With a tattered recipe diary more than 100 years old, khansama Haji Bhoora hopes to carry forward the legacy of his great grandfather who cooked in the royal kitchens of Rampur.
The diary carries some of the secrets of Rampur cuisine, which the khansama introduced at a food festival here.
"Our forefathers have recorded recipes for around 150 dishes and over 40 combinations of spices in the notebook.
Although the diary is falling apart, we have retained most of its content in fresh journals," he says.
But while his great grandfather headed the royal kitchen of the Nawab of Rampur, Faizullah Khan, Haji Bhoora finds that his exemplary culinary skills are mostly used at walimas or local weddings.
The 49-year-old chef, however, is determined to take his family's centuries-old gastronomic legacy forward.
He has collaborated with five other chefs to participate in several food festivals across the country and revive traditional Rampuri recipes such 'neem ke patton ka halwa' – a sweet dish prepared with neem leaves, and 'kachhe ghosht ki tikki', or mutton kebabs, and other rich dishes which originated in 1774.
"My great grandfather was hand-picked by Faizullah Khan to take over the kitchen. The nawab had just set up the princely state in 1774. Like his counterparts, he was particular about the food being unique. And so began my family's culinary journey," he told PTI.
While participating in the recent festival organised by the Taj Palace Hotel here, Bhoora conjured up Rampuri delicacies from his forefathers' diary – penned over a century ago.
The secret to the regional cuisine lies in the special use of spices, he says.
Characterised by the use of ginger and onions and a mix of javetri (mace), jaiphal (nutmeg) and khus roots, Rampuri food is distinct from Mughlai or Awadhi cuisine, Bhoora explains.
"Because of Rampur's proximity to Lucknow, the cultural legacy of our city is often confused with Awadhi cuisine. It has been widely neglected and people have started using different methods to prepare the same dishes. We do not want that to happen," he says.
To prepare authentic Rampuri kebabs and curries, he says, the meat is marinated with bottle gourd and papaya. Rampur's sweets, he adds, have a special garnishing that is typical of the cuisine.
Bhoora rues the practice of using substitutes in contemporary cooking. For instance, he says, the silver or gold varq used on sweets originally is being replaced by a 'parda' made out of flour.
"Varq had a dual purpose -- to keep the dish warm and moist, and it ensured that the dish isn't tampered with. Such was the finesse of the varq used in the royal kitchens that even the slightest touch would tell us that the dish has been touched and was immediately rejected," Bhoora says.
Bhoora recalls that his father, who was also a khansama (cook), wanted him to study further and work in another field.
"But I chose to learn these traditional culinary skills and became a chef," he says.