Carrying on his father’s legacy, veteran chef Kazi Fazlur Rahman has been cooking an original kachchi that has satisfied the palates of all people, including prime ministers and presidents
One of the chefs who played a part in making kachchi biryani the national dish that it is now, was Haji Md Fazlur Rahman's late father Ismail Miah. Now a veteran chef himself, Rahman runs his catering business out of Bosila, Mohammadpur.
His father started the business 87 years ago, having learned the craft of the kachchi from the kitchens of Bengal's Nawabs. Rahman has kept alive his father's legacy, having naturally taken up the profession of chef with training he received from his father.
After feeding hundreds of thousands of people, and winning many prestigious awards — Sher e Bangla A K Fazlul Haque Award, Mahatma Gandhi Award among them — Rahman has more than earned the right to call himself a master chef, with his catering business being aptly called: "Masterchef Haji Md Fazlur Rahman Catering."
The hundreds of thousands of people that he has cooked for over the last four decades is quite literal. Simply on the occasion of the opening ceremony for the Bangladesh China Friendship Conference Center (now called Bangabandhu International Conference Center), Rahman, as the caterer for the program, served 50 thousand people.
Remaining mostly true to the original style of preparing the kachchi, Rahman continues to oversee the cooking process at his 2,400 square feet kitchen in Bosila. There are some delicate steps during the process, says the veteran chef, that you cannot leave for the staff to handle.
One of these involves cooking the rice. "It has to be taken off the heat after it is cooked about 50% through. Otherwise you don't get the separation, and the rice comes out lumpy," he informs you.
There is also the mixing of ghee and saffron that the chef does by his own hands, despite having a 30-strong staff in the kitchen. As much as Rahman’s kachchi cooking has stayed faithful to the original recipe and cooking, it has also evolved. "Originally we didn't wash the meat. It was part of the original recipe to start cooking the meat in its unwashed state (hence the name ‘kachchi’ or raw)," he said.
But that changed around the 1980s when people began to find the gamy taste unappetizing. Now the meat is washed with salt water before cooking, to get rid of the tangy smell.
His success in the catering business looked unstoppable. Rahman trained his two sons — Md Shafiqur Rahman (managing director of the company) and Md Asiqur Rahman (deputy managing director) — as chefs and to continue the family business. But then the Covid-19 pandemic struck.
Like all other businesses, Rahman’s also began to suffer. The catering business was particularly hard hit as it relies on gatherings of people, the very thing at the core of all the pandemic-induced disruptions.
This led Rahman to take difficult decisions. He had to cut down staff by half. “Before the pandemic we would do 10 to 12 orders per day, with an average of 50 to 60 people per order. And that’s without weddings,” he said.
Now they get 3 to 4 orders per day for an average of 10 to 20 people per order. Tellingly, no orders for government and corporate programs, which used to be a big part of the business.
All the AGMs (annual general meetings) also came to a stop because of the ongoing pandemic. Jamuna Bank was a client which used to order food for 700 people every year during its AGM. That has stopped, along with business opportunities from all the other corporate events.
Forced to adapt to the new realities, Rahman now provides delivery services for much smaller orders, as small as for 16 people. He hopes that the pandemic will be over sometime soon. The uncertainty is tough for Rahman as a business owner who went from running a very highly active company just about one and a half years ago to now paying expenses out of pocket.
But he is certain about one thing. Amid the rampant fast-foodization of the kachchi biryani, food connoisseurs desiring an authentically cooked, high-quality kachchi experience can still get it from Masterchef Haji Md. Fazlur Rahman Catering. The kachchi he serves is still the same "dom" (slow)-cooked-on-coal delicacy that his father started making nearly a century ago. The 64-year old master chef vouches for it.