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Lets Talk Curry / kushi balti house training review
« on: March 19, 2014, 02:13 PM »
As some of you may know, Bengali Bob and I went on a training course that turned out to be a fiasco. The lengthy post that follows is just a review of the training as offered by Muhammed Ali Haydor at Kushi Birmingham, a well reputed BIR/Balti chef and a little bit of story.

Sometime in October 2013, I called Ali (aka Mohammed Ali Haydor, of the “Authentic Balti Curries” fame) who is also owner and Head Chef at the Kushi Balti House in Moseley, Birmingham and asked whether he was offering classes at this time. I think I took him by surprise as his reaction on the phone wasn’t a straight-forward yes, but this didn’t seem to be a problem, he seemed interested in offering the classes if there was interest from us. When I introduced myself, I explained I would be travelling from Ireland to attend the curry training and that there would be potentially another person interested in this training. He explained the training would be tailored to our needs and that it would be 50£ per person. At the time, I didn’t have confirmation from Robert (Bengali Bob), so before I said yes to Ali, I called Bob and we discussed what our goals were. Bob being the most experienced of the two of us, and a Kushi Veteran, wisely suggested we should stick to the essentials: Garam Masala (how he roasts it and what goes into it), Mix Powder, the pre-cooks (particularly aloo and veg in general) and watch the Base Gravy being made from the round up and try to make some of his curries from the menu and see how it compares to those made by Ali himself. We can then compare it to what he has on his book, which from Robert’s own experience is nowhere near the product he gets when he orders from the restaurant. So, settled, I called Ali and tell him me and Rob we are interested. I also explained exactly what we wanted to learn, as I wrote it down from an earlier phone call with Bob and further emphasized that seeing as I was going to fly over to UK for this learning experience and that would incur costs on the training, flights and hotel/stay, he assured me that it wouldn’t be a problem and that I would only need to give him a call one or two days before the date. As he was home at the time I called him, he asked me to call again the following day around 9pm so he could take the payment of the deposit over the phone at the restaurant. I called him again the following day and he does not get my phone call. Another day and he gets my call and tells me he wasn’t at the restaurant. 3-4 Days later and he finally I catch him at the restaurant and the deposit is finally paid. I’m at this point confident and book my flights, hotel and train to Cambridge.

Monday – 4th of November.

I meet Bob and we head to Kushi on Moseley Road. Ali asked us to be there for 13:00 and we arrive 2 mins earlier (happy days!) While passing in front of the restaurant we notice there is no light and we start to suspect Ali may not have arrived yet. Rob parks in a car park behind the restaurant and we knock kushi’s back door. No response. We head to the front door and we can see Ali behind the bar looking at some papers. As soon as he notices our presence, he comes over, opens the door, greets us and invites us to the restaurant. He then asks us to sit down at a rather unclean table with a relatively a stale smell permeating the air of the dining room and we have about 10 mins of small talk, about my trip, our learning goals and what not. He recognized Rob, who already had some “mixed experiences” with this business. I’m not going to spoil it for you and let him describe it if he feels like it. He also asked what how we heard about Kushi, why we are trying to learn to cook indian food. We describe our background, our skills. He quickly tells us to come to into the kitchen.

We walk into the kitchen and there was nothing on the stove already and the tandoor oven was off. As balti curries are traditionally eaten/served with naan bread, this seemed a bit odd. I thought this was all part of the “master training” of bringing a balti kitchen alive and making everything from scratch (in fact, ahead of the day, I was a little afraid I would arrive at the restaurant and find a base gravy boiling away, which would deprive us from seeing it being made from scratch.) The first thing Ali does is ask Rob immediately for the 50£ (I paid mine by card when ask for a deposit) which didn’t sound good at all. It wasn’t like we would be leaving without paying for it. Besides, he had my credit card number which he could always overcharge but this became clearer just after Bob walks into the kitchen.

First thing, the smell and cleanliness didn’t get much better. The floor actually felt dangerously slippery, which made me feel slightly uncomfortable. Ali started by opening several round spices containers and telling us about them. I thought this was a pointless exercise as both me and Rob were both fully aware of the individual spices and if he was focused enough, he would have picked it up from our chit-chat prior to the move into the kitchen and spare us a few moments. The only spice in there that I hadn’t used in cooking much was Nutmeg and Mace, then again. There was nothing new or more exotic there: no amchoor, anardana seeds, pimiento, rose petals. Only standard herbs, whole spices and ground spices (no mixed powder). Both me Rob had a whiff at the garam masala and it smelled extremely similar to the store bought one which the user ifindforu (IFFU) advocated on the forums – Jalpur GM (more on this later.)

Ali starts by handing out 3 sheets of paper with printed recipes. He tells us his plan “We are going to cook 2 curries and pilau rice today.” – hopes and dreams start to crumble, but we were still keeping it cool.

The recipes are: Chicken Mushroom, Chicken JalJul and Pilau Rice. Ali starts by filling up a pot with about 2 mugs of rice, washing it under the tap with about 3-4 water changes (same deal as in h4ppy-chris plain rice video.) He then brings the pot to the stove, adds the usual spices (green card, cumin seed, cloves, cassia bark, bay laurel – the most common bay leaf variety, I generally call it the european version.; star anis, etc), added about half chef spoon of ghee (if memory serves me well). In the mean time, he starts washing chicken and asks us to prepare the onions, ginger and garlic with the funky small serrated knifes that the bengali chefs seem to love. He also (in serious tone) asked us if we knew how to cut chicken (breasts) – again, his lack of focus shining through. He made the garlic ginger paste in the ratio of ginger 60:40 garlic. I was a bit surprised by this. I have been using either 50:50 or 60-70 garlic. He proceeded to give us a poorly explained theory: “If you use 60% garlic, the ginger takes over. If you use 60% ginger, it pushes the garlic flavour into the curry” – I don’t think this is particularly true, having tried his approach at home after watching Zaal’s video where chef and owner disagree on this, but it gave me some food for thought (mind the pun) while in Birmingham, considering that it was something that I’ve never really challenged or experimented much with since embarking on this ark. The rice was at the reduction stage and he adds some saffron strands to a ramekin with warm water, he then drops the saffron water and strands into the “rice pocket” and covers it with the rice previously spooned off. He then looked at us, with a certain gleam in the eye, stating he uses saffron on his pilau rice, which obviously sounded like pitch for how he distinguishes himself from it’s competitors (At this stage, I was still impressed. More on this later.) Ali leaves the pot of rice to steam on a low light and pulls a handi and a large (about 10-12?) frying pan and starts the two curries. The surprising factor on these curries was the use of mustard oil. He started the frying pan with a baghar: mustard oil, g&g, onions and the handi by just adding mustard oil and onions and adding the ginger at a later stage, after the onions had softened. While happened, Ali was chopping peppers. He then adds the garlic and ginger paste and he walks to the rear end of the kitchen. Shortly the kitchen is full of smoke and Bob who was closer to the handi, notices the garlic and ginger are burning and binding with the bottom of the handi. He immediately jumps back in the stove and mixes it as well as he could, scraping as much of the garlic residue burning at the bottom of the pan. This didn’t stop the cooking, of course, but emitted (for me at least) some pretty large red flags, but of course, we continued hoping for the best. No magic here. He then adds spices and proceeds with the recipes, which were almost hands off for the whole duration. This was well rehearsed, no magic there. A moment’s later he asks us “Did I add salt already?”, Rob and I looked unsure, but I don’t recall whether he added more salt or not. All I remember is that he didn’t try the food in front of us to figure out whether it needed salt or not. I noticed he wasn’t using the indian bay leaf as well, so I asked about it. He claimed that the one he was using was the indian variety and claimed “it’s all the same”. I didn’t want to get into the arguments so left it at that. A few moments later, he reminds himself that the rice pot was still on the hob and when it opens, it was quite clear the rice had burnt, not just on the bottom but sides too. Ali says “I must have touched the gas knob” which of course wasn’t the case as the fire was still at the low setting he switched to prior to the steaming stage. At this time, both meals are ready and Ali welcomes us into the restaurant, that he would be with us shortly. Rob tells Ali he wants a small portion only, I didn’t say a word as being portuguese, I grew up eating regular sized meals at lunch time that in Ireland and UK are considered dinners. Even at the light of all the shortcomings and disasters in the kitchen, we were still hopeful that there would be more to it. 1.5 hours had elapsed since our arrival til this time and me and Rob reflected on our experience until then. We weren’t quite so happy with the outcome, but sort of ashamed to be frontal and say it to Ali, who was quite a friendly person.

Approx. 20 mins since leaving the kitchen and Ali returns to the table with 3 small trays divided in 3 parts. 20% chicken mushroom, 20% chicken jaljul, 60% undercooked rice. It became clear that the extra time was spent cooking another batch of rice, which was very much al-dente by the time he served us. I asked for some water, which Ali provided, however, it did surprise me that he didn’t offer us a drink – be it water or a soft drink (We were at his restaurant after all.) We started eating and both curries were good, but no better than other non-BIR curries we both had. We were both surprised that the flavour of mustard oil wasn’t really coming through. We then finished eating our food and had a about 20-30 minutes of chat. Ali made it clear that what we had seen was what he had to teach (or should I say, display to) us by asking us what we thought. Bob and I mentioned our expectation was on learning take-away style and balti curries, that we were expecting to see some base gravy and the use of balti dishes. Ali mentioned that he had none ready and that if we are again in Birmingham he could give us another training (which, reading between the lines, meant paying another 100£) and I explained that I would only be staying that night and the following night. Ali then asked where was I staying and if we could come around the following day, that he could drop me then at the hotel as he would have base gravy ready and would be willing to show us how to cook a Balti curry and we could eat it there, which he meant we would be buying our meals and having the chance to be in the kitchen to watch them being cooked. Bob asked about the Garam Masala, Ali seemed reluctant to talk about it and then says it is a secret and he does not want to share and that he makes it at home but it all sounded like bullsh*t. Bob asked Ali for a sample, he acquiesced but gave us only about 2-3 TSPs and tells us that he has to roast more, that he has little left at the moment and that he can sell it to us in large quantities (another business opportunity attempt.) Ali then gets a call and shows us the way out, allowing us to escape through the back door. I realized that, unlike other cookery courses – which this one clearly was not – we are offered to take home the food we cooked, but in this case, we weren’t offered to take _anything_. Heck, we weren’t even offered a coffee after the meal. Walking outside, Bob makes a break for a cigarette next to his own car. We were chatting about how Ali was a bit of disappointment and about the next day and how disappointed we both were, but we were both still cheerful and hopeful for what was still to come (lesson with moike, essentially.) A couple mins later, just as we were about to head off, we see Ali coming out and he’s handling a bag with his stick blender and holding the handles of the handi where he cooked the chicken mushroom which he loads into a jeep parked next to Bob’s car. Bob asked Ali jokingly “are you bringing the left-overs home?, to which Ali replied “Yes, I’m taking it to my wife and kids”.

And that was it. Need a great way to make £100? Read above… :)

Bonus points:

Ali claimed Baghar is about hot oil + g&g. No spices. This one does not need much discussion, really.

Arriving at Bob’s home, we did a smell and taste comparison against jalpur GM and the sample Ali provided us with that he claimed to have been “home made”. The differences were almost negligible and we believed it was down to the box of Jalpur GM that Bob had at his home open for a while, hence less powerful. Other than that, we couldn’t really tell a difference.

He stresses that his garlic ginger paste should be 40% garlic and 60% ginger during the course but the recipes that he printed for us for, supposedly the dishes he cooked on the day, show the opposite. (on another forum, I was told that this is may actually be common practice, i.e the base gravy gets 60% ginger, but then at dish frying stage, you only add 40% ginger; however, we weren't doing BIR style curries, so this information in contrast with the printed recipes, was inconsistent.)

When I asked Ali why he used European bay, if there was any reason for it. He told me “It’s all the same, it’s all bay leaf“; On a subsequent phone call, the subject of bay leaf was discussed again and he laughed it off, suggesting yet again that I was wrong, “It’s all the same bay leaf.” he said.

Cooking Equipment / santoku knives
« on: October 14, 2013, 11:40 PM »
I've been wanting to purchase an all around versatile and high quality knife for sometime. I have a Wusthof chef's knife which is my main knife, but it's not the top of the line. I do need to run it through the AnySharp every second week. It is a very good knife, but I'm finding it somewhat slow for certain tasks.

I'm looking at Amazon to make my purchase and I'm confused about which to pick (but more inclined towards the first link below) aside from the model number and handle colour, I can't spot any other difference between these two knives that justifies the additional £31. Has anyone any advice to offer on the subject?




Pictures of Your Curries / Jalfrezi + Bombay Aloo + Korma
« on: August 05, 2013, 10:23 PM »
Had 2 guests (my girlfriend's girlfriend) visiting us tonight, so I repeated yesterday's food, with the addition of bombay aloo.

Pre-cooked chicken (viceroy brasserie)

Bombay Potatoes pre-cooking IFFU method

Bombay Potatoes

Chicken Jalfrezi

3x chicken korma portions

Pictures of Your Curries / Tikka Korma
« on: July 06, 2013, 01:04 AM »
I felt the need for something sweet today!


Just as I had the first few bits, I realized a photo of it plated was in order. As usual, mind my food imagery skills

Pilau rice cooked in pressure cooked using my general recipe with added coconut milk, fried shallots and coconut chips.

So far this is curry nirvana for me. I can't wait til I cook my next curry.

Pictures of Your Curries / biryani with iffu's tikka on the side
« on: June 27, 2013, 10:48 AM »
Last night's byriani with iffu's tikka

My presentation/photo skills are a work in progress, but I am not really one to care about the looks, so sorry for the more finicky of you!

Talk About Anything Other Than Curry / media chefs
« on: June 24, 2013, 02:13 PM »
How many of you follow (or followed) recipes that these media chefs publish through television shows?

I'm wondering, because I have not been very successful with a few "100% to spec" recipes, from Gordon Ramsay, Jamie, etc. and I was wondering what are your thoughts/experiences?

Lets Talk Curry / pathia & balti
« on: June 22, 2013, 06:38 PM »
I've never had a pathia and I've only had 2 baltis that I can remember. What is the main features of these curries? What makes a pathia a pathia and a balti a balti?

Thanks! Just trying to branch out into unexplored territory.

Talk About Anything Other Than Curry / filming curries
« on: May 26, 2013, 02:36 PM »
What kit are you guys using for recording your curries?  That is, assuming you don't have an camera assistant. I have tried to film myself twice, once with the phone on top of the extractor fan with a heavy deadweight to balance it out and the another time, but I using a bucket of veg. ghee for height and a 5l bottle of veg oil to balance an ipad2 against the microwaves. I got good results with this method, but not quite enough view into the pan I was looking for. So I'm trying to think of creative ways to make a tripod/stand of sorts for cooking my curries instead of buying the existing ones, as I've read reviews these stands are just as flakey. Thoughts? :)

Lets Talk Curry / bay leaf
« on: May 25, 2013, 04:37 PM »
I got my bay leaf in east end bags, but it appears they are not the indian variety, but the more common one. They are small, quite dry and break easily. I'm looking to buy the indian/west indian version. Does anyone have any good recommendations on where to source these online?

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