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Spicing things up

Natanga Smith Hurdle

Spicing things up

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While Nasim Degia WAS never SURE where his love of food would take him, he knew he loved to eat; and he especially loved helping his mother prepare those exotic dishes that gave off those tantalising aromas. He recalls at age nine peeling vegetables. By age 11 moving on to small dishes. At age 16 making complicated recipes.“Whatever dishes my mum cooked . . . whatever secret way she had of doing stuff . . . I knew.” And Nasim’s mum Khairoonisa had many traditional dishes in her cookbook of meals that she prepared for her family. Nasim’s father Mohamed was from India and mum was from Johannesburg, South Africa. In 1937 Nasim’s paternal grandfather moved to Barbados from India. In 1956, with bride Khairoonisa in tow, Mohamed followed. Nasim is the third of four boys, and so with no daughters to pass on the family recipes to, his mother was excited that the knowledge passed down from generations of women in her family would keep simmering under the guided hand of one of her sons.Nasim trained as a graphic artist but work was difficult to find. So he ventured into tourism and sales . . . all the while still experimenting and working on his cooking skills. In 1995, he decided to see how far he could seriously develop on the basics his mother taught him. “I went to the Barbados Community College [BCC] and did two stints there to see where I was. Up until then I was self-taught.”In that cooking class were a lot of professional chefs. They were Nasim’s biggest competition.  As Nasim tells it, he scored 95 per cent in his final exams. What Nasim had over the others was “I enjoyed cooking, so I experimented and read a lot. I realised before I went to BCC that cooking is learning about culture, tastes and needs. Every culture has a different need and there are different cuisines in different countries”.It also helped that he was heavily influenced by his mother. “My mum cooked a lot of Dutch, Malaysian and Indian cuisine. All my European style of dishes I learnt from her.”With that Nasim calls his style of cooking “fusion – even though that sounds cliché. I can cook any style dish”.Nasim explained his love of cooking called Gujarati that originated in northwestern India and classical Indian food. He professes to using more meat, rice and roti in those dishes, and boasts of making paper-thin dough to use in his beef, vegetable or chicken samosas – another traditional Indian dish that he learnt to make at a tender age.And let’s not forget the spices. Nasim infuses a lot of them in his dishes, and has his own herb garden (which includes the curry plant). He sticks to local ingredients for  his dishes. “I love to use local products. And my dishes tend to go with the seasons. The only products imported are the spices, especially the Spanish saffron which I get from Britain. It is also the most expensive spice in the world.”  Nasim is Muslim, and so does not eat any pork products. All meat he buys must be killed and blessed by a Muslim. Nasim elaborated that there was a large Muslim and Indian population in Africa and that he had visited his maternal side of the family. “I have many relatives living there. We love to cook; so when I visit, my second favourite dish to eat is chicken biryani . . . which is the king of Indian cuisine.”This dish is eaten at all celebratory events –  weddings, birthdays, parties and so on. “My greatest compliment is when people tell me my biryani tastes like my mother’s,” he said smiling.Nasim’s love of cooking has evolved into a full-time passion. He is now a busy private chef and caterer. He also teaches others to cook, and pretty soon will have his hands full with a retail venture.During the interview he prepared a main course of seared tuna served with bok choy, blanched breadfruit rubbed in Indian spices then sauteed, and a sauce that was strained and thickened. He also served three kinds of samosas: beef, chicken and vegetable with coconut cilantro chutney.Nasim’s biggest vice is music that he must have in the kitchen. “I cook to the band Earth Wind And Fire. Cooking is my love. When I cook, I also cook with love and it shows in my food.”