The Spice Trail

When it comes to North Indian cooking, they don’t come much more knowledgeable than Chef Keshaw Kumar Jha, Sous Chef at Bab Al Shams Desert Resort & Spa’s Masala restaurant. Here, he gives us a crash course in this most complex of cuisines.

Who inspired you to become a chef?
I got inspired by my mother to become a chef, as she used to cook the best food at home. I learned from her that you can make other people happy by making great food. The keys to success for me are having passion and love for my job. Tell us more about the ‘Dum pukht’ style of cooking you specialize in… Dum pukht is a Persian word, which means ‘slow cooked’. Native to the Awad region [in the modern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh], it involves cooking meat and poultry on a low fire for a long time in a closed pan.

What are the main characteristic differences between Northern Indian cuisine and Southern Indian cuisine?
North Indian cuisine is generally mild and gravies are thicker, while South Indian cuisine is much spicier and the gravies are thinner. Secondly, North Indian dishes tend to contain more butter and cream, which explain the milder taste and the difference in consistency between the gravies. In North Indian Cuisine, you will find lots of yoghurt, onion, garlic and tomatoes, while in South Indian they tend to use more curry leaves and native fruit as well as coconut oil and milk.

Do you prefer to stick to traditional recipes or try new and innovative dishes?
I always remain authentic with my recipes and the style of cooking, however my presentation is modern and that is where I like to try something new. How does working as a chef in the UAE compare to working in India? The biggest difference is the clientele. In India I only ever really cooked for Indian people, whereas in the UAE, we receive guests from all over the world at Masala restaurant, so it’s interesting to cater to international tastes.

Which dishes from the menu are your personal favourites?
Every dish is close to my heart as every recipe is created by myself, however if I had to choose one dish it would be the Koh-e-Awadh: the house specialty baby lamb leg cooked in a sealed pot with saffron rice and tampered yoghurt.

What dishes do you like to cook if you get home late and need a quick dinner?
I mainly cook Biriyani, as this is a complete meal with vegetables, rice and any protein that it is available at home.

Aside from Indian, which other cuisines do you enjoy?
I like Chinese food, as I believe it is similar to the Indian cuisine; it’s very diverse with lots of different tastes and presentations.

If you weren’t a chef, what would you be doing instead?
I was born and raised as a chef. I think like a chef and I love cooking for others and seeing people’s reaction after tasting my food. I cannot see myself in any other profession, so I guess I was meant to be a chef!