Suhail Ahmed Khosa, the new waza in town
You can actually count the number of Delhi-based wazas or professional Kashmiri cooks on the fingers of one hand. There are only three in as many different hotels and the latest to join their brood is Suhail Khosa, fresh from the Valley. WelcomHotel Sheraton New Delhi prides itself on its regional Indian food, and Chef Suhail, or Suhail Waza as he prefers to be called, is just the latest in an impressive lineup.
Kashmir’s famous culinary tradition carries on thanks to a community of cooks, all male. Each family in the Kashmir Valley who has ever had a wedding party, has their own waza as these cooks are called. Each head waza has a flock of workers, of varying seniority, just as it is in a commercial kitchen. There’s only one difference: wazas cook on wood fire, out of doors in the courtyards of their clients.
A mere ten years ago, it would have been unheard of to hire a waza outside Kashmir, in a hotel kitchen because of all the variables involved. Today, Suhail Waza laughs as he recounts how the concept of wazwan itself is undergoing a change in the land of its birth. “Due to our sedentary lifestyles, even fathers of brides and grooms in Srinagar have become anxious to keep the oil and fat content of our all-meat banquet down. And because it is so famous, visitors to Kashmir too want to taste some of the dishes. Not the full Monty, mind, which runs into dozens of dishes, mostly lamb based.”
Suhail has tried to pioneer a style of cooking wazwan where he maintains the flavour but eliminates most of the grease. The result is a panoply of favourites like gushtaba and rista, roghan josh and kebab, which keeps the flavours intact for those who are health conscious.