Nayak, who armed herself with a bakery course at the age of 17, went on to cook a variety of European and Middle Eastern cuisines at the royal kitchen in Kuwait. “I’ve had tremendous success in Kuwait. I got hands-on-training in different kinds of cuisine and picked up culinary skills in the fast-paced kitchen environment,” says Nayak, who was part of the Grand Jury at the Cake Marathon that took place in Mumbai recently.
At Home Chef Matters, she decided to cook healthy and nutritious Lebanese cuisine serving dishes from the royal kitchen of Kuwait. “I made burghul banadoura, a staple of Lebanese cuisine cooked with ground wheat and tomatoes. Other bestsellers were sheesh tabuk (succulent meats made with chopped garlic, mint, lemon and oil), fattoush with Sumak spice and pomegranate molasses, pita bread and traditional toum or garlic sauce,” she explains.
The sky is the limit when it comes to cake decorations and creating designs and shapes. Nayak holds lessons in sugarcraft and baking for everyone, from seasoned pastry chefs and home bakers to baking enthusiasts. “My forte lies in baking fine French and English cakes. Home bakers are looking at honing skills that will help them start their own business in the long run,” she informs. Her basic course in bakery costs Rs 20,000 in which everything is taught from scratch. Nayak also takes sugarcraft orders (going up to 40,000 handmade flowers) from the Taj and Marriott hotels in India.
Nayak believes that India’s vanishing dishes are not adequately researched and documented. She belongs to the Pathare Prabhu community, among Mumbai’s oldest residents. “The community is one of the original settlers of Mumbai who migrated from Gujarat and Rajasthan and settled in Mumbai in the 13th century,” she says. The cuisine of this community is purely non-vegetarian. Nayak adds, “There are strong influences of Gujarati and Marwari cuisine in our food. We don’t use too much coconut in our dishes, unlike the Maharashtrians.” Some of her dishes, which she rustles up very often in her kitchen, include seafood specialities like a version of the Gujarati Undhiyo with aubergine, potatoes and other vegetables along with minced prawn or mutton, and the spicy Ghol (fish) curry. Even Karanji (which is usually sweet) has a kheema-based filling. “Most restaurants do not feature items from Pathare Prabhu cuisine. Our cuisine is largely inaccessible and my only aim right now is to promote it on the food map,” says Nayak. Desserts include doodhi halwa and kharwas (milk pudding). Currently, she is working on a book project documenting unknown and secret recipes handed down by her ancestors.
Nayak is clear about her place in the world: it’s in the kitchen. A regular day starts at 7.15am and wraps up at 1am. “It’s not a job for me, but a passion to share my culinary knowledge. I not only take classes through the day but also keep myself aware of food trends by reading books every day,” she reveals. As she signs off, she has a word of advice for anyone getting into this line, “Cooking is a detailed process. There is no quick-fix way to success in this line. If you have the imagination, the possibilities are endless.”
Which Pathare Prabhu recipe is your favourite or which one would you like to try? Let us know in the comments below.