It is unfair for one person to be so talented,” exclaimed Rocky Singh, one half of the gourmand-duo Rocky and Mayur, seated at the Sikkimese restaurant, Nimtho, in Delhi yesterday. The remark was directed at actor Adil Hussain, who will be taking over the restaurant’s kitchen on September 15 to knock up dishes that avail of culinary traditions ranging from Kashmir to Kerala. Of course, the culinary heritage of his native, Assam, will adorn thalis too, but with tweaks. “A lot of my cooking is improvisational. That’s how I started cooking as well. I love my mother’s cooking and as a child, I would experiment in the kitchen. As one travels, one interacts with new flavours organically and I’ve incorporated what I have picked up from others’ kitchens,” says Hussain.
On the tasting menu, alongside a Kashmiri Pandit preparation of mutton, sans onion and garlic, is a vegetable stew that he learned during his stay in a Nair household in Kerala. A bharta made of pumpkin leaves with fermented bamboo shoots, and a rohu curry preparation, cooked with alkaline water made from “a special kind of banana peel which is sun-dried and soaked in water”, allude to his formative culinary learnings in Goalpara. It is here that he cooked for the first time, to feed the gang off to a picnic.
This had braced him for the extravagant luncheons that his future cradled. During Hussain’s NSD interview in 1990, he was asked, along with other candidates, to prepare a meal for 120 people. “It was a way to assess our teamwork. I took the lead and we put together dishes from across the country because NSD’s student body is very diverse,” he says.
For Hussain, the two crafts are intrinsically similar. Drawing parallels between his two passions, he says, “What is creativity? It is something that you have not tasted before. It is the act of creating which is new, it is srishti. It is different every day. The ingredients that you got yesterday are not the same as the ones you have today. The cook then has to interact with those ingredients differently. Acting, too, is different every day. You might be playing the same role but today, to be here in the now, to be able to accept how you feel in that moment and embrace it while responding to an external stimuli, whether it is your co-actor or the ingredients at hand… the reciprocity that the two demand, which makes it new, which makes improvisation possible, makes the two a lot like each other.”