Indian Chefs Explain What Makes Maa Ke Haath Ka Khana Special
Image Credit: Chef Aanal Kotak, Chef Kunal Kapur & Chef Pawan Bisht

‘My mom cooks the best food in the world,’ ‘There is nothing like Maa ke hath ka khana (food cooked by mom)’ - these two sentences summarise every person’s love for their mother and the food cooked by them. If you ask a person about their comfort meal, it has to be the food cooked by their moms - be it aloo ka paratha or sarson ka saag. You can travel around the world and have the best food prepared by the best chefs, but can beat ‘maa ke hath ka khana’.

It is a bit melodramatic to say that the secret ingredients in a mother’s recipe are love and care, but there is no other way to describe the satisfaction you get when you eat the food prepared by your mom. It is funny that you might eat the same food every day, but a memory associated with it might leave you nostalgic. To make this Mother’s Day, to be celebrated on May 12, more memorable, Slurrp spoke to India’s top chefs and culinary champions to bring you their food memories associated with their mothers.

Chef Kunal Kapur

Image Credit: Chef Kunal Kapur

Chef Kunal Kapur, a name that needs no introduction in the culinary world, is a celebrated Indian chef who grew up in Delhi in a joint family of 12 members. Reminiscing the old days, he describes the kitchen where “something or the other was being cooked.” 

He says his mother learnt cooking from his nani (maternal grandmother). “My mother always favoured cooking fresh food. We never stored food in the refrigerator and consumed it the next day,” he says, adding, “We never used our deep freezer to store cooked meals.” His mother used to dry seasonal vegetables so that they could be used in the off-season to cook a variety of delicacies.

Chef still uses an old peetal ki kadhai (brass utensil) that has been in his family since 1940. His family believes, “Baratan or jewar aaj khareedoge to pote or par-pote ke kaam aaega (The utensils and jewellery you buy today will be handed down to the next generation. At least four generations benefit from it).”

Chef Kunal Kapur shares, “Chaat used to be my favourite. Tikki, papdi chaat, and dahi bhalla among others used to be made at home on Sundays because it takes a lot of time to prepare them.” If you check out the menu of Pincode, a restaurant chain owned by Kunal Kapur, you will find all kinds of Indian chaat options on the menu, ranging from classic samosa and chaat hummus to gol gappe, bhutte ke kebab, and more. 

Chef Freny Fernandes

Image Courtesy: Freny's/ Instagram

Chef Freny Fernandes, founder of Monèr - Bistro and Freny’s in Mumbai, remembers her mother baking cakes for Christmas, birthdays, and other festive occasions. She adds, “I remember her beating the butter and sugar with her hand for half an hour or 45 minutes to achieve a perfectly smooth and airy mixture. Her cakes always turned out impeccable.”

Seeing her mother bake cakes is what inspired the chef. She has studied abroad and worked in Michelin-starred and renowned high-end restaurants across the world, and has trained under the top chefs. However, when she came back to India, she started learning about the East Indian cuisine that her mother cooks at home.

“I learnt that it is so much more than just putting a few ingredients together to whip up a dish. There is so much precision, hard work, and love that goes into cooking one dish,” Chef Freny Fernandes adds. She says, “There are minute details in my mother’s recipes. It’s not until I opened Freny’s that I realised that my mom’s kitchen is equivalent to any Michelin-star restaurant.”

Speaking about her favourite mother’s recipes, the chef adds, “I think my mom makes the best chicken biryani. She takes her time to cook everything, layer the ingredients, and marinate the chicken.”

Chef Aanal Kotak

Image Courtesy: Chef Aanal Kotak/ Instagram

Chef Aanal Kotak, a celebrity chef, author, restaurateur, and TV host, appeared on one of the episodes of MasterChef India in 2023. She is the owner of Secret Kitchen, where you get to experience the best of vegetarian food in a royal setting. Speaking about her fondest memory of cooking with her mother, she adds, “I have loved being in the kitchen with her since I was a child. Although my mother didn't allow me to assist her in cooking, she would always give me small utensils or a portion of dough to keep me occupied.”

She adds, “Even today when I am stuck with a recipe or need help with traditional dishes, I ask her to step in and offer some guidance.” Among several things that Chef Aanal Kotak has learnt from her mother, she abides by boiling the packed milk in a utensil to separate fats from it. The thick, creamy layer on the top can be used to make ghee or butter.

Sharing a cooking tip that her mother passed on to her, Chef Aanal Kotak adds, “When making sweets like Mohanthal, add a spoonful of homemade malai to the sugar syrup. This prevents the syrup from crystallising and ensures that your sweets stay moist.” Surprisingly, Mohanthal is one of the chef’s favourite recipes cooked by her mom. 

Chef Pawan Bisht

Image Courtesy: Chef Pawan Bisht/ Instagram

From Karan Johar to Virat Kohli, Chef Pawan Bisht has cooked for many Indian celebs. He is an independent food consultant and entrepreneur and loves to promote the cuisine of Uttarakhand. While he specialises in multiple cuisines, he is an expert in North Indian, especially pahadi cuisine. He belongs to Chhoi, a village in Uttarakhand, where he has witnessed a drastic change in cooking styles in everyday kitchens. 

Reminiscing his childhood, he added, “I still remember mom cooking over desi chulha and wood during the '80s, animal dung gas in the start of '90s, use of kerosine too, and after that, use of LPG gas in the kitchen started in small villages.”

He has mastered the art of different styles of cooking using ovens, tandoor, gas and coal. It is something that one achieves with a lot of hard work and practice, and Chef Bisht has the best teacher, his mother. Living at the foothills of the Himalayas, the chef says he gets to witness the beauty and harvest of every season. His mom helps him to cultivate an array of produce so that he can present farm-fresh ingredients on your plate.

One of his mother’s recipes that the chef has mastered is making ghee and converting its residue into a sweet, which in the local language is referred to as Maiid. “Take the residue and mix it with sugar. It is eaten with normal roti or finger millet chapati (madua roti) in the hilly terrains,” Chef Pawan Bisht adds.

Chef Vikram Arora

Image Courtesy: Chef Vikram Arora

Chef Vikram Arora, co-founder and culinary director of Niksha restaurant, shares, “When I was 8-10 years old, I started helping my mother in doing simple things like filling up water bottles, keeping washed utensils in place, cleaning the working slab etc.”

He adds, “The first cooking memory is associated with making tea for everyone, followed by helping mom cook during festivals. I used to help her to make gujiya on Holi, pinni in Winter, halwa and chole puri on Ashtami during Navratri.”

Much like most people learn small tips from their mothers, Chef Vikram Arora also learnt to cook white chana in black hue by adding tea bags and dried gooseberries to the mixture. Sharing more tips, he adds, “You can make the best halwa by adding five times the water and an equal amount of sugar. Apply salt and turmeric on the bitter gourd to reduce its bitterness. When you are cooking onions, add some salt to reduce cooking time.”

Speaking about that one dish he thinks his mother cooks the best, the chef says she uses chati wali lassi to cook kadhi and pair it with rice. He adds, “I have aced the recipe of kadhi over time, but that simplicity and love with which she makes it adds a different taste altogether.”

Chef Nidhi Sharma

Image Courtesy: Chef Nidhi Sharma/ Instagram

Chef Nidhi Sharma is a social media sensation after she made it among the finalists in MasterChef India season 8. If you are a vegetarian, you must follow her unique and easy-to-follow recipes. She remembers being a helper to her mom in the kitchen when guests used to come to her home. “I used to work with such zeal and enthusiasm that many times I ended up cooking small but delicious recipes. She [her mother] used to praise me,” she adds with pride.

She says, “The warmth of the kitchen and the smell of spices is something that we cherish together.” One thing that Chef Nidhi Sharma has learnt from her mother is to always cook fresh. Her mother always says, “Basi khana na kabhi khana, na kisi ko khilana (Never eat or serve stale food).” Now the chef follows in her footsteps and uses fresh ingredients to cook dishes for her daughter. 

She says, “My mother’s way of cooking with patience is something that she has passed on to me. The most important thing is to cook with love. She used to say that these vibrations can add magic to food, therefore, she always urged me to enter the kitchen with love.”

Much like any other kid, Chef Nidhi Sharma believes that everything that her mother used to cook is delicious. “Within half an hour, she used to prepare a delicious meal and leave us amazed. She didn’t put anything fancy or add too many ingredients in a recipe, but it used to be amazing,” she adds.

Remembering her childhood, she shares that the refrigerator used to be flooded with frozen peas, adding, “She used to make matar pulao and serve it either with ghee or dahi. That used to bring our entire family together, and we love to devour it even today.”