Farah and Rubayat Kadir were at a family dinner at Arsalan on January 3, when a phone call interrupted the biryani and chaap. Rubayat almost ignored the call, but fortune prevailed, for it was a phone call offering the opportunity of a lifetime.
Biryani connoisseurs in the city will know home chef Farah Kadir for her biryani, yakhni pulao, shami kebabs and even samosas.
“The phone call was from Adar Poonawalla’s office. They were inviting Farah and her team to go down to Mumbai and prepare a meal for his special guests. I was pretty sure that it was a prank but the number seemed legitimate,” said Rubayat, Farah’s husband. In fact, further communication revealed that Adar Poonawalla of Serum Institute had heard about Farah’s biryani and then wanted to fly her team down to Mumbai to prepare a meal for his special guests. For the first time, the family let the offerings of Arsalan grow cold on their table while they debated an offer which seemed too good to be true.
With Rubayat always encouraging his wife to rise to further heights, they took the leap of faith, despite misgivings. After all, this call was from the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, of Covishield fame.
“I wanted to buy a lot of the supplies myself, in Mumbai. Especially the meat. For the other smaller ingredients, I sent a list of everything I might need. Since there was Nihari on the menu, we wanted Tandoori Roti to go with it. They actually bought a tandoor!” said Farah.
Samosas and shami kebabs were part of the appetisers
“They did not even tell us how many vegetarian and non-vegetarian guests there were. When we sent the menu, there were very few vegetarian items. Adar (Poonawalla) wanted to offer an equal balance, so we added more vegetarian items amongst the starters as well as the main course. Since we didn’t know the meal preferences of the guests, it was made in equal quantities,” explained Farah.
Farah (first from left), Rubayat (fourth from right), their family and the chefs in the Poonawalla kitchen. The shahi tukda featured on the dessert menu
In Mumbai, they entered the Poonawalla house in awe and were greeted with warmth. The crockery and the kitchen caught Farah’s attention, and she was delighted that her menu would be written down by a calligrapher.
“I had no problem; their kitchen had everything I had asked for. I was nervous before I reached the house but I wasn’t nervous when I was cooking. I made 24 dishes in one evening; something I have done in Kolkata as well, on a much smaller scale of course,” said Farah.
The menu and the table setting for the dinner
On the day of the dinner party, Farah began cooking at 9am and was done with everything by 4.30pm, which is when she put the biryani on dum – two vegetarian and two meat biryanis. The chef had warned them that most guests were small eaters and were likely to nibble at the starters and eat very little of the main course – words he was happy to eat at the end of the night. “They kept asking for more and more starters, we were afraid we’d run out and no one would eat the main course. But then the biryani was also a huge hit and guests even packed some,” laughed Rubayat.
Suhel Seth’s post about Beyond Biryani and Adar Poonawalla’s letter to Farah, after the event. In Mumbai, Rubayat discovered that a social media post by fellow alumnus from La Martiniere for Boys, Suhel Seth, had led to Adar Poonawalla’s discovery of Farah
At one point, Poonawalla asked the chef to come meet his guests. “We were so excited, we ran out of the kitchen to speak to them. We recognised some of his celebrity guests – Gauri Khan, Shweta Bachchan, Farah Khan, Vikram Phadnis, Rahul Khanna. Shweta Bachchan started clapping when Farah was introduced, and the rest of the table followed suit,” smiled Rubayat.
Chef Sanjay Mitra, who works in the Poonawalla kitchen, was sceptical in the beginning about how the home chef would be able to pull off 24 dishes and whether the effort of flying the team into Mumbai would be worth the effort. By the end of the evening, he was a Beyond Biryani fan.