Wednesday, November 5, 2014

On The Road Diary - Day 5, Manoj Naik, Enthusiastic Chef, Hotel Raman

This day happens to be the one. The wedding is today. Actually, it is over. Done in Brussels, Belgium some time ago (that's where Sarah is from). The event here is a formal exchange of vows on Indian shores. The Belgian contingent was here in full force - 70 of them came. Wow! Big family. There are only 65 Indians.

The day started with a dark, cloudy sky. Gloomy weather. Milind and I went for a walk at 6. It was one of those do-your-own-thing walks.
Milind and the sea
Post breakfast I cornered Manoj Naik, the high energy, impatient chef of Hotel Raman. Over tea we sat and chatted. He told me he was from Karwar. He ran away from home when he failed his eighth class in 1987 (what kind of pressure do we pile on kids man). He came away to Goa and worked on a fish boat, as a fisherman. 'That's where I grew these muscles,' he said showing his massive shoulders. He really is strong. 'After four years on the sea I started working as a cook. I worked at Britos when it was just a two table business. Madam taught me all the Goan cooking. Vindaloo and Xacuti and Pork Sorpotel,' he said with great relish. 'I used to eat all that but my wife made me stop after my marriage.' Now he has made peace and has his family in Karwar whom he visits every month.
Manoj Naik, pomfret and King Fish
I asked him about Hotel Amruth, my favorite seafood place in the whole world. He smiled. 'You know Hotel Amruth?" he asked. I told him I loved it.
Issuing instructions to his team
Anyway, he expanded his Karwari cuisine with the Goan cuisine. He joined Hotel Raman in 1998. 'I love cooking. I love making customers happy with my cooking. I want them to eat well and have a good time and not feel short changed. It makes me happy to see them happy,' he says. I somehow knew that. At breakfast he is always plying you with more stuff. 'Don't worry. You will get everything. Whatever you want.'

I asked him what he cooks best. 'Seafood is my speciality. I can cook Goan, Karwari, Chinese and some Continental.' I told him that I liked his attitude, the love he gives to feeding his customers. He smiled shyly. 'Many customers come back here after they check out and tip me. I am happy. I have some money to take home when I go to Karwar. Here are my children,' he said and showed me pics. Two boys, 10 and 12 perhaps, in some karate attire and a young girl, 8 years old. He showed me his kitchen, the fish he got from the market. Then he had to go. 'Later,' he said. 'I will give you some Karwari chicken masala and rice.' I smiled. He'd taken me under his wing.
The well-maintained pool
There was some activity. We had to head out to the event at Reis Magos. The boss came with his young son. He took one look at the crowd on Calangute. 'It's become Chowpatty,' he said in horror. I can empathise. 'Is that good for you or bad?' I asked. 'The wrong crowds are coming in,' he said. Times are changing. The wrong crowds are the right crowds perhaps. Now.

Someone said that the famous Bollywood lyricist Amitabh Bhattacharya was at the resort. There was a Bengali family, a young man and his parents, on a chilled out vacation. I googled his name and realised he is the young man who'd step out for lone walks. All the new songs I like are written by him - Zehnaseeb, Manmarziyaan and tons of others. Interesting how he landed up this lyricist profession too. He actually wanted to be a singer. Should have googled when I was in Hotel Raman. Would have been nice to talk to him.

Anyway, onwards to Reis Magos.

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