MONISH Gujral is to Delhi and the rest of India what Rahul Akerkar and Moshe Shek are to Bombay: a restaurateur-chef who can cook everything on the menu of his popular chain of Moti Mahal restaurants, a businessman, a food writer, and a gourmet.
Moti Mahal was started by his grandfather, Kundan Lal Gujral, who came down to India from Peshawar after Independence and started a small restaurant in Delhi’s Daryaganj area. The next year, in 1948, Kundan Lal who was a great entrepreneur, expanded it into a 400-seater regular restaurant. Better still, he introduced Tandoori Chicken to India, got Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru hooked onto the taste, and Moti Mahal has never looked back since then. Nehru was fond of saying that like nobody visits Agra without seeing the Taj Mahal, nobody should come to Delhi and go away without having at least one meal at Moti Mahal.
Monish Gujral’s entry came much later. In 1983, after his 12th standard examination, he accepted a summer job at the Oberoi’s bookshop. Kundan Lal asked his grandson, “How much are they paying you?” Monish replied, “Rs. 600.” Without hesitation, the old man said, “Come and work in my kitchen and I will pay you Rs. 700.” He accepted the challenge and Kundan Lal, who was an outstanding chef himself, personally trained his grandson. Monish went on to graduate with a B.Com from Hansraj College in Delhi, he then studied hotel management at Pusa, to top his class and college.
His father, who was Kundan Lal’s only son, died early at 49, and the old man of Moti Mahal became shaky after that. Monish, who felt Moti Mahal was losing out, stepped in. The change did not come overnight, but Monish standardized the food, he created mother recipes that are common today to all 33 Moti Mahal restaurants in the country, he set up a corporate office at Gurgaon and has about 25 master chefs who train the newcomers for at least three years before accompanying them to a new restaurant and working with them many months before allowing them to function on their own. But for all this, he can challenge you to taste the Butter Chicken in any Moti Mahal outlet and point out the difference! The menu itself has not undergone much change.
His grandfather’s signature dishes remain, some additions were made in the 1970s, some in the 1990s, but people blindly come and order the Butter Chicken, Maa Ki Dal and Roti. “It is difficult to tell them to try anything different,” he said.
Nehru, who was hooked onto Tandoori Chicken, said that like nobody visits Agra without seeing the Taj Mahal, nobody should come to Delhi and go away without having at least one meal at Moti Mahal.