Colaba-based home chef tells us about her entrepreneurial journey 'Masalaesque'
Home chef Nasreen Navani tells us what inspired her to open a delivery outlet at 60
When you step into home chef Nasreen Navani's Cuffe Parade home, the loves of her life are for all to see. A caring family, seven dogs and a range of cookbooks that would put libraries to shame. But, what's precious, yet hidden are the secret ingredients; hand-churned masalas with their heady aromas intact in glass jars. Stored in a cool place in the kitchen, they are brought out when there's a food order.
Five months ago, the 60-year-old turned her passion into profession with Masalaeqsue, a Colaba-based delivery kitchen that promises "ma ke haath ka khana". For this, she teamed up with her lawyer son Rushail to offer butter chicken, parda biryani, kohinoor kebabs, aloo tuk, rose firni and more. The move was a natural progression, given Navani's penchant for rustling up desi fare.
Born in a family with multicultural influences (a mix of Kashmiri, Rajput and Afghani heritage), Navani says it almost felt like she was born with a ladle. "We used to live in Breach Candy, and I remember going shopping for masalas with my grandmother to Mirchi galli in Kalbadevi. After buying all the ingredients, she would pound it manually and leave it on the terrace to dry," she says.
In Navani's case, though, there's no one source for masalas. While the cinnamon barks are imported from Thailand and saffron from Dubai, the alkanet root, better known as ratan jot, is brought from Lucknow. These are ingredients she has grown up around. Her father, Roshan, was a film producer and their home would be frequented by Bollywood's who's who. "As a family, we enjoyed hospitality," she says. Later, Navani designed the menus and recipes for her brother's restaurants in Bangkok. "Once I entered the kitchen, I never came out."
Over the years, if there's one lesson she has learnt, it's that there are no short cuts when it comes to the preparations. For instance, the biryani is suffused with spices including peeli mirchi from Chandigarh, saffron, green cardamom, black cardamom and cinnamon from Sri Lanka, and keora and rose from Lucknow.
After sourcing the masalas, they are hand pounded and dried on the terrace at their Lonavla home. Each batch lasts at least two months. While she has trained her staff in the preparations, she is unfazed when we ask her if she's worried about her "secret ingredients" being spilled when the staff moves on to another job. "It's not just about what you add, it's also how and how much. That's my prerogative," she says.
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