For the last 26 years, 50 -year old Haji Bhai has been mastering his technique of cooking meat, fish, rice, vegetables Chinese that are desi on big slabs of rock. Such is his popularity that very few really know his real name - Nafees Ansari. Addressed as Haji Bhai Patthar Ke Sanam, he's the only chef in Mumbai who cooks on a rock. Trying to describe his tedious procedure to Mid-Day, Haji said,"The slabs, two-feet-long with a width of 2.5 feet, have been imported from Saudi Arabia, and each weighs close to 50 kgs". It takes two people setting the stone on a customised steel stand up before being enveloped in a silver foil before cooking merely to ensure that the heat of the burning coal in intact.
What's on the menu?
Even though the notion kebabs and of cooking on a rock generally applies to the cooking of meat, Haji Bhai does not like to confine himself to only that. Apart from the delicious chicken tikka masala, bakra tandoor etc, dabba phantom, he also takes pride in vegetarian dishes like vegetable korma and palak paneer. He also cooks known Desi Chinese dishes like fried rice and chilli chicken on it, if this was not all. Like Patthar Ka Murg, Patthar ka korma, Murg Patthar etc.
2,000 was originated by the thought of cooking on a rock years ago from the Haji Bhai's first tryst with the stone occurred back in 1982 when he went to act as a chef. But "they mostly make lamb curries and tikkas on it," he told Mid Day. He feels that cooking on stone gives a distinct flavour to the dish. He said cooking on the stone is fairly simple, "All you have to do is heat up the lava rock by placing coal in the stand, place your meat, fish or vegetables on top and then just cook to your own preference. With little or sometimes no oil whatsoever, the health benefits are easy to see and with the purity of flavor, you'll appreciate each bite."
Not only does his food make people keep coming back for more, Haji Bhai also takes pride in remembering how his food was adored by Shah Rukh Khan when he was invited over to Juhi Chawla's Breach Candy residence last year to prepare food. It does take a fair share of time to set up everything - it takes several hours only to heat the rock over 20 kilos of coal. But once hot, it stays piping hot for over four hours. It cooks quite quickly also.
It does not come cheap for him.
Of ordering his rocks on his return from Saudi Arabia, Haji Bhai first thought, but after noticing that the rocks had started breaking due to the heat, he favors importing them in the Middle East. The stone is then cut, finished and polished, once imported. The stones may also be cleaned often using an iron brush but they do wind up becoming damaged thanks to his catering company. "To douse the warmth from the stone, we splash a lot of water on it, which ends up damaging the rock." The chef has 7 stones in all with each designated for different kinds of food. From chicken each kind of food has another stone. There is another stone for Jain food as well. Each rock is close to Rs 3,000 but after including price of import, it ends up costing more than Rs 54,000 per stone. But does Haji Bhai regret it? Not one bit. "It is worth the cash spent."
Haji Bhai, who manages from Byculla, generally charges Rs 6,000 for 500 diners and can be contacted at 9322343280.