Back Beats


Impact - - CONTENTS - BY ALI MER­CHANT Founder & Di­rec­tor, Triton Com­mu­ni­ca­tions



Those were the hal­cyon days of the Roy­alty. My ma­ter­nal grand­fa­ther, a proud Maratha Ksha­triya was the deputy to His Royal High­ness of Gwalior, while my ma­ter­nal grand­mother was an Iraqi. It was at the age of eight that I ar­rived in this op­u­lent palace in Gwalior, clutch­ing tightly to my mother and grand­mother’s hands. That was the be­gin­ning of my ro­mance with the won­ders of the culi­nary world.

Vis­it­ing the Gwalior palace often amidst the heady, dis­tinc­tive flavours of Iraqi, Ara­bic, In­dian and Con­ti­nen­tal cui­sine, I was fas­ci­nated by the in­fi­nite range and ver­sa­til­ity of gourmet cook­ing. Perched on a Queen Anne stool in the cav­ernous halls of the royal kitchen, I be­came an avid pupil, learn­ing from the best of the best – 8 cooks; nine of whom were from var­i­ous states in In­dia, four from the Mid­dle East and yet an­other five from other parts of the world.

From that young and im­pres­sion­able age, I was ini­ti­ated into a mind-bog­gling va­ri­ety of gourmet dishes: Kubba (Kibbeh), Dolma, Koozi (bar­be­qued goat with chicken and pulav stuff­ing), Baamiya, five types of Biryani, Yakhani Pulav, Smoked Shammi Ke­bab, Rafat Ki Tang, Bi­hari Ke­bab, Pom­fret Rolls stuffed with chut­ney in a spe­cially made tomato sauce. Then, of course, there was Khichda, Haleem, Las­san and Husma (Bohri meat dishes) and Chicken Roast with stuff­ing, plus 12 types of Dal and at least an­other 200 dishes, plus desserts. Lit­tle won­der that I not only grew up to be a rec­og­nized con­nois­seur of food, but dab­bled at cook­ing up some rare del­i­ca­cies, as well. Ac­cord­ing to friends, the aro­mas of ex­otic food wafted ahead of me, even be­fore I could en­ter the room! And cer­tainly, while my par­ents were still alive, our ‘Mer­chant’ res­i­dence was fa­mous for its food among the so­cial cir­cles in Mum­bai. Peo­ple just had to be on our guest list!


Over time, my pas­sion­ate love for gourmet cui­sine be­came one of the most im­por­tant parts of my life. And it still is! My mother passed away at a very young age. In some way, that per­haps egged me on to con­tinue with my pas­sion for fine cook­ing. Over the years, I learnt most of the recipes from my child­hood, and com­piled a notebook of rare and lit­tle­known dishes. As my friends will vouch for, I con­tin­ued the grand tra­di­tion of the ‘Mer­chant fla­vor’. For­tu­nately, I got mar­ried to a woman who also loves good food and she has en­cour­aged me to con­tinue my in­ter­est in cook­ing and ex­per­i­ment­ing with new dishes.

I got into Ad­ver­tis­ing in 1971. And like ev­ery­one else in the in­dus­try, I read my first book ‘Con­fes­sions of an Ad­ver­tis­ing Man’ by David Ogilvy. Imag­ine my de­light when I dis­cov­ered that this doyen’s first job was also in the culi­nary field – as a chef at the Ma­jes­tic Ho­tel in Paris. I im­me­di­ately wrote to him about the in­ter­est I shared with him. And he wrote back, ask­ing me to meet Mani Ayer, then Head of O&M in In­dia. So I met Mani, who of­fered me a job af­ter a gru­elling in­ter­view. A lit­tle an­noyed, per­haps, that I did not know how to cook any Tamil dishes! How­ever, I fi­nally chose to work with McCann be­cause of one man, Subroto Sen Gupta – but that’s an­other story.


Time passed. I now have three beau­ti­ful chil­dren – one daugh­ter and two sons. None of them pur­sued the same ca­reer path as me. How­ever, all of them, I re­peat, all of them, share my pas­sion for food. Eat­ing, cook­ing and host­ing gourmet par­ties flows in their blood too. But, that’s their story now.

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