Remembering the sizzling ’70s…

Imthiyaz Azeez
By Ranee Mohamed

Chef Imthiyaz Azeez has made culinary art his life’s work for 39 years. “Today I see a great new trend in food, I see a leaning towards, seafood and vegetarian. Many want to avoid beef and other red meats,” he said comparing the modern day food to the more basic foods of the ’70s.

“Then too people loved to eat out, but they were not fussy. Today, the diner wants value for money, it may be because things have gone up in price. Back then, the guest was easier and more relaxed,” said Azeez as he watched the hoppers being swirled and the koththu being tossed at the Global Towers Hotel where he is the Executive Chef.
It has been a great culinary adventure for Chef Azeez who began his career at the Confifi Hotel in 1970. “Our chairman then was Tony Furkhan and there were 27 rooms, all of them packed at all times. There were more tourists from Germany and France and from other lands too. The Sri Lankans came for lunch on Sundays. Lobster and prawns were everyone’s favourite. Lobsters were Rs.10 per pound and prawns were equally cheap. Grilled lobster, baked crab and chillie crab were hot favourites for all during that era,” recalled Azeez.

Very popular
“Then too fried rice and nasi goreng were very popular but few people knew about nasi goreng. I remember the Sunday buffet spread which had 15 varieties of food — there were tempered vegetables, gravy rich foods, crab curry. Devilled prawns were the hottest favourite. Everyone wanted to eat devilled prawns,” said Chef Azeez as he stood among the luscious green salads.
“I learnt much of my cooking from Madam Ondatjee. I will never forget her, she was a great chef,” said Azeez who holds the secrets of decades of cooking.

“I joined Hotel Sapphire in 1975. I was assisting Chef Kotegoda at that time. On the day of the opening the chef got ill. Actually he felt ill on the previous night and was rushed to the hospital. It was found he was suffering from appendicitis. I had to run the show and ensure that all went well food-wise, on the opening night,” said Azeez.

After a stint in Saudi Arabia thereafter, Chef Azeez joined the Lanka Oberoi. An expert on Arabian cookery, Azeez says his speciality is Kabsa ( rice cooked with chicken and stock, tomato, onions etc.), the rice which is cooked atop a fire acquires an unmistakable flavour when it is thereafter baked.

A lecturer
Having joined the Galadari Hotel in 1987, he worked there for 19 years. A lecturer of the WinstoneHotel School, Azeez has also worked at Queen’s Café.

But his culinary journey today has ended in Wellawatte, where he hopes to spend his mature years amidst the quiet lashing of waves. “I want happiness and peace of mind, then I can cook better. I have received all the encouragement from CEO M. Shanthikumar and General Manager Thilomi Nanayakkara. “The hard days are over, now it is time to immerse myself completely in my life’s profession,” said Azeez whose cooking skills is a fine blending of old and new.

Yet it is the ’70s that he wants to fly back to. “Wish I could go back in time, there was something nice about everything then,” he said as nostalgia filled his eyes and the aroma heightened our senses.