Jack D'Souza ... and a story of passion and precision

Saturday, 28 June 2014 - 6:15am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA

Portuguese have had a definite influence on two major Port cities of India, Goa and Kochi. They have given a lot , visible in art architecture and above all the cuisine of these regions. Along with the chilly they have given us a taste and appreciation of all things nice in life (siesta included of course). In my last visit to Goa wanting to explore this Portuguese side more, I went to my very dear friend (and an authority on Goan food) Odette Mascarenhas who guided me to Jack D'souza in "Pilerne" a village abundant with old Portuguese style houses and Chapels .

Uncle Jack was sitting in his typical Portuguese verandah of the 200-year-old ancestral house. An old man in his late seventies who would walk slowly and talk loudly yet in no time you understood that behind this frail smiling face was a man very aware and passionate about his food. I asked him a lot of questions about Portuguese influence on Goan food and the origin of Portuguese Goan dishes; he had an answer and an anecdote for each question. Where and how did he learn so much, "I am not a chef, I have always smiled at food and food has always smiled back" he said. A philosophy that I would absorb well, soon. Uncle Jack's grand mom was a super cook and a seasoned baker who used to also teach the nuns at times, sitting along with the nuns and noting down recipes

was this young boy Jack, smiling in anticipation of the next awesome meal. "When I was young all my friends would call me for drinking parties, I smilingly went where I'd get the best food. I'd come home and granny and I would critique the dishes for hours, sometimes she would tweak her recipes if I felt a sorpotel or vindaloo had a balance better than ours". Uncle Jack decided to share his grandmas Vindaloo recipe with me on one condition, I had to cook it with him. He wanted to make sure I got it. The recipe was in numbers and inches, not in grams and kilograms, reminding me of the "masha-Tola" recipes of Munir ustad.

The similarity between Munir Ustad and Uncle Jack didn't end here. Uncle was as unsatisfied with my choice of the sizes of onions and cloves and my understanding of one inch piece of cinnamon as Munir Ustad would have been if he were alive. I had to grind all masalas fresh on a mortar pestle (Ghonsono in Konkani) and it was never fine enough, I was living my apprenticeship all over again and loving it. By the time the masala was ready I realised that I was by now just being "Linguini", the cook from the movie Ratatouille and Uncle Jack was "Remy "sitting on my head and pulling the strings, I was living the movie and loving it.

After another 20 minutes of "Ratatouille", Uncle finally told me I was a good cook and I could keep the recipe. After having him sign the cherished recipe, I put a small footer on the page ..."Haven't yet learnt to properly smile at food, so much to learn." Next week is dedicated to another passionate perfectionist from Lucknow, "Haji Saab"


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