CHENNAI: It’s 7 pm. I hear my stomach rumble as I eagerly wait — with high expectations — after listening to the culinary repertoire of Mohan Kumar R, who was supposed to be treating our taste buds to his popular chicken biryani and kebab at a friend’s party in Chennai. Soon after his arrival, he waves a hello, scurries into the kitchen, scans the ingredients, and instantly gets started with the preparation.
After two hours of sweat and labour, the aroma of flavour-rich biryani and the marinated chicken sizzling in the kadai offers some hope to my hunger pangs. “My masalas were supposed to be the secret ingredients and I conveniently forgot to bring them. For someone who always vouches for authenticity, this isn’t my best,” humbly admits the Bengalurean. Despite the disclaimer, the feast turned out to be worth the wait, giving us a glimpse of his dedication and need for excellence.
The case of the missing masala
A native of Ballagiri — which shares the border with Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu — Mohan has always nurtured a deep respect for regional flavours, it seems. But it took a pandemic for him to deliver a slice of his ancestral delicacies when his maiden attempt was sampled at the Ballagiri Gowdru Biryani restaurant in Bengaluru. It was also the very pandemic that forced him to shut shop in the second wave. Yet, his grit to make his Gowdru community’s recipes accessible and a part of everyone’s household could not be contained by the forces of the virus. And thus was born the Ballagiri Gowdru Masala.
While it may be a frayed expression that when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it, Mohan’s beginnings of this mission stand as testimony to its absoluteness.
“I embarked on a bike journey across Karnataka covering Hubli, Kolar, Chikmagalur, the borders of Goa; Madurai, Dindigul, and Rameshwaram in Tamil Nadu. I spent a good time exploring the local cuisines and key ingredients that formed the foundation of the masalas. I picked up most of the tricks by merely watching elderly women effortlessly run roadside shacks.
Back home, in Ballagiri, I observed my maternal grandmother Menasamma — an expert with hand-pound masalas — to get the exact proportions,” shares Mohan, who works as a senior manager at PowerSchool India Private Limited.
“My day job is to sustain my passion. The start-up is entirely bootstrapped and my partner Rakesh Pai has been a pillar of support. We have four masalas and each packet will have a QR code. After scanning, customers can watch me demonstrate recipes with each masala. We’ve been transparent with what went into its making and there’s no compromising on quality. The packaging is ready and shooting for videos is in progress,” he adds.
Call it sentiment or a marketing strategy, Mohan ensures his masala packets travel with him. “Trust me, they come in handy when I have to cook for a gang of bikers at places where we don’t have access to food. During one of our trips to Ooty, we stayed at a friend’s resort by the jungle that didn’t have many food options. The boys got the groceries and meat; I whipped up a feast with the masalas. The sheer joy of feeding others is unmatchable. That said, it also helps me on the business front. Friends who are restaurateurs get to taste the masala and incorporate it as part of their menu,” he details.
The accidental chef
For someone who’s come this far with his culinary expeditions and experiments, until four years back, Mohan was comfortable with just the basics — boiling an egg, and preparing a bowl of Maggi. However, driven by necessity and sustained by passion, the special bond he shares with cooking has only grown stronger in a short span.
“They say, a kitchen is a woman’s world. But, I come from a family that had men rule the kitchen. My paternal grandfather, Krishnamachari, was a fantastic cook, and he prepared the tastiest curries with meat spare parts. My paternal grandmother, Kamalamma, was equally good. So is mom’s cousin who runs a military hotel. My mother learned to prepare dosa batter from my grandpa. I’ve been fortunate to grow up with such dedicated people. Now I know the measurements at the back of my hand and have the confidence to cook for a village. It’s no wonder then that I picked up the art quickly, as it runs in my blood,” notes Mohan, who’s taken it upon himself to carry forward the legacy.
Masterchefs are not made in the kitchen, he points out. “I’ve seen farmers who use fresh harvest from their agricultural fields and available spices to prepare a novel meal. The taste of labour fills your stomach and soul. How you treat the tool of the trade reflects in the final output. Getting the basics like spices and temperature of cooking various ingredients is crucial. People who know me know the respect I have for home-cooked spreads and I ensure I offer the same to my friends. It’s been my goal to preserve the Dravidian food culture, and my start-up is a small step towards the larger purpose. Besides having a successful corporate career, milestones like these matter a lot to me,” he says. If everything goes as planned, Mohan’s masalas will hit the markets soon.
For details, visit Instagram @ballagiri_gowdru_
masala_bgm / call: 9886552349/mail to email@example.com
Ballagiri Gowdru mutton biryani
For wet masala
- Shallots: A handful
- Garlic cloves: 20 to 30
- Ginger: 3-4 inches (half a fist)
- Mint leaves: A fistful
- Coriander leaves: A fistful
- Green chillies: 8-10 (based on individual’s heat capacity)
- Rock salt: 1 tbsp (grind all the above into a paste)
- Onions: 3-4, thinly sliced
- Mint leaves: 1 cup, Coriander leaves: 1 cup
- Fennel: 1 tbsp, Ghee: 1 cup, Refined oil: 1 cup
- Curd: 1 cup, Sliced tomatoes: 3 medium, thinly sliced
- Seeraga samba rice: 1 kg (Clean it and soak it for at least 20 minutes)
- Rice to water ratio: 1:2 (1 cup of rice to 2 cups of water)
For pre-cooking marination
- Mutton: 1 kg, Rock salt: ½ tbsp
- Add 3 to 4 spoons of the wet paste, Lemon: 1/2, Curd: 2 tbsp
- BGM biryani masala: 1 ½ spoon
- (Let it marinate for 20 to 30 minutes)
Pre-cooking the mutton
- Add the marinated mutton with rice 1:2 ratio of water to the pressure cooker and cook the mutton (90% cooked) for four whistles. Separate the broth and the meat.
- Keep the broth as that’s needed to cook. Again use the broth to 1:2 ratio.
Cooking the biryani
- Keep the cooker on medium heat, add one cup of ghee and one cup of refined oil.
- Add one tablespoon of fennel seeds and slightly fry it until it lets out the aroma.
- Add the cup of mint leaves and fry it well. Add the sliced onions and fry them until translucent.
- Add two spoons of BGM biryani masala and mix well.
- Add the wet (green paste) now and fry for five to eight minutes until the raw smell goes. Add sliced tomatoes until it lets out water and cook well. Add half a cup of coriander leaves.
- Add half a cup of curd after two minutes and fry all of it well. Add the pre-cooked mutton and fry it for three minutes.
- Add the broth now in a 1:2 ratio. Let the meat and the broth boil well (2 to 3 minutes of full boil).
- Taste for salt and spice levels.
- Add the soaked rice and ensure you are separating the rice from the water.
- Let it cook and be sure to give it a stir once every three seconds so that the rice cooks evenly. Once the rice is 80 per cent cooked, squeeze half lime, mix it well, and prepare to keep it for dum.
- Take a wet cloth, cover the biryani vessel and place a lid over it. Choose something heavy to place over the lid so the steam is trapped inside the vessel.
- Keep it for two minutes on high flame, and eight to 10 minutes on low flame.
- Switch off the flame and let it rest for 20 minutes. Remove the lid, add ghee and you are ready to serve the biryani.