Rashtrapati Bhavan Banquets Flourished Under Dr S Radhakrishnan
Image Credit: Photograph of Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan presented to Jacqueline Kennedy in 1962

India commemorates the 135th birth anniversary of President S Radhakrishnan on 5 September 2023. 

Dr Radhakrishnan served as the President of India from May 1962 to May 1967, following Rajendra Prasad. A vegetarian who mostly preferred simple repasts as a result of his early years and upbringing, the kitchens of the Rashtrapati Bhavan nonetheless developed a repertoire of sumptuous fare for state banquets during Dr Radhakrishnan’s tenure. 

The kitchens of the presidential residence were overseen by a master chef known as Shafiullah. Shafiullah had been picked by President Rajendra Prasad for his expertise in Mughal cuisine, with the latter having personally sampled his cooking during a visit to the Nizam of Hyderabad. 

Shafiullah stayed on at the Rashtrapati Bhavan under Dr Radhakrishnan. Lizzie Collingham and Salma Husain write in Around India’s First Table, “[Shafiullah] introduced to the Rashtrapati Bhavan kitchens the fragrant Hyderabadi dish of succulent mutton layered with aromatic rice — kachche gosht ki biryani — and its natural accompaniment, mirchi ka salan. This was a salan that was traditionally made only for royalty with a yoghurt rather than a coconut base. Shafiullah was also a master of Awadhi qormas rich in the cream that the dairy-loving Awadhis relished, thickened, Persian-style, with almonds.”

Shafiullah is also credited with introducing another element to the Rashtrapati Bhavan kitchens that has lasted to this day: the Punjabi tandoor. The menu for Dr Radhakrishnan’s banquet for Cyprus’ visiting vice president Fazil Küçük in March of 1963, has the first recorded mention of tandoori delicacies being served at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. In recent years, the basement kitchens have been equipped with two tandoor ovens while the butler’s pantry also has two, so that naan can be served piping hot to the dignitaries dining in the next room.