Kohima: Nagas are known for their distinct cuisine that stands apart from the rest of India. Be it the meat that is dried, smoked or fermented, or the array of home-made sauces and chutneys, Naga cuisine is known for its variety and simplicity. But what takes the cake is the health aspect: Naga food is said to be organic and nutritious, especially for the vegetables they use, which are regarded as medicinal in nature.
“We, therefore, see a wide scope of the indigenous Naga food,” said Chef Rovi Chasie, who is also a judge at the sixth edition of Naga Chef.
Naga Chef is a pioneering culinary competition of the Northeast. It recently completed its ‘group round’ in Kohima. The four winners from this round -- Mhomo Ngullie, Vikhuli Achumi, Dennis Suohu and Lipok Longkumer – have now qualified for the entrepreneurial round, which will be held at Hornbill Festival in Kisama from December 1 to 9. The winner of the Naga Chef 2018 crown will be declared on December 10.
Speaking to EastMojo, Chasie said: “This season, we are seeing a lot of young people competing, especially men. When I took off with Naga Cuisine about a decade ago, no one wanted to be called a cook. But now, people are coming up to excel in this area and are now competing and wanting to be the best cook.”
While the ultimate aim is to win the crown, the fact that every contestant gets to explore his or her skills and learn more about Naga ingredients is in itself a motivating factor for many. “In the course of the competition, we test their skills and their knowledge about the use of Naga ingredients. Most importantly, we try to find out how they intend to develop and innovate their own recipes. They have to be able to use all unique ingredients of Naga food and be comfortable in using them, from starters and soups to main course and desserts,” added Chasie.
When this correspondent met the participants on Thursday, they were seen competing for the ‘My Naga Thali’ round. During this round, the participants were encouraged to bring an ingredient each from their homes to incorporate it into their dishes. This is when ‘stinky bugs’ made its way into the Naga Chef kitchen; wowing the judges, as one participant prepared decided to use them for his dish. However, participants were debarred from using one of the most favoured ingredients of the Nagas -- bamboo shoot, or Bastenga as they would like to call it in the Nagamese dialect. With four perfect Naga items, which included both vegetarian and non-vegetarian, Mhomo Ngullie from Dimapur claimed the winning title for this round.
It’s not just preparation; participants also get cooking lessons during the competition called ‘Master Classes’. Here, judges individually lead them intro their specialisation.
During the upcoming Hornbill Festival, which is going to be held from December 1 to 9, the top four chefs will be assigned a food stall each. This final round, the entrepreneurship round, will ensure freedom to the competing chefs to individually earn their title. But keeping in mind the contest, they will be judged mainly on their entrepreneurship skills.
The annual cooking contest is organised by Synergy Group Enterprise and is supported by the Nagaland department of tourism.