Chef Qureshi at his Bandra home soon after he was announced a Padma Shri winner in 2016. Pic/Sameer Markande
On February 2, a circular made the rounds of ITC Hotels, formally announcing the retirement of chef Imtiaz Qureshi from the position of Grand Master after 39 years of service at the ITC Hotels.
"Jab hum chahte the tab company ne humein chhoda nahi [when I wanted to leave, the company did not let me go]. Now, it was the company's decision to process my retirement," he says over the phone, adding that every time the topic of retirement came up in the past, he would be assured that he would not be on the list. A month ago, Qureshi was informed of the decision through a letter sent to him.
The 81-year-old chef put North Western Frontier cuisine on the culinary map with the Dum Pukht style of slow cooking in copper vessels. It also earned him the Padma Shri last year, making him the first professional chef to win the award in the culinary subcategory. Qureshi first joined the ITC group in 1976, at Delhi's ITC Maurya and created brands like Bukhara and Dum Pukht.
Dipak Haksar, Chief Executive, ITC Hotels and WelcomHotels, said, "Mohammed Imtiaz Qureshi, Grand Master Chef at ITC Maratha, Mumbai, has had a long and fruitful stint with the organisation, spanning 39 years. Chef Qureshi made commendable contributions in the development of Indian cuisine, experimenting with diverse cooking techniques and ingredients, whilst retaining the integrity of the cuisine. It was indeed a proud moment for ITC, when his immense contribution to the culinary art was recognised with a Padma Shri last year. We deeply value his incomparable contribution and wish him the very best in his journey ahead."
"I was chained, I am feeling free now," Qureshi said. The road ahead, he says, is undecided. But, he will pay more attention to his family. A book, too, may be in the offing. "I want my work to make it to culinary schools in India," he says. The chef tells mid-day that he is happy he could put India on the global culinary map. "I am grateful I could do something for India."
Chef Qureshi has a celebrity fan following among presidents, prime ministers, corporate mavens and royalty. The list includes Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and the Ambanis. His legendary kebabs have found connoisseurs among luminaries such as Bill and Hilary Clinton.