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Chef Ishtiyaque Qureshi, Director, Kakori House

Tuesday, December 12, 2017, 12:12 Hrs  [IST]

Ishtiyaque Qureshi is the eldest son of the only Grand Master Chef of India, Chef Imtiaz Qureshi, the first Chef in the country to be decorated with Padmashree. Like his father, Ishtiyaque also came into the profession without any formal hotel school education. Joined the profession at the young age of 13 assisting his illustrious father at the ITC hotel kitchen at Maurya in New Delhi, Ishtiyaque learnt the art of cooking from his father and became a Kebab expert. Without allowing a brand to have a stranglehold on him, young Ishtiyaque decided to carry the legacy of his father freely and independently without a brand baggage. He founded Kakori House, a standalone casual dining chain, which currently is on a major national and international expansion. Owner of five Kakori House outlets in Mumbai and one in Qatar, Chef Ishtiyaque has to his credit handling many celebrity weddings to the likes of Aamir Khan, Karisma Kapoor and many others in the Kapoor clan. He shared his life and experiences briefly with P Krishna Kumar during a chance meeting at the World Food India.

When Grand Master Chef, Imtiaz Qureshi has exciting stories about the fares he prepared for the likes of the first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru and Presidents of the country and many visiting dignitaries, his elder son Ishtiyaque has a list of celebrities he floored with his mouth-watering Awadhi cuisines during celebrity weddings. The list includes the who’s who of the Bollywood industry – Aamir Khan, Karishma Kapoor and many others in the Kapoor clan, Hrithik Roshan, among others. Stories are galore as to how he conquered the hearts of Anil Kapoor with “Bhuni Raan and Kundan Kaliyan” and Sachin Tendulkar with ‘Shahi Tukda’ at special events.

Ask him about the secret of his success, and straight comes the answer, “I follow my father’s footsteps and legacy, nothing else.” Just like Grand Master Chef of India, Sr. Qureshi, Ishtiyaque also started at a young age, of 13, not armed with any professional school background, but assisting his father in the 5-star kitchen. “Being the eldest son, there was no other way other than obeying the father 35 years ago. Today, while looking back I don’t have any regrets about it,” he says.

When his father’s brand allegiance was unflinching all through, young Qureshi decided to chart his on independent career leaving the brand tag aside mid-way. When asked about his decision to leave the ITC brand, he said that he “wanted to be a neutral man.” “Time has also changed a lot. When my father joined ITC there was no competition around. ITC was also a new brand in hotel business, they gave him the freedom and as a result he elevated Indian cuisines to the global level. Today, there is so much of competition and if you remain stuck to one place you won’t get the recognition you deserve. I am a neutral man today married to my cuisine. Though I am not a businessman and even my family had no history in business, I thought I can help lot of poor people by starting something on my own. People come, get trained and then they move on. It is an ongoing process.”

Kakori House:
Kakori House is Ishtiyaque’s restaurant venture which today has five casual dining outlets in Mumbai alone. He also operates through a Master Franchisee in Qatar with plans to open more outlets through the same business model in other parts of Middle East as well. While talking he opened an app on his mobile which live streams his restaurant in Qatar. The state-of-the-art kitchen and the interior and décor are a delight and really a brand owner’s pride.

“Kakori House revolves around two-three fundamentals. One is - there is a legacy attached to Kakori, the place. Very few people know the history of the place, where first revolutionary movement held in 1917. So we try to give the experience of the place to the people. Secondly, it is the world’s softest kebab. I try to disseminate the awareness that Kakori is the world’s softest kebab through my brand. Other kebabs you have to chew before you gulp, but in Kakori it melts automatically once inside the mouth.”

Drawing a parallel line between his legendary father and his venture, Ishtiyaque said, “He actually came from the masses to the 5-Star hotel, myself, on the other hand, gone back to the masses from the 5-star. If a large number of people are not aware of our dishes, we will not be able to take the same to the global market.”

Keeping the traditions intact:
While modern day chefs are trying to lure people with fusion, Ishtiyaque believes in presenting food in the simple traditional way. “What I feel is that we can have fusion, presentation, mix and match, garnishes, etc., but it is important to maintain the originality of the food. Fusion is a misunderstood word. Basically, it is bringing together two things. It doesn’t mean you spoil the originality of both. It can be done without spoiling the originality.”

He strongly believes that standardisation and consistency is important for Indian cuisines to be globally relevant. He highlights the success of international chains. Although most of them sell junk food, they have been able to lure customers because of standardisation and consistency in food.

Ishtiyaque is currently in the lookout for right partners to expand the brand presence both in India as well as overseas market through franchisee route. But, at the same time, he is quite conscious about the pitfalls involved, especially considering the legacy associated with the brand. “Franchisee business is a very tricky business,” he concedes. But having gained a 360-degree experience being a chef, consultant, club operator, brand owner, etc., he believes that he has attained capabilities to make ‘smart concepts’ work.

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