May 26, 1998
PUNE, May 25: Can you picture the patriarch of an aristocratic family rustling up an aromatic Makkai ki sabzi? Yes, if he is a member of the Bedla family of Mewar, Rajasthan, a family famed for its tradition of hospitality and cuisine.
Kanwar Vijay Singh Bedla, a descendant of the Bedlas, takes his family’s penchant for cooking seriously. In the city for the week-long Mewar Food Festival at the Holiday Inn, along with his wife Sugan Kumari and entourage of chefs, the unassuming and courteous man seems unlike the typical haughty aristocrat. However, his family credentials are impeccable – among those who have enjoyed the Bedla brand of hospitality are Pandit Jawarharlal Nehru, Jaqueline Onassis Kennedy, Sardar Patel, Queen Elizabeth II – and can be traced back to the late 19th century when they were invited to prepare a banquet for the coronation of Maharana Fateh Singhji.
“The menfolk in our family have been cooking ever since I can remember.
There used to be cooking competitions among the members of the clan to test how many dishes each person could make in a certain time,” laughs Bedla.
Although a young boy then, he has memories of the time when the family hosted lunch for visiting dignitaries. “I remember all the ladies calling Jaqueline Kennedy Amrika ki maharani when she had come to a lunch hosted by my father, the then prime minister of Mewar,” he says.
Bedla’s own foray into professional catering came about by accident. “I owe my culinary skills to my father, whom I used to observe when he churned out Mewari food. After I got married, my wife, who is an excellent cook, and I would host dinners for our friends. On one such occasion, our friend Neeta Nagraj, chef at the Lake Palace Hotel, Udaipur, suggested that we cook for a Mewar food festival organised by the Taj Group at their hotel in Delhi last year,” says Sugan. Reluctant at first to step into unknown territory, the couple finally agreed to the idea. With the success of that festival, the two took the plunge into the catering business, setting up Karan Cuisine.
“We faced a lot of opposition from family members when we took up catering as a business. Many taunted us saying, `Handi hilane kahan ja rahe ho.’ But we wanted to prove to the people outside Rajasthan that there is a lot to the cuisine of this region than just dal bati – churma. Now the Taj Group is our regular client,” says Bedla.
"Makkai ki sabzi, made of corn, meat dishes like Handi Sulas and Achari Maas, and desserts like Jhajariya are some of the dishes that we have specialised in,” says Sugan.
Their long-kept family secret, however, is the Bedla sauce. What’s that? “Oh, a lot of people have tried to find out but it is a secret we cannot divulge,” says Bedla with a twinkle in his eye.
Their culinary skills have elicited curiosity and appreciation about Mewari cuisine. Says Bedla chuckling, “A lot of people have asked us which catering institute we went to. We tell them that we learnt cooking at the Bedla Institute.”
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