The road less traveled
“Bawarchi kaiku banaraiN iss ku? (Why are you making him a cook?)”, is one of the many concerns expressed about chef and restaurateur Mirza Ahmed Baig’s parents.
Jeers, like “Arey biwi, ya bacchi pakaati khaana! (It is either the wife or daughter that prepares food!),” added more pungency to such acidic questions.
Had his parents’ given into such outlandish suggestions based more on whims than legitimate worries, North America would be devoid of the Deccani food slowly expanding its footprint.
Besides the Hyderabadi diaspora that didn’t let burgers and mashed potatoes colonize their dining tables by holding onto their culinary traditions, his own restaurant Baig’s Grill has been instrumental transporting the aromas of Hyderabad all the way to Toronto.
Staying true to his roots
Be it during his childhood days in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) or Canada, Baig would help his mother out, the person who instilled in him a love of cooking. However, turning a passion into a prospective career path requires one to take quite a plunge.
“I learned Hyderabadi cooking from my mother. Growing up I would help her out in the kitchen. However, when studying Hospital Management, I felt like I wasn’t cut out for it. I convinced my parents to let me get into the food industry. I attended a culinary arts school where I specialized in French cuisine,” narrates Baig.
Barring the reservations of every armchair career counselor of the South Asian Diaspora in Canada, his parents naturally harboured some of their own uncertainties too. Although, his father always dreamt of opening a restaurant that showcased their heritage. Quoting the late chef and travel documentarian Anthony Bourdain, Baig says, “The history of the world is on your plate.”
“Also, the authentic flavour of Hyderabadi cuisine is slowly diminishing. This is why I’ve also been to my family’s home city [Hyderabad] and observed the way food is prepared at weddings and restaurants that don’t put laal mirchi (red chillies) powder in biryani,” he adds.
And what better way of bringing alive the history and culture of Hyderabad while also fulfilling his father’s dream of opening a Hyderabadi restaurant?
Paying his dues
Yet before this dream turned into a reality, he needed to further hone his skills as a creator of epicurean experiences. This meant working at different restaurants and getting into the process of producing excellent food from preparing ingredients in the kitchen to the final product on the customer’s plate. Although when he was working at the Four Seasons Toronto, his parents told him “Quit what you are doing and start your own restaurant!”
For the past two and a half years, Baig’s Grill is going strong. Be it Sri Lankans, Indians, Pakistanis — especially those who migrated from Hyderabad only to transplant themselves onto Canadian soil — have been flocking to his establishment. There are those who even make the four-hour drive from Detroit, Michigan to treat their taste buds.
Plus, there aren’t a lot of Hyderabadi caterers in US and Canada. “We have traveled to over 25 states in the US to supply food for weddings. We don’t just provide our signature biryani, talaa hua gosht and lukhmi. We even make badaam ki jaali and ship it north and south of the border.”
When afflicted the grueling Canadian winter, one can prescribe themselves the paya and zabaan to counter the chills.
However, the learning hasn’t stopped for Baig. Food was among the prime reasons for him to develop another passion, Urdu. Many dishes of his have been derived from cookbooks containing recipes in Urdu.
He elaborates, “A lot of those books were difficult to translate and this was a further incentive for me to learn my mother tongue. Some books don’t have certain instructions such as the temperature at which one should pre-heat the oven. That too, because they didn’t have the types of ovens we work with today.”
Do what you love, love what you do
When asked if he has any advice for those who want to take up cooking not just as a passion but a potential career path, he says “Research and learn your craft as much as you can. Understand your market, whom you will make food for and whom you will cater too. One can’t shy away from the labourious kitchen and restaurant management.”
Today, another location in Mississauga is on the cards and a lot of Hyderabadi-Americans are sending across feelers for cross-border expansion. In his endeavors to spread Hyderabadi cuisine, not only has he been the norm rather than the exception to the trend of following your dreams. He has also shown the kitchen is just as much his domain as it is of its so-called “traditional” masters.
Address: 124 Kennedy Rd S #2, Brampton, ON L6W 3E7, Canada
Phone: +1 905-230-3243
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