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Arunima Maharshi

IWB Blogger

Writer-Activist Sadia Dehlvi On What Made Her Don The Chef’s Hat At 60

  • IWB Post
  •  January 8, 2018

“At 60, I’ve found a new career and I’m having a lot of fun as a chef. I feel food is as much about memories as it is about spices, festivity, culture as well as love and compassion,” shared Sadia Dehlvi with Hindustan Times, talking about her recent tie-up with ITC to celebrate the Capital’s authentic cuisine over a six-day dinner buffet festival – Delhi Table spread.

A Delhi-based media person, activist, writer, Sadia is a columnist with Hindustan Times, and is also frequently published in Frontline, and in various Urdu, Hindi and English magazines. Popular for her critical views on radical interpretations of Islam, she calls for a pluralistic understanding of Islam. Though this time, it is not her political writings, but her newly donned chef’s hat that has got her in the spotlight.

Sadia Dehlvi

“After finishing my cookbook (Jasmine and Jinns: Memories and Recipes of my Delhi) I felt the need to share recipes that are cooked in our homes and some things in particular to the community that I belong to, which is the Punjabi Saudagaran and they are a very isolated and insular community. These recipes need to be enjoyed and documented and a lot of youngsters in the community are not cooking these,” a concerned Sadia was quoted as saying.

Born in 1957, Sadia hails from the royal ‘Shama’ family of the capital, and takes great pride to have grown up in a culturally rich household. “My grandfather hosted glamorous and lavish banquets very often, and cooking and food played a central role our lives and culture.”

Sadia Dehlvi

Sadia Dehlvi

“We grew up entertaining film stars and literary figures because of Shama, our literary and film magazine. Our home was a stopover for film stars like Meena Kumari, Nargis, Raj Kapoor, Waheeda Rehman, Rakhi Gulzar, and Dharmendra to literary greats like Ismat Chughtai and Ainee Apa (or Qurratulain Hyder) and poets like Kaifi Azmi, Majrooh Sultanpuri and the like who would attend mehfils, mushairas and qawwalis at Shama Kothi. Now events have shifted to the auditoriums but in those days in Delhi mehfils were in people’s homes”, she revealed.

Not a foodie herself, when asked how she learnt cooking, she fondly spoke of her Apa Sayeeda and chaachis (paternal aunts), who got her friendly with the art, and also disclosed her mother’s disapproval for cooking. “She never cooked in her life and she doesn’t like me cooking, and thinks I waste my time. She always tells me ‘I haven’t educated you to work in the kitchen, only women with oppressive husbands cook well’.”

Sadia Dehlvi

But regardless, Sadia’s love for cooking led her to give it an important place in her life, and though her regular meals comprise of light salads, soups and fish or chicken, she enjoys feeding rich delicacies to people. The desire that eventually got the ITC festival her way. She approached ITC with her idea of showcasing Delhi cuisine, and wasting no time they asked her to start with Delhi Pavilion and do a food festival there.

“But what I didn’t realize was the hard work it involved. It wasn’t the quantities that rattle me – I have manned the kitchen for food festivals with IIC, and since I have hosted for mehfils and eid and bakra-eid dinners at home, I can easily cook for up to 100 people. What was challenging was the number of dishes that had to be prepared in a certain time, like six vegetarian, two mutton and one chicken-based dish along with things which are usually stand-alone like shabdeg, neharihaleem and smoked kachri keema, which was the biggest hit.”

Sadia Dehlvi

The eight-day festival featured starters like keema golis, chicken pasanda, and desserts ranging from regular shahi tukra to offbeat shakarkandi ki kheer and gajar bharta. And at her tiny station in the kitchen, Sadia cooked from 11 in the morning to 6:30 in the evening every day, taking breaks only for namaz and coffee. Dedication and determination of the level that only “passion” can make you meet!

And needless to say, Sadia doesn’t plan to take off the chef’s hat anytime soon, as she is now looking forward to doing similar food festivals every season. Way to go, masterchef!

H/T: Hindustan Times

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