian award — the Padma Shri? The late cookbook author, host and chef, who taught India how to cook — with more than 100 book titles to her credit and the popular TV show, Cook It Up With Tarla Dalal — was recognised for her contribution in this field and presented with this award by late Dr APJ Abdul Kalam in 2007. However, she won this award in the ‘others’ category. Now, if things go as planned, cooking could find a place as a separate category at these awards.
Cooking up a storm
Last week, the Ministry of Culture sent a recommendation to the Home Ministry to include cooking in the list of Padma awards, based on a detailed proposal prepared by a group of hoteliers and chefs, including celebrity chef Sanjeev Kapoor. Reportedly, the idea came from MoS (Minister of State) for Culture and Tourism, Mahesh Sharma who felt that Indian food and spices are popular across the world, and that including this category would open up business opportunities in the field.
Culinary queen late Tarla Dalal (left) was awarded the Padma Shri in 2007. Seen here being felicitated by the Governor of Maharashtra SC Jamir at Raj Bhavan in 2008
While one is unsure of when this move will get a stamp of approval from the government, Mumbai’s culinary experts have warmly welcomed this gesture. Multiple award-winning chef Hemant Oberoi, now a consultant at The Taj Group, shares, “We have been talking about and fighting for this for 15 years. We always work as ambassadors of Indian cuisine and have taken it across the world, whether it is places where people were unaware about this cuisine or those where it is well-known.”
(From left) Gordon Ramsay tries a mutton piece from Mussalam Bakra Biryani at Baradari, Lucknow, in 2009 as chef Imtiaz Qureshi and son, Ishtiyaque look on. This appeared on an episode of Gordon’s Great Escape. Pic courtesy/Ishtiyaque Qureshi
Touted as the czar of Indian cuisine with a career spanning four decades, Jiggs Kalra, mentor, Massive Restaurants Pvt Ltd, echoes the sentiment, “It was about time that those who have curated and hosted numerous state banquets and accompanied Prime Ministerial contingents representing India and its culinary heritage around the world for decades, get their due recognition by the government. It’s never too late, as long as this wonderful proposal gets the nod of those concerned.”
Springboard for cuisine
According to experts, such a move can go a long way in propelling the rich Indian cuisine to the next level. “Indian cuisine is an art and no artiste performs keeping an award in mind. However, the award will definitely bring about respect and recognition that the chefs deserve and Indian cuisine may prosper,” says chef Ishtiyaque Qureshi, managing director, Kakori House Pvt Ltd. He hopes that his father and masterchef, Imtiaz Qureshi, credited for introducing the world to the dum pukht style of cooking, gets recognised for his selfless dedication to Indian cuisine.
Kalra reasons, “Since Independence and more recently, since the proliferation of the culture of eating out, numerous talents in the field of hospitality and cooking have not only represented the country on a global platform, but have also been recognised internationally by various bodies, and in some cases, even governments. It’s time for people from our country to also recognise and celebrate their achievements.”
According to Kalra’s son, Zorawar, founder and managing director of the brand, such recognition can also encourage younger chefs to uphold the legacy of Indian cuisine. “It motivates others in the industry to pitch in and contribute to take the work of their predecessors forward, multi-fold, thereby strengthening the country’s position on a global platform.”
Awarding chefs can also lead to the growth of food tourism, believes Oberoi. “Food tourism can become a big ticket for the future. Our country has almost 25,000 recipes and very few are known in the world. Our spices have a major influence in the western world.
It’s time we make our cities amongst the food cities of the world,” he states.
Who gets the Padma?
With the sheer number and diversity in Indian chefs and culinary experts, the selection committee may face a Herculean task of choosing the right contenders. Manu Chandra, chef-partner at Monkey Bar and The Fatty Bao, observes, “Usually, panelists on the committee use a fair and encouraging selection method where they consult experts from within the respective fields to gauge different works and choose the contenders, post which, it is put to vote. I believe the committee will follow the same selection process for this category too.”
However, is there a fear of stand-alone chefs getting overshadowed by their more popular five-star counterparts? “Chefs from five star hotels are more in the limelight; they get the support of the organisation they work for. Hence, theoretically they stand a better chance. However, due to the nature of the prestigious award, I believe that all chefs will be considered irrespective of the platform,” shares Qureshi, adding, “In fact, in a country like ours, an individual’s sacrifice, emotions, hardship, legacy and performance should be important criteria.”
Popular restaurateur AD Singh sums up, “In general, I’m all in favour of recognition for our industry. However, whether candidates meet the parameters for a Padma award is up to the committee.
It’s an honour rarely awarded and the value of it must never be reduced.”
Known for introducing French cuisine to American masses, the popular chef and TV personality was awarded Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Republic in 1990.
French-born and based in Britain, Roux was awarded an honorary Order of the British Empire (for contribution to arts and sciences) by the British government in 2002.
The Iron Chef received the Minister’s Award for Overseas Promotion of Japanese Food from the Japanese government in 2013.
Some of Padma Shri awardee Tarla Dalal's popular recipes (Click here to read)