As a political science graduate from Delhi University, this twenty-six-year old chef from Iqbalabad from south Kashmir’s district Anantnag broke stereotypes and won hearts Mexico to mainland.
In order to discover his interest in culinary arts during his college days, Abrar Wani, is now establishing himself with prominent international brands to change story on the table. He is pursuing a career that few young boys in Kashmir dream about, and fewer actually pursue. He is a professional chef, with formal education and training in culinary arts, and has worked extensively in leading restaurants and hotels internationally.
Wani has graduated with a diploma in International Mexican cuisine from Corbuse Mexico and later joined Academy of Pastry and Culinary Arts Bangalore.
“During my college days, when I would cook quite often for my friends and acquaintances. I was encouraged by a lot of people to take it as a fulltime profession. As I started exploring different cuisines and learnt about different spices and ingredients, I was amazed by the diversity of the culinary world. This is when I began to think of a possible career in gastronomical studies and practices,” Wani told Greater Kashmir.
“The stereotypes that our society has attached with this profession makes it undesired to a lot of people. But I, with the constant reassurance from my well-wishers, chose to move beyond such strictures. In this regard, it has been a blessing to get ample support from my family who have been a great source of encouragement for a profession that remains highly unconventional at the best.”
‘Lessons of Life’
Wani says his mother, who herself happens to be a remarkable chef has put this love towards food in him. “When you truly want something, the whole universe conspires to help you achieve it. Thus, it happened that in 2018 the sincerity of my interests opened up ways for me that landed me into one of the finest culinary institutes at Mexico which had a profound impact on my understanding of the very profession,” he says. “I started my career with explorations into and experimentations with the Mexican cuisine. I graduated with a diploma in International Mexican cuisine from Corbuse Mexico. My reason for doing so was to get to know more about the Mexican gastronomical traditions and to get myself acquainted with the techniques used in there. The challenge for me in the beginning was to accommodate the vast cultural and linguistic differences between my place of origin and Mexico,” he says, adding “I have since then been engaged with experimenting the fusion-cuisines. Furthermore, I got a few opportunities from my alma mater to participate in different competitions to demonstrate my creativity with the amalgamation of Indo-Mexican cuisines.”
The young chef believes that the diversity in the culinary practices across the world makes it impossible for anyone to have a complete understanding of the subject. “I, therefore, came up with the idea of fusing different cuisines in my own creative ways. I was overwhelmed with the feedback I got from the people and it provided an impetus to my idea of experimenting with the fusion technique and I hope to continue it,” he says. “When I moved to India, I also got lured to more diverse cuisines of Indian subcontinent. For the same, I believe, The Academy of Culinary and Pastry Arts, Bengaluru, has been an icing on my career in developing and brushing up my skills. It has broadened my horizons of learning in unexpected ways.”
He says during his stint in Mexico he got an opportunity to participate in a competition. “I made sure to utilise this opportunity in a better way. So, I presented my idea of fusion style cooking. Since, I come from Kashmir and I ended up focusing on wazwan more. I made sure to tell them about it in detail,” he says, adding “My happy moment was when I cooked few Kashmiri dishes for them and the feedback I got was overwhelming.” Wani says that they took many Kashmiri recipes from him as well. “I used to do part time cooking on weekends so that Mexicans around me will get aware about Kashmiri cuisines. They loved yakni and tamatar czaman and beverage khewa. This encouraged and pushed me to promote and make world know about Kashmiri cuisines. The struggle has been real and it’s not going to stop until I reach zenith.”
‘Chefs and Stereotypes’
Wani opines that professional chefs have a massive roe to place in making their mark in the society. He says that in Kashmir, not many parents support their children to pursue this field. “There are many in Kashmir who are quite talented and well-skilled but are reluctant to take it as a profession because of the stereotypes attached with it,” he says. “I think it is high time that we recognise and appreciate culinary arts as a standard practise which remains at par with any other profession for that matter. In order to achieve this, we need to come out of this orthodox mind-set and break these age-old stereotypes by being encouraging when someone expresses a desire in this profession.”
Wani says he is still learning his ways into this profession and in less span of time I have felt that it is his responsibility to make my people back home aware about this profession. “My experience in working with the different ingredients, food cultures, diversities and the native authentic cuisines have absolutely been a delightful experience so far,” he says. “In my opinion, a skilled and talented chef can add a lot new to the existing culinary practises. A chef is not someone who can cook but the one who has a good understanding about what he is cooking and has a good knowledge of the ingredients he is using, good hygiene standards, passionate about work, and above all the presentation—which remains pivotal to the profession.’
Wani says that he feels blessed to be a part of this industry and at the same time I believe there is a lot which is still unexplored.
“Our culture is very unique in many ways, especially our famous Kashmiri Wazwan. Since I have had the experience of the best world cuisines and not to sound biased, I think Kashmiri Wazwan is my most favourite among all. It is because of the richness of Kashmiri spices which adds flavour to it.” “Although, it is very disheartening to see that our own cuisine is losing its hold and popularity because the process of cooking wazwan is left solely at the behest of traditional cooks called Waaza, with barely any interventions being made by the young and trained chefs who could learn the practise and help it sustain and thrive at a global level.” He hopes all those people who want to get into this profession follow it passionately by overcoming any obstruction in their way.