Srinagar: In his early 60s and with an experience of over four decades, Ghulam Nabi Baba is one of the well known wazas (Kashmiri Chefs) of the summer capital.
Being president for nearly two decades of the union of wazas, Baba has now decided to give a twist to the way of his working in a bid to expand his generation-old profession. He wants to make cooking acceptable to the younger generation of his clan, including his son who is in mid 20s.
Hailing from Wazpora area of Maharaj Gunj, a hub of generational wazwaan cooks, Baba says that when he saw the new generation not taking interest to carry the centuries-old legacy forward, he thought of giving it a facelift through his newly opened restaurant called TURK, located at Barzulla area here.
“Over the decades, we have noticed a huge change in wazawan. Some changes were good, but some ended up stereotyping and declining respect for the profession. When I saw my only son showing least interest in carrying on as a traditional chef, I thought why not preserve our art through the way of opening a restaurant and that is how it started,” Baba says.
He said that many things changed over the decades, and the young generation feels it is the right time to adopt this change. “You see how people take things for granted when it comes to cooking meals for weddings. If lunch at the marriage ceremony is supposed to be served at 2 pm, we have to wait till 6 pm. And if dinner is supposed to be at 10 pm, we are waiting for guests till 2 am, and then the next day, the cycle continues at the next place where the marriage function is supposed to happen. This has really degraded the profession, and the young generation is adamant to switch professions which can result in the natural death of our traditional art of wazwaan cooking,” he says.
“I don’t want that, and that is why I started this restaurant along with my son so that we can serve people authentic wazwaan while training a new generation of chefs,” Baba added.
Baba says that with his skill, he wants to treat locals and tourists coming to Kashmir with the real taste of this place.
“Unfortunately, people with no knowledge are jumping in and opening wazwaan restaurants. We have been in this profession since our great grandfathers, and we want to continue it and give it a new shape. I want to keep everything authentic by using the best meat, spices, and traditional methods. The cost may be a few bucks higher than others, but the food will be healthy and authentic without adulteration and mixing cheap raw material,” Baba said.
Baba, who opened his restaurant earlier this month, says that he started by introducing the wazwaan thali with all the main dishes served in wazwaan. He said that the restaurant is making additional authentic dishes on order and have kept takeaway available as well. Having trained over 1500 people in his four decades of experience, he said that he wants his humble restaurant to become a center of learning and authentic food so that people from his restaurant will be able to keep the profession alive, which is on a decline.
His son, Mohammad Noumaan said that he wants to follow the footsteps of his father through the restaurant.
“Our generation is tech-savvy and I want to use that expertise and use social media to promote this culture of authentic wazwaan. We have social media pages, and we have also collaborated with food delivery apps like Gatoes so that authentic food will be available at the click of a button,” Noumaan said.
He said that they also want to add many middle-eastern dishes and Turkish dishes as the same is very popular. He said that the aim of the outlet would be to be the true representation of Kashmiri wazwaan.
Ghulam Nabi Baba said that authentic food is always loved, and unfortunately, Kashmir wazwaan has been degraded by unprofessionalism and wrong representation outside Kashmir also. He said that through his restaurant, he not only wants to give employment to people, but also wants to take the restaurant wazwaan to an authentic level. He aims to open a chain of his restaurant that will provide employment not only to the next generation but also to every individual who wants to learn and serve people.