Padma Shri Winner, Chef Imtiaz Mohammad Qureshi Dies At 93

Master chef, master story teller, master entertainer, the keeper of Lakhnavi food, leaves behind an enviable legacy.

Published On Feb 16, 2024 | Updated On Mar 07, 2024


The first time I met chef Imtiaz Qureshi was at ITC Gardenia in Mumbai. He was there for the launch of a special Dum Pukht menu that ran in the city for four days. This was 2012. I have met him only a few times after that, but the mark he left in me was indelible, not that it made me a better writer but it definitely made me look at Indian food differently. 

I met him the same evening for dinner where he overfed each and every one of us at the table, and explained everything one needed to know about kakori kebab and why is it so delicious, hopping back to the Kebab & Kurries kitchen every now and then to check on the dal or the next course.

The legendary chef, Imtiaz Muhammad Qureshi has left behind a legacy that only a few Indian chefs can aspire. He was 93. 

Back in 2012, dressed in white tracks – he was at the gym earlier – Qureshi had sat across from me patiently answering all sorts of ignorant questions I shot his way. 

He also told me stories I doubt I would be able to hear elsewhere. During our interview which I had written for DNA, an erstwhile newspaper in Bengaluru, he narrated the tale of the wedding of Maharajah of Jaipur, “It would have been just after the partition of India and Pakistan. I went to Jaipur as part of the team of cooks for the wedding. I must have been 16 or 17, don’t remember very well, but it was the first time I saw dinner plates and bowls of gold,” he’d said, adding, how fine-dining was never really an alien concept in India.

I remember him laughing at his own lines. “Even the Mughals weren’t as obsessed with their cuisine as we are. They were busy fighting wars; to them food was about survival. And that’s why meat is such a main part of their cuisine,” he’d said, explaining, “It was the Nawabs who canted towards cuisine and culture. They were responsible for developing the cuisine because they always wanted to impress those who came as royal guests, apart from humouring themselves.” 

Imtiaz Qureshi, in fact, was filled with stories, one of them was about when he had cooked for Jawaharlal Nehru. But he wasn’t name-dropping, he wasn’t showing off. He was just telling me stories because I had asked. He also gave me a beautiful insight into the biryani of Kolkata and why he loved it so much, after what one got in Lucknow of course. 

It’s unlikely that he did not leave a mark in anyone’s lives he may have touched – from kitchen staff to other chefs of the industry. The respect he commanded is enviable. 

India's PM Narendra Modi with chef Imtiaz Qureshi (Image Credit: Facebook)

Born on February 2, 1931 into a family of cooks in Lucknow in UP, Qureshi’s career began under the training of his maternal uncle. But he soon moved to Krishna Caterers, a catering company. The genius man, who claimed to be illiterate (which I highly doubted), was also a champion wrestler. 

His move to the ITC Hotels happened in 1979 where he worked with several of the group’s properties - Clark Hotel, Lucknow and Maurya Sheraton, Delhi. He eventually became the master chef of the hotel group. 

In 2016, Qureshi earned the Padma Shri, fourth highest civilian award granted by the Government of India. He was awarded for his contribution to the field of culinary arts. Incidentally, he was also the first chef to ever receive the award. 

Restaurateur and founder of Indigo Hospitality P Ltd, Anurag Katriar, took to X (formerly Twitter) to say: “End of an era! Just heard that legendary Master Chef, Imtiaz Qureshi, the man behind Dum Pukht & Bukhara & many other iconic places, is no more. He was undoubtedly the orignal rockstar of the Indian Culinary World!” 

The exemplary storyteller and chef, who said he followed his gut when it came to ingredients and never went wrong, never wavered from his culinary philosophies. The man who pioneered the single-serve dum biryani, died on the morning of February 16, 2024. 

Photo: Facebook/Imtiaz Qureshi