By Anubhav Sapra
At the age when most youngsters are looking for a safe and cushy job with a handsome salary, there are very few who are passionate enough to take the bold step to realize their dreams. Last week, I met two young, passionate entrepreneurs – Apaksh Gupta of Smugglers restaurant in Hudson Lane and Chef Shahnawaz of Al Nawaz Restaurant in Abu Fazl Lane, Zakir Nagar.
In this blog, I would like to cover the story of a man who started his journey, as per his words, from “mummy ke kitchen se Meridian aur Meridian se Al Nawaz tak”. Chef Shahnawaz started his career from Meridian Hotel and left the job in 2010 after getting an opportunity in Melbourne as an Executive Chef. However, due to visa issues, he could not make it to Melbourne kitchen. He was recommended by the owners of Swagat to work in a restaurant in Toronto as the Master Chef. But his mother asked him to work in India and he declined the offer. Then he briefly worked with the Gujrals of Moti Mahal in Chandigarh.
With a strong conviction about his art of cooking, he started his second innings with a small degh of 1 kg biryani at Khalilullah Masjid in Zakir Nagar. Our host for the Lucknow food tour, Saira Mujataba, a self confessed biryani freak was regular visitor to Nawaz’s biryani shop in her student days. Believing in luck, Nawaz used to buy basmati rice from a particular shop in Maharani Bagh every time to cook his special biryani. People got addicted to his biryani slowly and in such large numbers that the biryani degh became too small to cook biryani for everyone. He purchased a degh from Jama Masjid but that became small too and finally he ordered a special biryani degh from Moradabad. He graciously admits that, he could not afford nine hundred rupees to buy an iron stand used to take out biryani from the degh and had to compromise with a self made stone stand, which he picked up from the street side.
Later he moved to Okhla main road, and opened a new restaurant by the name of Al Nawaz. He claimed to introduce Anmol Chicken, chicken with loads of cream and butter. I went there with another foodie friend last year and found it simply delectable. Soon, his Okhla shop also became quite small and in May 2013, he shifted to the current address in Abu Fazl Enclave, next to Jamia Police station.
I had Nawaz’s special kalmi kebab( 4pcs for Rs 270), juicy and succulent leg pieces, mutton burra( 4 pcs for Rs 270), roasted perfectly, big but soft pieces of fish tikka( 5 pcs for Rs 300) and mutton nahari(half plate for Rs 360). But I liked his Chicken biryani(Rs 250) the most which is served with red spicy chutney. I was told that, many people cook biryani in their homes and visit Al Nawaz especially for the chutney, which works as a salan for the biryani. His biryani has a mix of flavor of Hyderabadi, Awadhi and Kolkata style. I believe this is the reason that his biryani suits everyone’s palate.
I am waiting for the day when Jamia Metro Station will finally start functioning and I can frequently visit Al Nawaz for his Biryani.