I was a bad student till I found my passion: Mohib Farooqui on teaching, cooking with Nigella Lawson and more

Chef Mohib Farooqui tells us about his journey to becoming an award-winning chef
Mohib Farooqui
Mohib Farooqui

It was his mother's wish to see him go to work dressed in a suit. But 39-year-old Mohib Farooqui decided to wear an apron and a chef's hat instead, a decision that has sure made his mother proud now as Mohib has grown to become a well-known chef, winning several awards and making a mark for himself in the industry. 

He received the DUX award for highest academic achievement in his class, at the renowned Le Cordon Bleu School of Culinary Arts, Sydney where he studied. He then began his teaching career with Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Arts School in Gurgaon, Ecole Hoteliere Swiss Hotel School in Lavasa, and at IHM Aurangabad. In 2018, he won the Best Chef Academician of India for the year 2018-19 awarded by the International Society for Hospitality Education. 

Mohib tells us all about his journey, his favourite dishes and some of his most memorable moments.

Who was your inspiration to start cooking? 

My mother was a brilliant cook. She was so good that my cousins also vouched for her cooking, rather than their own mothers'. She's definitely been the biggest inspiration. From childhood, I've been comfortable being in the kitchen and experimenting various dishes. But when I decided to make cooking my career, my mother was the only one against it. She wanted me to do a typical desk job, dressed in a suit.  However, I eventually pursued Hotel Management and then I went to a specialised culinary programme in Sydney, Australia. 

Take us through your journey in the industry so far.

I've been a very bad student all my life, but when you're really passionate about something, you excel in it. So when I went to Sydney to study, I was the topper and won the DUX award given by the owner of Cordon Bleu schools. Professionally, I was awarded the Best Chef Academician of India. I got into teaching in 2010 when I came back to India as my father passed away. I was stranded in Aurangabad. As an alumnus of IIHM, they offered me a role and I became a chef trainer for Taj Group of hotels. In 2018, after I bagged the prize, I wanted to do something different, so I quit teaching and started a private dining space called Accentuate Food Lab, based in Aurangabad. It's a small space for  people, only open on reservation. The menu is designed carefully to cater to them.

What's the best thing about being a chef?

It's a never-ending process of learning. The more you know, the less you know, It keeps you on your toes and there's so much room for creativity. 

What's the biggest misconception about this profession?

Now, this profession is getting a lot of respect in India. Thanks to Sanjeev Kapoor, who back in the day started his show on Zee TV. That created a lot of awareness about this profession. But it's still regarded as a worker-class job, while the fact is that chefs have prospects everywhere 

What's your signature dish?

White chocolate and orange blossom water ice cream with berries and pistachio. But what became the most famous one amongst my diners is the eggplant dish. 

Are you always asked to cook at home or for get-togethers?

Yes, everyone expects me to do something or the other. But, at home, my mother doesn't like me in the kitchen because I get flustered in tight spaces. I do cook for my daughter every weekend though. 

Having Hyderabadi parents, being brought up in Saudi, and then moving to Aurangabad, how has your cooking been influenced by various cultures?

The culture at home was always Hyderabadi food, which is very complex but we were also influenced by Arabic food, which is very simple. I was always inclined to simpler cooking than complex Indian cuisine. I like using fewer ingredients. But I've tried to incorporate elements from different cuisines. For instance, the signature icing, the orange blossom water is a very middle eastern thing, 

Tell us about experience working with Nigella Lawson. 

So Nigella Lawson came to India for her tour. She's a brilliant cook, but she needed more chefs to cook for large crowds. So she was given profiles of a couple of chefs and she selected me. We were given her recipes and we had to make it. It was a great experience because her recipes are written down to the last detail. So it actually works. Even some recipes of senior chefs in hotels don't work out sometimes when others try it. But Nigella's was foolproof. 

Have you ever had any embarrassing moments or messed up?

I was cooking for Pink at a resort in Australia. It was a rainforest kind of setup on an island. As soon as the dish was brought out, this green frog jumped on her. She freaked out, I freaked out. And I had to do the whole dish all over again. It was hilarious. 

Where do you see the hospitality industry in India headed?

The hospitality industry in India is booming. Now, there are so many chefs like Prateek Sadhu, who put India on the culinary map. We chefs are highlighting Indian cuisine apart from the usual butter chicken and chicken tikka masala and showing people what else we have to offer. Chef Sujan Sarkar for instance, is drifting away from the usual culprits. But it's still not as popular as it can be. 

What are your future plans?

Apart from the private dining space, I hope to put ‘Accentuate food lab' on India’s culinary map for culinary related research and collaborations with other known chefs  apart from the private dining space it offers.

Mohib is one of the contestants on the show 'Chef Vs Fridge’ airing on Zee Café

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