Butter Chicken Controversy: A Closer Look into Indian Culinary Education

Butter Chicken Controversy: A Closer Look into Indian Culinary Education

The beloved Butter Chicken sparks a global debate on its original ingredients. Chef & Senior Instructor Maitreyee Lovalekar and Senior Instructor Santosh Kumar Das highlights the challenges of standardizing Indian recipes, emphasizing the unique, diverse interpretations by chefs.

Simple VishwakarmaUpdated: Monday, January 29, 2024, 11:31 PM IST
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The much-loved Butter Chicken, a dish that has won praise from all around the world, has been at the centre of a contentious argument lately regarding who owns the original ingredients. This widely consumed Indian dish, which has gained popularity worldwide and been a favourite of US presidents like Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy, is recognised for its tastes of creaminess, sourness, and spice.

Amidst the controversy, The Free Press Journal delved into the world of the Hotel and Culinary Industry, seeking insights from Chef and Senior Instructor Maitreyee Lovalekar and Senior Instructor Santosh Kumar Das of the Institute of Hotel Management, Mumbai. Lovalekar shed light on the challenges of standardizing Indian recipes, stating, “In Indian Cuisine, there is no specification that is a positive thing and negative things as well.” She explained how, unlike foreign cuisines with standardized products, Indian dishes, including Butter Chicken, vary greatly due to individual interpretations and personal touches added by chefs. 

What is so special about Butter Chicken?

Discussing the uniqueness of Butter Chicken, Lovalekar emphasized, “Each chef has their own learning, and he/she has added their own touch. There is no standardization at all in our Indian recipe.” She described it as an appetizer that treats all the senses, from appearance to taste, making it a universally accepted and cherished dish worldwide. Santosh Kumar Das, echoing similar sentiments, explained, “So basically, butter chicken and Dal Makhani are known for their consistency. It has nothing to do with butter. When you cook something for a very, very long time over low flame, the kind of consistency in that mouthfeel is a buttery consistency.”

What is the teaching method of Butter Chicken?

Addressing the teaching methods at the Institute of Hotel Management, Lovalekar stated, “We tell the students that whichever property they are working, you should follow their standard. If you get a chance to develop your own recipe, then you can add your own touch. Otherwise, we tell the students to follow what is specified by the hotel chain.”

Highlighting the lack of set recipes in Indian cooking, Santosh Kumar Das stated, “There is no set recipe. That’s the irony of Indian cooking. But another good thing about Indian cooking is, by different methods, you reach a common acceptable taste.”

Origin of the Butter Chicken

When questioned about the origins of their recipes, Lovalekar explained, “We generally follow the book by our Ex Principal and Founder Member of our college, the Lt. Thangam Philip. She mentioned the use of a revered book, "Modern Cookery for Teaching and Trade - Volume I and II" by Lt. Thangam Philip, as a guiding resource. The book serves as a culinary bible, providing a foundation for students with necessary modifications based on ingredient availability.” Das added, “We have our own journal. We follow that. Indian cooking goes from one generation to another. That’s why Indian cooking doesn’t have a set recipe.”

As for the Butter Chicken hype, Lovalekar dismissed claims of its importance, stating, "Enjoying Butter Chicken is more important than engaging in debates over its origin. It's a pointless discussion. Perhaps it will boost the worldwide sales of Butter Chicken, and if that happens, I respect that." On the contrary, Santosh Kumar Das justified the hype, saying, “Because it takes a very long time to cook. I don't know anyone who is nonvegetarian and doesn't like butter chicken. You can have a preference in other dishes. But butter chicken is something that everyone likes.”

Despite all of the controversy surrounding this dish, one thing is certain: people all over the world share a common passion and appreciation for Butter Chicken, a cuisine that transcends arguments.

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