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Wednesday, July 06, 2022

Star potter

What would a fancy Japanese meal at Trident in Gurgaon,a sumptuous dum biryani luncheon at the Sheraton in Saket and a plate of deliciously fresh pasta at Taj Mahal on Mansingh Road have in common?

Written by Meher Fatma |
May 10, 2009 10:38:50 pm

A kiln in Khurja is baking exquisite crockery for the five-star kitchens of the Capital

What would a fancy Japanese meal at Trident in Gurgaon,a sumptuous dum biryani luncheon at the Sheraton in Saket and a plate of deliciously fresh pasta at Taj Mahal on Mansingh Road have in common? A hefty cheque combined with some luxurious,snob dining? There’s a ribbony lane in Khurja—the pottery capital of Uttar Pradesh—that ties them all together. Tucked away from the prying eye,a rather non-descript factory on Khurja’s GT Road has been dishing out some of the finest looking serving bowls and coffee mugs with a rare finesse.

It has been more that three decades,says owner Aslam Qureshi,that his factory has been baking servings bowls and colourful dyed plates for these swish five-stars. While the potter waxes eloquent on the nuances of this fine art,he adds that it is sometimes difficult for him to understand the food that is served in them. “When I visited Konomi at Trident after dispatching my first consignment to the restaurant,I had to flip a cup to check if it had my factory’s logo,the food it carried was completely new to me,” says Qureshi.

He credits his brother Haji Abdul Aziz for these connections. “My brother set up Azad Hind Pottery in 1961 and delivered consignments to Central Cottage Emporium in Connaught Place,Ashok Hotel and to Akbar Hotel in Chanakyapuri,which is now shut,” he says. As a teenager,Qureshi would drop by at the factory after school and help his bhai jaan in grinding the stones for making moulds. In 1981,Qureshi expanded the pottery house into a bigger unit and renamed it Nafees Pottery. The humble earthen pots and plates suddenly got some fancy owners and were packed off to specialty diners that laid out their finest recipes in them.

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At the factory,covered with a stone roof and metal rods,there are over a dozen teenagers busy softening the edges of stylish soup bowls and sweating at the furnace as salad plates and beautiful coral shaped soap dishes simmer under a fiery red glow. “We used a charcoal kiln earlier but now the furnace runs on diesel and we bake stoneware at 1,300 degree Celsius,” Qureshi says.

In one corner of the large warehouse,several columns of freshly baked coffee mugs sit parallel to the wall,which,Qureshi says,will soon be airlifted to The Oberoi Amarvilas in Agra. Another block holds beautiful designer platters that look like a painter’s colour palette. “We have to innovate constantly. Once the design is out in the market,you will get its cheap replica at every footpath of the Capital,” says Qureshi,who also avoids lead in his pottery.

Some of his outbound batches include kulhars for serving lassi at Taj Ganges,Varanasi and trendy noodle bowls with holes to spiral in the chopsticks for Taj Coromandel in Chennai. “Hotels prefer pale colours and naturals like terracotta,matte blue and ivory are popular,” says Qureshi,who readies most consignments in 20 days. While he has lovingly kept the moulds of the dishes he’s made so far,he broke one this year. “Ashtrays are no longer in demand,we break all our ashtray moulds,” says Qureshi as a wooden tray fetches us tea poured out in tiny glasses. “Most our relatives take away our stoneware with them,I’ve never had tea in my home-baked mug,” he says.

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