What is Telugu cuisine? It’s the chilli, the tang, the spice and bite, and the curry leaf flavour – sums up Praveen Anand, Executive Chef – South Indian Cuisine, ITC Hotels, who takes pride in being a part of the process that went behind creating one of its kind, the iconic south Indian restaurant, Dakshin.
Chillies and other stories
The Hyderabad lad, who has grown up playing on the streets of Vidya Nagar, studying at Little Flower School, Hyderabad, migrated to Chennai to study, went on to join a hotel chain, and has been part of the chain since the day one – and now it’s over three decades.
Recently, during his visit to Hyderabad for the menu change at Dakshin in ITC Kakatiya, he shared the story of inception and the reason for the ever-increasing popularity of the restaurant. He was on the founding team of Dakshin, the only restaurant of its time to serve the speciality South Indian food.
“It was in 1989 when it was still Park Sheraton. The idea was to start a south Indian restaurant. I was working as Chef de partie. The think tank included the likes of Pawan Verma, Uday Girme as the Executive Chef and Amit Mitra on the F&B. It was a long exercise; of visiting homes, coaxing people to share their recipes and recreating them for the restaurant menu. It was also a nightmare as people would always keep away that one secret ingredient without which the dish wouldn’t taste the same. Over the time, I got an understanding of ingredients of each cuisine, and I understand how a dish is made; back then it was very difficult,” shares Praveen Anand.
Taking his philosophy of food ahead, the chef will go to any corner to get the right kind of chillies that are traditionally used in south Indian cuisines. He is almost obsessed with the quest; and why not? he asks. What makes Andhra food different from Punjabi, what makes the Kerala food different from Telangana – it is surely the chilli and oil among others.
As a youngster, Praveen was pursuing BA Triple Maths from one of the premium colleges in Hyderabad, Nizam College, and had at one time aspired to get into IIT like many of his contemporaries but couldn’t make it. He then had a choice to take up Aeronautical Engineering or Catering, and he chose the latter. He gained admission at the catering college in Chennai and destiny was made.
He still remembers his days in Hyderabad with fondness, the boiled vegetables that only his granny knew how to make, the biryani that he would have with friends during college days and the vegetable markets. “I can still remember one vendor at Sankarmutt market who would sit in front of a table full of green chillies, would sprinkle some water to keep it fresh and call out that he has used Gandipet water, and hence the chilli will stay fresh and should be bought.”
About the importance of the chilli, Chef explains how Teja chilli that was so unique to Telangana is no longer used.
“A lot is being done to help farmers; to shorten the crop and expand shelf life of the product, and this has completely changed everything. I wanted the open-pollinated chilli that would have zero chemical residue. I wanted to get the chilli that I have seen in childhood. And, I thought it disappeared. It is only after a recent visit to a farm that I realised, hundreds of kilos of the same chilli is making its way to the Vadapav makers of Mumbai.”
Dakshin that primarily serves the south Indian state cuisines introduced Telangana cuisine, more than a year ago. Chef relates, “Andhra Pradesh and Telangana food have been similar all the while, but for the Muslim-dominated food of Hyderabad – the kebabs and biryani. We visited homes, I had an inkling of the cuisine, we also have had great team and chefs. Above all, we were also doing quite a bit of research on various cuisines under the Kitchens of Inda. We had the repertoire, and we just began using it. We wanted to feature lesser known stars as well.”
He adds, “Kodi Gajala on the new menu, for example, is a spicy preparation of chicken using a lot of green chillies and curd, but no garam masala. There is a special way to prepare the dish, and it is extremely tasty. Kakarakaya Ulli Karam is yet another rare dish making which is an elaborate process. Dakshin is about recreating traditions. There is no innovation. However, when we give something, it must be absolutely best. The right ingredients are important to get original taste and flavour, and that is what the restaurant strives to achieve.”
"We also follow the philosophy of ‘Responsible Luxury’. We use ingredients that are fresh and locally produced. So, even though we make Kerala fish curry, it is made using the local Murrel fish, and is ensured the taste is unaffected," he signs off.