KOCHI:A few months ago, legendary filmmaker Steven Spielberg visited Mocha Art Cafe in Jew Town, Mattancherry, when he came to visit the synagogue. He along with his pals ordered Spanish cheese omelette, espresso and cake. Smitten by its taste, he wanted to meet the person behind the delicious dishes.
Soon, the cafe’s main chef Laila Mani, 53, made an entry totally unaware of who the guests were. “They appreciated my food, its making and asked about my whereabouts. As I do not watch any English movies, I had no idea about the personality, until I was informed by the cafe’s owner,” said Laila, a passionate cook from Palluruthy who has redefined age with her culinary skills.
Being a sister to six brothers and the daughter of a working mother, Laila used to cook from a young age. She started learning Indian dishes and made different preparations for her family. Laila explained that though she always had an interest in cooking, she was never trained professionally. “After my husband’s death twenty years ago, I worked as a domestic in Fort Kochi in the house of a lady, who is a foreigner. She taught me the western style of cooking, including the preparation of pies, cakes, salads and soups,” she told Express.
Her 18-year stint with her foreign employer helped Laila graduate into an international cook. After a stint of two years in Malabar House, she joined Mocha Art Cafe in November last year. Wearing the chef’s toque with elan, she mentioned she energetically makes the dishes that her customer wants and she is helped by three assistants. “Whether German, Israeli, Italian or Indian, I make and finally garnish the dish before serving it,” she said.
Laila’s admirers are not just limited to Steven Spielberg. Other celebrities like actors Nassar, Rana Daggubati and Mammotty’s daughter Surumi have also appreciated her culinary prowess. Commuting from Palluruthy, Laila begins her day at the cafe at 9.30 am and works till 5.30 pm. Considering her age and where she stays, she is allowed to leave the cafe in the evening though it stays open till 9 pm.
While Laila goes back to her most loved job of cooking, Junaid Sulaiman, the Cafe’s owner, noted that she is the person behind their widely appreciated cuisine and her skills are incomparable.