Here is a tale of a fascinating man, with culinary talents that will blow your mind. Unfortunately for us, this man is now cooking up a storm for the Heavens, and maybe throwing a bone down to hell too, being that he loved to feed, whoever, wherever. I am talking about Aziz the cook, or rather the chef. He had magic hands that created masterpieces of food, one that you can smell a mile away and so good that you would float that mile until you could taste the dish. 5’5, balding but never quite bald, a thin mustache (very Parisian) and usually found in the traditional shalwar kameez.
The kitchen was his domain. So possessive was he of that large space, with freckled floor tiles and dusky cabinets that guest or not, he was equally rude in turning you out and ordering you to remain out while he worked. Powders smattered all around, divine smells and the loud banging of dishes was what you could expect when you entered here. Not one or 2, but minimum 4, coal charred metal pots and pans would be normal on the stove at all times as he did a little dance of adding the relevant spices to each dish. A smile was sometimes gifted to you when you walked in but usually it was an awkwardness that forced you out.
He was a ‘malung.’ Carefree and passionate. And he loved to sing. Oh god could the man sing. You could hear his voice, loud and clear, as he sang of tales of love and woe (usually Indian classics) with an abandon that was admirable. The whole house reverberated throughout the large hallway, the den, and the multiple rooms, as he sang one ditty after another. No matter what time of day, if Aziz was jolly, we were all to be entertained with his song, regardless of where we hid.
His masterpiece, at least for me, was the biryani. The biryani I never learnt to make. In my defense I may have tried, but he was fiercely possessive of this recipe. According to an aunt’s narration, he would agree to teach her but then would distract her just as the moment came to add the spices. When she would turn back to the dish, he would have already added the ingredients and look sheepishly at her promising her that soon he would teach her again. Let me tell you about this biryani. Or you know what, let me not. Because I will not do justice to it. After all how can you do justice to a dish that could envelope you in its taste to a point that you were comatose with glee, the deliciousness erasing all thoughts and replacing them with pleas to your stomach to make more space so you could accommodate a 5th helping.
And then there were his pizza’s. A simple concoction really. Take some old roti and fry it. Then sprinkle salt and some red pepper. Yum. My mouth is watering. Oh Aziz, why did you have to leave so soon? I was not done with your cooking just yet. As kids my cousins and I would sneak in and plead with him to make us these. The we would scarf then down and look at him doe-eyed for some more.
But there’s more. The man could sneeze. It was as if an earthquake of about 4 in intensity on the Richter scale had rocked the house. And I am not exaggerating.
The man was not a cook, he was a legend. And he was family. I cannot recall a memory at my Amaji’s house that did not feature Aziz’s sneeze or his songs or his food or just him. Feisty to a point he was like a hungry wildcat. Usually at war with the washer lady in the compound next to him, he had a sharp tongue and a quick temper. Today, he is a usually reminisced about at family gatherings. He left us suddenly and too soon but he is the reason my standards for certain dishes like biryani remain sky high. If you have tasted food that challenges the word ‘perfection’, would you ever settle for something just good? I think not.