Mumbai's male chefs reveal the first meal they cooked for their beloved

Updated: Feb 11, 2018, 11:16 IST | Anju Maskeri | Mumbai

They say, the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, but that's also true for women. Mumbai's male chefs tell Anju Maskeri about the first meal they cooked for their beloved

Prawn tempura 

James Biaka
Executive chef, Kofuku
What He Cooked: Prawn tempura
In 2000, when chef James Biaka met wife Elizabeth in Mizoram for the first time, they were as good as strangers. "We met through an arranged marriage set up and got married four months later." Talking about the growth of the relationship, he says, "In every relationship, there comes a time when you want to do something special for your partner. Since we were still getting to know each other, I cooked a special meal after we were married," he says. Biaka chose the crispy prawn tempura, his wife's favourite dish, where the prawns are marinated in mirin (rice wine) before being dipped in cornflour batter and fried.

James Biaka

While he had prepared the dish on innumerable occasions in the past, cooking for Elizabeth made him feel like a rookie. "There were butterflies in my tummy because cooking for her was a whole new experience. Every bit of it was filled with love," he says, blushing 18 years after. For Biaka and Elizabeth, breaking bread together has been their way of building a stronger relationship. These days, erratic work schedules and constant travel make it difficult for the couple to spend time together. "But we ensure that we have at least one meal together when we are in the same city."

Sukiyaki or hot pot

Yugo Tokuchi
Founder, Yugo Sushi
What He Cooked: Sukiyaki or hot pot
In 2009, when chef Yugo Tokuchi was working as a videogame programmer at Tokyo's Bandai Namco Entertainment, he fell in love with his then-colleague and now wife, Martha. What had started as a professional relationship and then turned into a friendship eventually blossomed into romantic love. Their first date came a few months after they'd first met. "I invited her over for dinner because we had built a good rapport by then. By now, I also knew that she loved meat, and, given my interest in food, I decided to rustle up a sukiyaki or hot pot for her," says Tokuchi, who moved to Mumbai and became a chef in 2016.

Yugo

Hot pots are essentially one-pot meals where the ingredients are poached in a broth. Made on special occasions, the hot pot is served with sliced beef, vegetables, noodles, wontons, lotus root, fish balls, greens and tofu in a sweet sauce based on soy sauce. "You can say it's our Diwali special," jokes Tokuchi. "I wanted to make the first meal I cooked for her special," he says. While a hot-pot would traditionally be a mere two-hour preparation, the 32-year-old decided to make it a day prior so that the meat soaked in the flavours well. "In Japanese culture, hot pots are considered a communal dish that symbolise togetherness. I felt there couldn't be a better dish to convey my feelings," he gushes. The couple went on to date for five years and got married in 2015. They now live in Santacruz, and Tokuchi continues to surprise her with his culinary creations occasionally.

Roasted chicken

Jehangir Jamula
Executive chef, Tamasha
What He Cooked: JD whiskey roasted chicken with mushroom jus and quinoa salad
It is common for Mumbai chef Jehangir Jamula and his girlfriend Mahtab Nalladaroo to exchange food notes on Skype and WhatsApp. Nalladaroo works as a flight attendant and is based out of Abu Dhabi. "Since she lives alone, she often seeks my advice on how to make a certain dish," he says. But, six months ago, when Jamula paid her a visit, he decided to put his advice to action. "Being a chef, the expression of love cannot be any better than with food. I decided to make JD whiskey roasted chicken with mushroom jus, served with quinoa salad, because she likes eating healthy," he says.

Jehangir Jamula

Jamula was aware that his girl preferred European cuisine. Since Mahtab was at work, Jamula had to figure his way around the kitchen on his own. "I had to figure out what was stored where, and it wasn't easy. I also called up her friend, who lives a few blocks away for help," he says. In three hours, the table was set and the candle was lit. "I remember her expression when she saw a candlelit dinner laid out after coming home from a long flight. Sometimes, food speaks louder than words," he smiles.

Red velour cake

Sandeep Rane
Pastry chef, Henpecked
What He Cooked: Red velour cake
In 2012, when chef Sandeep Rane was catering for a friend's birthday bash, he didn't know that five years later, he would end up marrying one of the guests. "My love story began with food. I was introduced to Xitij at the end of the party and she told me she had loved the spread. I had cooked for her before I even knew it," he laughs. The two kept in touch and would meet often. Interestingly, their food preferences were poles apart. Xitij, born in a Gujarati family from Pune is vegetarian and, Rane, a Maharashtrian from Indore, can't do without meat. While she likes her food to be mildly flavoured, he digs spice. What's common, though, is their love for dessert.

Sandeep Rane

Therefore, when he decided to surprise her on her birthday, a cake seemed the best choice. He baked a red velour cake, a combination of cake mousse cream and spray painted chocolate which took him a good four hours to make. He chose the cake because of its elegance, and the fact that she enjoys strawberrys and cream cheese. "She was silent for two whole minutes after taking the first bite. And then she said, 'Promise that you will bake a cake for me every birthday'."

Chicken tikka

Jasveer Singh
Corporate chef, Mad Over Donuts
What He Cooked: Chicken tikka
It was 15 years ago on the morning after their wedding that chef Jasveer Singh of Mad Over Donuts decided to impress his wife Baljeet with his culinary skills. "Because I hadn't cooked for her during our courtship, which lasted a year, I think she never really believed that I was a chef," he laughs. Within two hours, Singh had a plate of spicy, succulent chicken tikka ready for his meat-loving wife.

Jasveer Singh

It was also the first time that he had cooked in his own kitchen after staying away for months while working on a cruise. "When I'd return home, my mother would insist on cooking for me, so I never got the chance," he says. Singh says Baljeet always wanted a husband who could cook. "The fact that we met for the first time inside a gurudwara is testament to the fact that her prayers were answered," he says. The duo often cooks together on weekends. "It is always exciting to whip up a simple dish or sometimes even a foreign delicacy. For me, food is the best bonding agent."

Sarson da saag and makke di roti

Chef Gurmeet Kochhar
Founder and chef, Oye Kiddan
What He Cooked: Sarson da saag and makke di roti
Gurmeet Kochhar, founder and chef at Andheri's three-year-old Punjabi restaurant, remembers the three hours it took him to prepare the extensive Valentine's Day meal for Rohini Rego, his classmate at a CAT coaching class. The couple had been dating for a few months and, instead of a regular visit to a restaurant, Kochhar, then 22, decided to whip up a meal for her. "I was so ambitious in my attempt to woo her that I created an extensive menu. She's Catholic and had never tasted sarson ka saag, so I included that along with makke di roti, butter chicken paratha and Nutella paratha," he recalls.

Gurmeet Kochhar

Kochhar was on the phone with his mother for guidance. It was a nerve wracking time, but the effort was worth it. "She hugged me and said, 'I love you'," he smiles. The duo married a year ago. Their gastronomical escapades from college continue. "We are both foodies and whenever we travel, we make it a point to pick eateries that are popular with the locals. In fact, in Mumbai, every week we try and go to a new restaurant or street food joint. That's how last week we tried Naga food in Kalina."

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