Kenya-based executive chef Sunil Soni’s new book Jashn-e-Oudh celebrates the Awadhi cuisine in all its variety. Besides sharing recipes and cooking techniques of the foods for nawabs, Soni also delves into the history and culture of the region: its music, poets, writers and even the famous Chikankari work. Excerpts from an interview
Why did you write this book?
Since there was nothing concrete mentioned anywhere about these techniques and cuisine, and hardly any restaurants outside Lucknow serve these rich dishes, I thought of writing about it. The world deserved to know this fabulous cuisine.
What drew you to Awadhi cuisine? Where and how did you first learn about it?
When I first had an exposure of this cuisine in the late 80s, I was instantly mesmerised by its richness. I started looking for its recipes and soon realised there was more to it than just that. There was immense history and culture hidden in its time-tested traditional art of cooking. The constant pursuit for perfection of those khaansamas (cooks), created over a period of time, produced this classic cuisine.
How did you research this book?
There was not much ideas available about this cuisine except for some scattered information locally. So I travelled to Lucknow to get the information first-hand. I realised that Awadhi history, local produce and culture is an integral part of the cuisine. Out of this context, the cuisine may not carry much meaning. The constant contest to please those finicky nawabs
ended in the creation of these delicacies. During my visits to Lucknow, I met a wonderful person and Awadhi chef Shaukat Ali. He was helpful in imparting knowledge about the cuisine and culture. He introduced me to local guides who told me about the historical aspect of the cuisine. I talked to locals to learn about their culture.
What ingredients or cooking styles set the Awadhi cuisine apart from other cuisines of North India?
Awadhi cuisine is quite different from North Indian cuisine in flavours and techniques. For example, some ingredients are different here like baobeer, jarakush, sandalwood powder, meetha ittr and gold leaves. Some traditional techniques include digging a hole in the ground, and ingredients are placed in it and covered with mud. Burning coal is placed above it to cook. Marinations are also different in this cuisine.
How has Awadhi cuisine influenced Indian food?
Awadhi cuisine has tremendously influenced Indian food. The richness and some ingredients used are now popular in North Indian foods.
Are more books on Indian foods in the offing?
I am trying to amass knowledge about Vedic cooking and its benefits, if any. That would be my next venture. I see a lot of potential and interest in this cuisine, both here and in the West.