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Food, the best PR?



Chef Rakesh Sethi testing a recipe at the Shan Masala Cooking Competition.

FOOD IS a weapon, they say. Then again, the way to a man's heart is through the stomach, and as hopes of a lasting Indo-Pakistan peace glimmer on the horizon, the Pakistan-based Shan Food Industries decided to help the process along by organising a cooking competition in New Delhi. . This past week, Stein auditorium at the India Habitat Centre played host to an unusual performance, the Shan masala cooking competition, titled `The Best Cook of India'. The competition had been publicised through announcements at the `Made in Pakistan' exhibition held recently at Talkatora Stadium, where Shan masala was among the products on sale. The participants had the choice of five cooking categories: fried, curries, biryanis, vegetables and barbecue.

While some of the entries had catchy names, like "Dilli se dil tak", cooked by Sairo Bano, others were more conventional, like Uzma Khan's mutton korma, made from a mix of Shan masala and India's Shan-e-Dilli spices; tikka prepared by Yasmin and vegetable mix by Manju Arora among others.

"It wasn't a pre-planned idea. The overwhelming response that we received from people at the exhibition made us organise this competition. We have similar heritage and food habits. To maintain further cultural links between the two countries, this kind of move sounds just logical," said Sikandar Sultan, Managing Director, Shan Food Industries, who, on his first trip to India, deemed Delhi's Karim's, Gullu Nahari, Moti Mahal and Dum Pukht food as best.

What made the competition most attractive was the prize money of Rs.1,00,000 to the participant adjudged Best Cook, and 10 consolation prizes of Rs.5000 each. The award of Best Cook was bagged by Dr. Sarita from Faridabad, who cooked mock fish fry, a vegetarian dish prepared with arbi.

The delicacies were adjudged by a team of chefs led by Rakesh Sethi of The Grand Intercontinental, then Sikandar Sultan and his wife and finally by Begum Kulsum from the royal family of Hyderabad, who is also chief chef of Dum Pukht Restaurant at Delhi's Maurya Sheraton. At the end of the competition that attracted more than 200 participants, some were seen complaining and some taking it in their stride. "The food has been kept for so long before testing that it has grown cold. And there is so much dust here," complained one competitor. "It is merely an eyewash. The team of junior chefs is testing food as if they just have to do a job," rued another.

"My food wasn't selected, but it is okay. Maybe next time," said Mona Mehta.

"India is essentially a food loving country. We regret bringing only 23 varieties of food and masala out of the 70 we make," said Shahnawaz Khan, the country manager of Shan Food Industries.

RANA SIDDIQUI

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