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Mehboob Mandokhel

The Cooking Expert
"Success has its own taste, once you have it you want it more," says Mehboob Mandokhel – an eminent chef and a well-known television celebrity. He has been associated with culinary arts for the past 25 years. After doing a diploma in hotel management from a cooking institute in Karachi in 1987, he completed a two-year training program from Sheraton followed by a one-year management training from Avari Towers. He also did six months of kitchen training from Pearl Continental Hotel before professionally starting his career as a chef. His health cookbook, Food for Life, is considered as an authentic guide for healthy lifestyle. He made his first television appearance in 1998, but his cooking show on Geo TV in 2002 gave him real fame. With daily 2-3 live cooking shows on different cooking channels he has now become a household name. Recently contacted him to get an insight into his life. Excerpts:

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Why did you decide to pursue a career in culinary?
After my matriculation I saw an advertisement in a newspaper about chef training in Taj Mahal hotel. But my father did not permit me to go for it. Later when I did intermediate and was waiting for my result I started studying about hotel management. I bought some books related to the subject. During my research I came to know that there was an institute in Karachi that offered diploma in hotel management. With the permission of my family I applied for the course.

Did you face criticism against your decision?
I did not face much criticism from my immediate family, in fact they were quite supportive. But as I belong to a Baloch tribe, many of my distant family members were not happy about my decision.

What inspires you to cook?
Passion is very important to excel in any field. My passion for cooking is my inspiration and it always keeps me rolling.

What is your speciality?
In our part of the world, it is difficult to stick with speciality cooking. Here chefs should have command over varied cuisines. Japanese cuisine is my specialty but I hardly get a chance to practice it since people here don't have a taste for it.

Which cuisine is popular here other than the local one?
People love Chinese cuisine a lot especially in urban areas where there is a huge demand for Chinese food.

From nutritional point of view, which cuisine is healthiest of all?
All cuisines are healthy if cooked properly. Our local Pakistani cuisine is very healthy but the cooking style has made it unhealthy.

How important is it for a chef to have extensive knowledge about culinary art and nutritional importance of food?
It is not important to have complete know-how about nutritional importance of food. In cooking everyone has their own style. I have seen several chefs who don't have any particular degree in hand but they cook excellent food.

But in your cooking shows you emphasise a lot on the nutritional importance of foods. Why is it so?
My interest in nutritional significance of food began after the death of my father. We have family history of heart diseases. My father had a first stroke at the age of 40. He died early because he was not cautious about his food choices. After his death, I studied about the nutritional values of food and implemented it in my daily life. I believe that people should know what is good and bad for their health.

In cooking programs, chefs usually use ingredients which are not affordable for everyone. Do you agree cooking has become really expensive due to these shows?
In my cooking shows, I never promote expensive ingredients. I always emphasise on the usage of local ingredients. Even I cook Lasagne, an Italian dish, with local ingredients. Chefs don't intentionally use such products. We cook according to people's demands.

Is there any particular ingredient that you enjoy using?
My choice of ingredient varies with time. Once I used to use telhar mirch a lot. I have used it in a variety of dishes but every ingredient has its saturation point and you cannot use it more than that. I also introduced a 4-ingredients cooking show. I recorded the first season very easily but after sometimes it became really difficult to prepare local dishes with limited ingredients. To be creative, I started spontaneous cooking. For that I randomly pick any four ingredients from a variety of options I have on table to cook my dishes. With time I got the hang of it and I used to record four episodes at the same time. I even gave a proper name to the dish after preparing it. I recorded 5 seasons of the same show with 13 episodes in a season. I strongly believe that once you taste success, it becomes difficult to get rid of it.

How much importance do you give to the presentation of food?
Presentation is definitely important as it makes your food look tempting. The best way to make your food presentable is to cook it properly. For example I always cook vegetables on a low flame so that they don't lose colour, are crispy to eat and look presentable too.

What is a healthy diet? What should one keep in mind while planning a daily menu?
Exercise is more important than a healthy diet. Sometimes we eat a healthy diet but are not burning enough calories through a vigorous workout plan; that leads to many health problems. In a healthy lifestyle, there is more emphasis on intake of vegetables, fruits and lentils. Avoid salty, sugary and oily food items completely.

Tell me about your book, Food For Life? What inspired you to write a book?
I always wanted to write a health cook book. When a cooking oil company approached me, I shared my idea with them and they liked it very much. In my book I have given a lot of information about diseases and importance of different food items. I have also shared some of my healthy recipes in it.

The boom of cooking channels has brought about a positive change and chefs are now considered celebrities. What is your take on that?
Our problem is that we don't understand the dignity of profession. Only limited professions such as medicine, engineering and banking are considered respectable. We don't allow our children to choose the profession of their choice and force them to choose according to our choices and not their's. If you allow children to make their passion, their profession, they will be more successful.

Share with us your first cooking experience.
I cooked prawn masala for one of my aunts at the age of 9. I used to add boiled eggs in it.

When at home what do you like to eat?
I prefer simple food and my favourite dish is 'patla shorba' which my wife especially cooks for me. I also like 'began ka burtha' and all the vegetable dishes that my wife cooks.

What is your favourite eating spot?
I don't like to dine out. My favourite eating spot is my home.

Share with us any on-air blunders?
When a chef gets on-air there are lots of chances of making mistakes. I don't remember any particular incident but yes I always try to be extra cautious while baking. It is a bit risky as a small mistake can spoil the show.

If you were not a chef, what would you like to be?
I would be a doctor as I had inclination towards medicine.

The key for your success?
To be successful in any field, one should have complete faith on whatever he is doing. My strong faith has been the key for my success. There was a time in my life when I was financially weak as compared to other family members but I did not lose faith at that time and kept struggling. Had I lost patience midway because of financial constraints, I would not have been a prominent chef. Tough times are part of life's journey, only those who are determined in their approach survive.

Any cooking tips that you would like to give to aspiring chefs?
The key to make delicious food is to enjoy cooking, it will make you more creative. I have been cooking for 25 years but I never get bored of it because I enjoy what I do.

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