Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The day Chef Wonton died

As a 12 year old, Wonton knew what he wanted to do with his life. Though he decided to tell his father about his discovery right away, he didn't. His father, a paddy farmer, was a man of dreams. Dreams for his son. And if he were to find that all his son ever dreamt was to make the perfect dim sum, he would be shattered. So young Wonton decided to wait. Wait until he could wait no more. So he spent endless hours at the nearby local school, learning nothing. His real education came from his mother and his grandmother, at their dingy little kitchen. “Nainai, can you show me how to do that again? ”he would ask his grandma. His 80-year old Nainai, loved his enthusiasm. And often chided her son , for mocking Wonton about his culinary passions. And then, the day had come, when Wonton could wait no more. His father was enjoying his daily evening drink with his friends, Wonton thought he was better off waiting for his father to finish his drink, and for his friends to leave. But he could wait no more. Waiting is what he had done all this while, so Wonton summed all the courage he could and said, in his shaky adolescent voice, that he was leaving home. To be a chef.

In the years that followed, Wonton spent his days learning and perfecting his culinary skills. He later joined a group from Nanxun to a crowded city in India. Which he later found was Kolkata. Here he worked in a restaurant in Tangra, the Chinese locality of the city. Adjusting to city's dirt and grime, wasn't easy. But luckily, his love for dim sums never faded, not one bit. One of the guests at the restaurant, noticed his extraordinary skills and offered him a job as a head chef, at his restaurant in another Indian city. Wonton, wished his grandmother could see this. And his father too. His dim sums were certainly leading him somewhere.

Upon arriving in his new city, Hyderabad, Wonton wasted little time. He got the place as Chinese as he could. Manchurian was knocked off the menu, so was American Chopsuey. Cartons of cornflour went down the drains too. Much to the shock of the Sous Chef Lucky Lee from Gurdaspur. Sinova, was born again, as the most authentic Chinese restaurant in town. The owner joined in the enthusiasm, pretty butterflies and dragon table tops were included, so were little lights. Chef Wonton had no clue what branding was, but his real take on Chinese, made Sinova at Road No. 12 Banjara Hills, the non-glutinous Chinese Place.

It had been over 2 years since he joined Sinova, a trip to his hometown had been on his mind. March-April-May was off season, with exams everywhere; he thought perhaps this was the perfect time for a holiday. Hearinghis holiday plans, his boss asked him to wait for a couple of days, he had plans he said. Wonton loved nothing more than work, holiday could wait. Wonton had his plan ready, he would suggest province based food festivals. And then maybe something for the vegetarians – Something like Tofu in Town! Or a cooking class maybe. The anticipation of the days ahead gave him a new burst of energy.

There always are some signs, signs that try to tell us something. But signs in the current scheme of things are often banished. Sous Chef Lucy Lee, was humming, he was in a better mood than he has been in the last two years. The store manager ordered cartons of cream and butter. Wonton was confused, did he not make this very clear on the first day that cooking medium is always Peanut or Sesame oil and Chinese cuisine requires no dairy.

The owner was fond of Wonton, he begged him to stay, Sinova, would now, with Chinese will also serve Indian cuisine. So, he could continue to be the head chef, and manage the Chinese section. But Wonton knew better. The new Indian restaurant was inaugurated. It was called Ghazal. Guests were pouring in, the smell of chargrilled meat filled the air. It was a busy day at the kitchen. Wonton sat in a corner. The owner game him a half apologetic-half understanding smile and asked him if he could step in and take charge of the Kebab section. Woton nodded. Kebab section it is. The marinade could do with a little more zest, decided everyone. So, what would it be, what would it be? Chef Wonton headed to the pantry, where Lucky Lee gave him a a bottle of spice. He walked back to the kitchen, amid oil, saffron and cardamom. Wonton stopped for a moment, images of his village, of his father, of Nainai and of the dingy little kitchen flashed in front of him; he took a deep breath and
returned to the marinade to add a pinch of Garam Masala.

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