The Legend and the Man
This is the story of a man who set out on a culinary adventure and
changed the face of Indian Cooking.
This is a story of a man and a recipe that revolutionized the Indian
taste for succulence and spice in its food
This is a story of a man who made a butter filled delight , bringing to the
ordinary chicken a special flavor. A man who turned the plebian village
tandoor for baking into a royal mode for his innovation:
The Tandoori Chicken
Then came the butter chicken
The result: a revolution in taste , a change in Indian eating habits
and a place on the international gourmet map.
The man was Kundan Lal Gujral
The restaurant where he housed his innovations
was Moti Mahal .
The two became a legendary mix.
The Partition of India in 1947 was followed by the Punjabi invasion of Delhi. While the Dilliwalas were paralysed by the tragedy the refugee Punjabi was galvanised into fighting for a new avtar or rebirth and rolled up their sleeves to regain their economic dignity while refusing to accept their defeat.
One of this intrepid breed to whom defeat was a dirty word was Kundan Lal Gujral .He was a Punjabi Pathaan from the North west frontier province . Though Kundan`s father Dewan Chand was a cloth merchant in Chawkal and owned a cloth shop in this district of Jhelum , young Kundan became a professional product of the capital city of Peshawar , where he got his first job. He was not even in his teens when he found himself in a position where he could exploit his resources .He began to work as a assistant in a n eatery in early 1900`s , owned by Sardar Mukha Singh , who took the youngster under his wings . Later , under Kundan`s culinary excellence the eatery graduated into a restaurant and Peshawar became culinary home to the first Motimahal. Within few months , Gujral`s energetic salesmanship helped the Motimahal break even .He soon carved out a personal niche for himself among the customers as he established a warm rapport with the local gentry .
Sardar Tirlochan Singh , A Sikh Pathan , also from Peshawar and now settled in Delhi recalls Kundan`s early foray into a culinary world from Peshawar days as a sturdy worker , Kundan exuded tremendous energy and enthusiasm in carrying out orders and reaching out to people . He was always on the move , establishing clientele and was immaculate in his Public relations.
This honed Gujral`s skills in what later he described as six P`s for success- product quality , price , promotion, place , personalized service and most important People (customers). Except for the place which he lost to the partition , Kundan came to Delhi armed with the other five guidelines and twelve thousand Rupees which all he could salvage from the tragedy that had robbed most people not only of their possession but their entire families
In 1947 , Thirty seven years old Kundan Lal Gujral with his wife Ram Prakash Devi , Mother Maya Devi and his young son Nand lal Gujral came to Delhi together as refugees , where Kundan changed the face of Indian Cooking. Catering was his first love and was to be his last and the most fruitful one . The trail which began in Peshawar`s Gora Bazaar ended in the Delhi’s then liveliest intersection between old and new Delhi – Daryaganj . There in 1947 , Kundan identified a small place on the road side which later was granted to him by way of rehabilitation conveyance deed by the president of India , where Motimahal was re-established in independent India .Twenty seven years later, having made a name for himself , he had landed in Delhi to start afresh .He had come armed with Oscar Wilde’s famous aphorism ‘ to declare nothing but my genius ‘.
The first thing he did after setting up his shop in Daryaganj was to put into practice one of the six P’s of his formula to success , into practice .In Peshawar , one of the homes he would regularly cater to was of his friend and a political stalwart Mehrchand Khanna who later became a minister in Nehru’s cabinet. It was Mr Khanna , who introduced Gujral’s famous tandoori chicken to Pandit Nehru post partition. Nehru asked who the inventor was and Meherchand produced Kundan lal Gujral . Thereafter , Motimahal speciality became a must on Nehru’s banquets , dinner , meals for political meets . thereafter , Motimahal became the first venue for local and visiting dignitaries to sample this most innovative and popular Indian cuisine . the list went to include Shah of Iran, US president Richard Nixon, Jackeline Kennedy .Canadian primer mister Trudeau, King of Nepal, Soviet leaders Alexie Kosygin, Nikolai Bulganin, Zulfikar Bhutto etc
Maulana Azad , the first education minister of india ,summed it up beautifully .He told Shaw of Iran’ Visiting Delhi and not eating at Motimahal was like visiting Agra and not seeing Taj Mahal’
Moti Mahal- The Palace of Pearls
The pearls not to adorn the beauteous women of Delhi but to win the Dilliwala`s gastronomic heart and give the world a new delight – the tandoori chicken. It was to spell the culinary magic .He had the chicken roasted in the mud baked oven made from whole dug into the ground and lit with coal and wood .when Kundan added to this a vegetarian speciality – Dal Makhani (Black lentil cooked slowly overnight and mixed with the magical potion of to top purée garnished with fresh cream – even the gourmet would visit Motimahal with mouth – watering expectancy. Noted journalist and food critic wrote in his column in Brunch (Hindustan times Publication “ Our story now veers (as does the story of the tandoorichicken) to Delhi’s Daryaganj where Kundan Lal Gujral, who had come over after Partition, had opened Moti Mahal and made tandoori meat cooking famous.I spoke to Monish Gujral, Kundan Lal’s grandson who now runs the Moti Mahal Delux chain. According to Monish, all of Kundan Lal’s great ideas emerged out of necessity. When he began worrying about his cooked chickens drying out, he searched for a sauce with which he could rehydrate them. His solution was themakhani or butter sauce that led to the creation of the butter chicken, made from bits of tandoori chicken that were in danger of drying out.Monish says that Kundan Lal then searched for a vegetarian option. Gautam maintains that in those days, urad dal was not considered a great banqueting dish. Chana dal-was more respectable and in any case, caterers and restaurateurs were obsessed with so-called shahi dishes in which the gravy was enriched with cream.Gautam agrees with Monish that it was Kundan Lal who invented the latter day Dal Makhani though he suspects that it emerged out of a desire to do a shahi dal. go with the rich non-vegetarian food. Monish says it was even simpler. All Kundan Lal did was to take the black dalof his ancestors and to add his makhani sauce to it. After butter chicken came, his next invention was butter dal (Think about it: chickenmakhani and dal Makhani ! Obviously the dishes were meant to be regarded as members of the same family.) I put this theory to Manjit Gill who is not only ITC’s corporate chef but is also extremely knowledgeable about the history of Indian cuisine. To my surprise, because hoteliers don’t like giving credit to each other, even Manjit conceded that the modern dal Makhani was invented by Moti Mahal. “
Gradually, Gujral with his lambswool cap , his thickly twirling moustache , his Pathani suit or three piece suit with a neck tie and a red rose adoring the lapel of his jacket , his welcoming grace in following the traditional Indian substorms of bending low to greet his customers gave an added Flavor to the Motimahal Experience.
James Traub, the author of Indian, the challenge of change , on a visit to India in. 1984 , described the tandoori chicken with typical gourmet flourish , “ It emerges in the best of all possible restaurants , light pink in the centre , crisp on the outside , slightly smoky though out and with a fine mist of sauce still clinging to the surface. It is pungent , with cumin and coriander , rather than hot with Chilli .One should give in, after the first bite of murgh malai or tender chicken , to the sudden desire to weep; India is an emotional country after all.”
My restaurant is my life ‘ said Kundan Lal Gujral towards the end of his great innings . It was to Gujral’s innovative genius that we can attribute the popular place that tandoori cuisine has acquired in Indian cookery.
It became a lesson well learnt for the family left behind, in particular, his grandson Monish Gujral who had the opportunity to train under his legendary Grand Father , having graduated in Business studies from Delhi university and then Hotel management from IHM Delhi , who manages now manages the global chain of Motimahal Hotels and Restaurants besides being a well known columnist , award winning cook book author and celebrity chef.
Monish Launched the upmarket Motimahal Delux Tandoori Trail restaurants as a tribute to his families culinary journey .He was also inspired by his father Nand Lal Gujral who expanded the restaurant chain outside Daryaganj to South Delhi and UP in 1970’s .
Today the Motimahal boasts of being the largest Indian chain of restaurants