Detroit native, Craig Lieckfelt, has worked in some of NYC’s most competitive kitchens under big name executive chefs like Jean-Georges Vongerichten. He now runs his own roving pop-up restaurant called Guns + Butter which features Craig’s inventive dishes and his passion for creating an exceptional experience for his diners. Craig was recently invited by Chef Jehangir Mehta (Next Iron Chef) to join him in India for an event during the “Taste of Mumbai.” He is still currently in India where he is exploring Indian cuisine and learning about the nation’s food culture. Below is a descriptive account of his experiences thus far:
On the eve of my departure for India, I took a cab heading up the FDR and noticed the driver was of Indian descent. I sparked a conversation and told him about my travels to Mumbai the next day. He proceeded to shout with excitement about how magical of a place it is, how all of my current understanding of western life would change and how peaceful and loving the culture truly is. He told me that if I ever found myself lost, just ask and everyone would be willing to help. Or if I needed a place to rest, that the door would always be open at anyone’s house and I would be welcomed with open arms. At first I thought, “Wow, that would be special if this is true” but then shrugged it off. Within 24 hours of being in Mumbai I understood what he was talking about. The biggest impact on me so far is that the people of Mumbai, no matter what social or economic class they come from, base their lives on simple principles that often get lost in our society; hard work, respect and peaceful, genuine hospitality.
I have never seen people own their job and execute their work load to the maximum potential as I do in the Indian culture. The chefs and cooks I’ve met work 16-18 hour days and do so with a smile and appreciate the fact that they have a job and are simply not on the streets. The workers at Starbucks know the varieties of coffees in and out as if they created them themselves. The respect level is like nothing I’ve ever experienced, everyone is “sir” or “madame.” This place makes you appreciate the most important essentials of life, love of family and friends. Everything else is simply a bonus. When you see small children living on the streets begging for only one or two rupees, which to us is barely worth a penny, it is startling at first but then it forces you to do your own self reflecting.
The first things that hit me like an uppercut were the vivid colors and smells. The city seems to have this beautiful hue of red, mainly due to the clay rich soils. Regardless of the pleasantries, the smells that fill the air are never subtle. Often this depends on what part of town you’re in. Driving all around Bombay, I’ve seen many things, including slums where baths are taken standing in water and children use the sidewalk as a restroom. While it’s always good to be aware of all societal elements and the smells that go along with them, the overall scent is surprisingly quite pleasant. Everywhere you walk the sidewalks smell of roasting nuts, usually a variety of hazelnuts. Also the lingering aroma of spices never goes away many due to the fact that everywhere you turn someone is cooking and never is it just steamed vegetables and chicken breast.