'All I have done in life is cook'

'All I have done in  life is cook'

Someone who has cooked for the likes of Muhammad Ali, George Bush Sr, Rajiv Gandhi and even Queen Elizabeth, would have an air of pomp right? One look at chef Richard Graham and your notion will be proven wrong. The now Bengaluru-based chef has won laurels that most chefs would only dream of. 

Having been in the industry for over two decades now and cooked all over the world, the chef was recently presented the ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ at 11th Annual Chef Awards organised by Indian Culinary Forum in Delhi for his contribution to the field.

He was the first executive chef of The Oberoi Sheraton (now The Trident) in Mumbai and went on to play a major role in the growth and development of the ITC hotels.

During his stint with the ITC Maurya in Delhi, the chef was appointed by the Government of India to cater for all the official functions. This is when he had the opportunity to cook for people like Rajiv Gandhi, Muhammad Ali and The Queen.

Recalling his moments with the late charismatic former prime minister, he says, “I really liked Rajiv Gandhi. He was extremely fond of the food at our Michelin-star restaurant named Bukhara. His favourite dishes were ‘dal bukhara’ and ‘naan’.

He loved kebabs as well.” In fact, the chef even planted an avocado tree at their house on Race Course Road in Delhi. “Sonia (Gandhi) wrote a thank you letter to me saying the tree was growing very well and invited us over for tea. I still have the letter with me,” he says rather nostalgically.

In the 80s, the Queen of England had arrived in India. And the chef catered to her as well in Hyderabad. “We made a huge sponge cake in the shape of a crown for her. In fact, she told me that our eclairs were one of the best she had tasted,” he exclaims. Recalling his association with boxing champion Muhammad Ali, he says, “He enjoyed gravy-based dishes and casseroles.”

Richard also led a team of chefs to the United States for ‘Festival of India’. “We went to states like Washington and San Francisco and enjoyed serving our curries to the people there. They were fascinated by our breads and tandoor,” he notes.

He went on to become the executive chef of some leading hotels in Australia and the director of operations for a leading chain in Singapore. In fact in 1999, he won the award for the Best Restaurant in Melbourne.

Switch to the present and Richard owns a cosy restaurant ‘Chubalas’, named after his wife, in Kammanahalli. The husband-wife duo cooks up a storm at the place serving authentic dishes from Goa, where Richard is from and Nagaland, where Chubala is from. “All I have done in life is cook,” explains the chef who enjoys serving saucy dishes.

Ask him about the current scenario of the industry and he laments, “India is still lagging behind when it comes to standardising. For instance, the pasta is different everywhere. Our soya sauce is thick, black and looks like tar. The problem is people attach a big name to the dish and serve something totally different.”

He adds, “But there are some good chefs who are doing great work. I like Gordon Ramsay and the chef on ‘Turban Tadka’,” he says referring to chef Harpal Singh Sokhi.
He remembers the Bengaluru of 80s and has fond memories of it. “I remember we would come to Dewars, Caesars and The Old Place. It was a cosy city consisting predominantly of the members of the retired community. But Bengaluru was an up-and-about cantonment town,” he sums up.

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