Cook Me A Dream

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Abrar Manzoor Wani of Anantnag is training to be a Global Chef, and is in love with Wazwan!

 Bisma Nazir

We Kashmiris love our wazawan – our traditional Kashmiri cuisine. The world loves it too. Hence the springing up of Kashmiri restaurants within India and globally. Unfortunately, we have not appreciated the fine art that goes into the making of our finger-licking goshtaba, yakhni, mirchi korma, haak and scores of other finger-licking dishes. We do not give our Waaza, the traditional chefs, the respect and honour they deserve.

No wonder that our youth don’t want to become chefs. They want to be bureaucrats, doctors, engineers, bankers, academicians, journalists and the like. But they don’t want to be chefs. I hadn’t thought much about this till my classmate from school, Abrar Manzoor Wani told me he was training to be a chef.

A chef! I must admit that I was surprised. Educated young men of Kashmir don’t train to be chefs. Yes, we know of celebrity chefs who win the Master Chef shows on TV nationally and internationally. But…

Turns out I was wrong. When a youngster sets his heart on achieving what he wants, he overcomes all obstacles in achieving it. So it has been with Abrar, who studied with me in school.

Abrar is 26. He is from south Kashmir’s Anantnag district. He graduated in political science from Delhi University. His next stop? Instituto Gastronómico Corbuse in Mexico, to learn the international culinary arts.

Sometimes we choose the path we shall take in life. Sometimes the path chooses us. When he was 16, Abrar was living away from his family to pursue higher education. He had to cook by himself, and his mother’s dexterity in the kitchen made him whip up delicious Kashmiri dishes. His friends were amazed and egged him to pursue cooking as a career. One thing led to another, and Abrar found himself studying global culinary skills in Mexico in 2018.

As Abrar started exploring cuisines and learnt about different spices and indigredients, he was amazed by the diversity of the culinary world. “The stereotypes that our society has attached with this profession make it undesirable for the youth. The constant reassurance of my well-wishers enabled me to move beyond these strictures. It is a blessing to get the total support of my family for a professional which remains unconventional at best,” says Abrar.  The young man says that even though Kashmiri youth are talented and skilled, they are reluctant to take up the profession of their choice because of the stereotypes attached with it.

I think it is high time that we recognize and appreciate culinary arts as a profession at par with any other. We need to come out of an orthodox mindset and break the age-old stereotypes,” he says.

For Abrar, the way to begin is by encouraging the youth when they take up the profession of their choice. “I am still learning the ropes of being a chef. I have immense pride in my Kashmiri culinary heritage, and also the desire to explore global cuisines. My experiences in working with diverse ingredients, food cultures and native cuisines have been delightful,” he smiles.

The change, says the youngster, must begin at home. “All parents think their children should get white collar jobs in order to secure a good salary and respectability. They don’t respect talent because they have poor understanding of what a profession is, and what value it adds to your life. The society tries to demolish you. That can disturb the mental health of the individual. Many youngsters I know are facing this challenge. The society will try to pull you down. Stand up for what you want and be proud of your choices,” advises Abrar.

Abrar admits that he’s totally in love with Wazwan. “I have experienced the best of global cuisines. I don’t want to sound biased, but I think Kashmiri Wazwan is my most favorite among all. The richness of our spices adds a delicious flavor to our foods. It is disheartening to see that our treasured cuisine is losing its hold and popularity. This is because the process of cooking Wazwan has been left solely to our traditional cooks, the Waaza. We barely see any interventions by trained chefs who would learn the art of Wazwan and make it thrive globally,” observes Abrar.

The young chef is currently doing an advanced course at the Academy of Pastry & Culinary Arts, Bengaluru.

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