BBC Good Food Middle East caught up with Chef Faizan Ali – head chef at Khyber, the Indian eatery at DUKES Dubai, to find out how the Dubai branch differs from its Mumbai sister, and to get the lowdown on his go-to spices for his favourite Indian recipes. How does Khyber Dubai differ from Khyber …
BBC Good Food Middle East caught up with Chef Faizan Ali – head chef at Khyber, the Indian eatery at DUKES Dubai, to find out how the Dubai branch differs from its Mumbai sister, and to get the lowdown on his go-to spices for his favourite Indian recipes.
How does Khyber Dubai differ from Khyber Mumbai?
There’s virtually no difference between Khyber Dubai and Khyber Mumbai. We have brought the same flavours here from Mumbai, with a twist of authentic international taste that Khyber stands for. The restaurant focuses on authentic North Indian cuisine, which is described as Ambrosia – translates as the food of the Gods. There are many freshly-prepared exotic delicacies, and ingredients selected with great care and passion. We source our ingredients from India, we make our own spice mixes and marinades here in Dubai.
What is your favourite dish on the menu, and why?
My favourite dish in the menu is the Khyber Raan. Our other best-selling dishes include the tandoori kebabs, butter chicken, kebab platter, and our biryanis.
Does the audience in Dubai differ from that in Mumbai, and have you had to alter the menu’s spice level to accommodate this?
Yes, the audience in Dubai differs to that of Mumbai. We have designed our menu according to both international and Indian nationals’ tastes, but we have not compromised on the authenticity of the food. India is a very versatile country; there is a wide variety of incredibly delicious cuisine in North India which is milder to taste, and we have added a selection of these to our menu. However, our intention is not to ‘tone down’ the dishes, but to offer as authentic a Khyber experience as possible.
If our readers could only have three spices in their cupboard, which ones would you recommend? And why are these your go-to spices?
I would recommend Garam Masala, Kashmiri Chili Powder and Turmeric Powder. These are the basic, go-to spices when cooking Indian dishes. Spices are the soul of our recipes; there is no recipe in which you have only one spice to give it flavour, even if it’s the simplest of recipes.
Are there any offers/special menus coming up at Khyber that our readers should know about?
We have a number of offers running throughout the week, such as Chit Chat evening every Wednesday, and curry nights on Monday. We also have a Diwali set menu to mark the occasion.
Have you had any kitchen nightmares during your career?
Yes, but I consider them more as great experiences and reasons to stay motivated, rather than nightmares.These happen in every kitchen in different situations, but what matters is how you learn from it and look to utilise it for a better overall experience for the guests.
What is the most bizarre request you’ve ever had from a customer?
There was a situation when one of the guests came directly from a hospital and requested to have some food with lots of dietary requirement (dairy, salt, no meat, gluten, nut, oil). Due to her sickness, none of the dishes on the menu suited her diet. Instead, I created a few dishes as per her dietary requirements; she was amazed and surprised, enjoyed the food and left Khyber a very happy customer.
Why did you become a chef?
I was born to a very simple family in Old Delhi. Growing up in a big joint family had inculcated the best of Indian values in me. One such value that decided my choice to become a chef was cooking together in the family home. All men in my family were great cooks, and almost every Friday, I would sit on the kitchen counter and watch my father, grandfather and uncles in the kitchen together, cooking meat and talking away about their week. I would occasionally stir the meat and my father would teach me the names of the ingredient that he would use. I am sure he did that to sharpen my vocabulary, not realising that one day that glossary of ingredients would become my life; my very reason of existence.
Without much thinking, I joined Pusa as an apprentice and instantly felt comfortable in the kitchen classes. Thanks to my grandfather and father, I knew more than any other student in my class. The encouragement that I received from my teachers naturally made me more inclined towards the subject, and hence I decided to become a chef.