January 14, 2011

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History of Jeera Chicken Curry

"Manjeet took the team through every step of the process, explaining the purpose of every ingredient in the dish and giving everyone a background on Indian Cuisine."

Over the quarter century that Earls has been around, there have been so many great stories behind the scenes. Sadly, they barely ever land on the ears of our front-line staff, let alone on those of our lovely customers! But thanks to the Earls Blog, we can start to share some of these wonderful stories with EVERYONE!

Today I had the chance to sit down with George Piper, who has been in a pivotal piece of Earls' success over the years. George was with Earls way back before it was even called Earls (it was called Fullers)! This guy has been there every step of the way and he has got so many stories to share, so today I asked him to tell me the story of the Jeera Chicken Curry; a staple Indian-Fusion dish at Earls for years now.

The story begins approximately eight years ago in North Vancouver, British Columbia. George Piper, and founder of Earls, Leroy Earl Fuller, decided to grab some Indian food for lunch. They had heard about this tiny, independent place on East 3rd street in North Van which opened in 1992, called Flavour of India. George and Earl believed that the less an ethnic restaurant focused on their decor and ambiance, the more they would likely focus on the authenticity and freshness of their food. They stopped by the tiny restaurant and because George and Earl both have incredibly outgoing, charming and overall engaging personalities, they quickly built a rapport with the owner (which also happened to be the server, busser, expediter and dishwasher) on their first visit. Imagine, if you will, a small-framed 40-something woman named Manjeet running the entire restaurant, while her five year old daughter, Poonam was running AROUND the entire restaurant, entertaining the guests with her antics. I don't think you can get too much more authentic than that!

George and Earl had never been to Flavour-of-India before, and everything on the menu sounded so good they just couldn't decide on anything! They figured they would call Manjeet over and ask her opinion. Manjeet suggested a special old family recipe, the Jeera Chicken Curry. Jeera, which is the Indian word for 'Cumin', was one of the most prominent ingredients in the dish. George and Earl asked her a bit about the recipe and ingredients, and she answered all of their questions promptly, so they both ordered the Jeera!

While waiting for their meals to be prepared, Manjeet's daughter Poonam ran over to George and Earl's table. "Who are you?" she said pointing at Earl. His sharp wit was taken aback only for a split second, after which he responded "I'm Santa Clause!". Poonam wasn't convinced; "If you're Santa Clause, why aren't your reindeer outside?". Earl had a chuckle and then he responded, "I wouldn't park my Reindeer out front, that would be dangerous! I have them parked in the back!". Now Earl does somewhat resemble Santa Clause (as you can see by the image below), and he's got this deep, warm voice. Throw in a clever reindeer story like that, and you've turned the young Poonam into a believer!

After 10 or so minutes, the Jeera Chicken Curry was ready, and an excited Manjeet brought them over to George and Earl. They dug in, and were instantly addicted to the flavour combination, the creaminess of the curry, the mild spices and the enchanting aroma rising from the jasmine rice. If you've ever had the Jeera Chicken Curry at Earls, you'll know what I'm talkin' about! George and Earl called Manjeet over and complimented her repeatedly and then they had an idea!

"We are from Earls Restaurant, and we would love it if you would come be a guest chef in our kitchen one day and teach our team to make the Jeera Chicken Curry." said George. Manjeet refused promptly but respectfully, claiming that Earls was competition and that sharing the recipe with Earls would cause her to lose business. George and Earl proceeded to explain that Earls would print the Flavour of India name and logo on our menu, and that full credit would be given to Flavour of India. They also tried to explain how there are many people out there who would eat at Earls, but would not try a smaller authentic place such as Flavour of India, and that this would in fact be good promotion for her and her restaurant. Still, Manjeet would not budge! There was no way she was giving up her famous Jeera Chicken Curry recipe!

George and Earl finished up their meal, thanked her over and over again for the incredible meal, promised to return next week and left, but not before little Poonam yelled out "Bye bye Santa Clause!".

George and Earl kept returning to Flavour of India and ordering the Jeera Chicken Curry every single week for the next three years, but the next time they returned 'Santa Clause' didn't come empty handed. Being the most generous person that he is, Earl went out and bought the most fancy, electronic keyboard he could find, with the most bells and whistles, wrapped it up and took it to the restaurant for little Poonam. After all, Santa Clause is supposed to spread cheer wherever he goes! After this, Poonam was 100% convinced, and every week they would come back and be greeted by "Hello Santa!". Anyways, like I said, they would return every week for three years and almost every single week they would ask Manjeet to come to Earls and be a guest chef and teach the earls kitchen to make the Jeera. They told her to bring her own spices, her own ingredients and they told her they would pay her whatever she wanted. "Name your price." became a weekly phrase for George and Earl at the modest Indian Bistro. Unfortunately, Every week she refused!

One day George Piper received a phone call. He was surprised to hear that it was Manjeet on the other end. "I'm selling the restaurant." she told George. Poor George was mortified as Flavour of India had become Earl and his favourite North Shore restaurant. After discussing why and what had happened, George realized that she might be prepared to come in now and be a guest chef at Earls. She was still hesitant, and almost told George no once again... but then she had a light bulb moment. She told George, "I will come teach your kitchen to make my Jeera Chicken Curry, and I don't want thousands of dollars. I have to go to the dentist and get a lot of expensive work done. You pay my bill and I will teach your kitchen." George agreed immediately!

Not long after that, Manjeet packed all of the necessary ingredients to make her famous Jeera Chicken Curry into a box and headed down to the North Vancouver Earls location's test kitchen. She was met by George, Earl, and many more members of the Earls Product Development team which was lead at that time by our current VP of Operations, Mo Jessa. Manjeet took the team through every step of the process, explaining the purpose of every ingredient in the dish and giving everyone a background on Indian Cuisine. I wasn't around at the time, but apparently it was just a lovely day, and a great experience for the staff that attended.

The Jeera Chicken Curry has been a staple on the Earls menu (and a personal favourite of mine, especially with a side of  'cali dip') for the past five years and will remain on the menu for many years to come. Thanks a lot Manjeet!!

Here is a brief description of Indian Cuisine as reported by the old Flavour of India website (which I was able to dig up using the internet archive wayback machine):

Even though India is one of the oldest civilizations, it has been enriched over a period of many centuries by the different cultures that were superimposed with each new invasion. These invaders brought with them new ideas and concepts; they introduced new cooking ingredients and techniques which spread to different regions of India, enhancing and refining the local cuisines.

The most popular and refined of all regional styles of cooking is that of northern India, which is basically Moghul food. The Moghuls introduced new foods, new ingredients and new cooking techniques, some their own but mostly borrowed. Moghul food is famous for its mouth-watering meal preparations and rice pilafs. These include braised dishes called korma, kebabs and pilafs called pillau and biriyanis. This is the style of food served in most quality restaurants in Britain and in India and such a concept is increasingly becoming famous in North America.

At Flavour of India, we believe that the Joy of Dining lies in the Art of Cooking. That's why we use the finest quality meat stocks, gravies and sauces are prepared with our chef's personal touch, using the perfect blends of freshly ground spices and herbs.

The combination of all of the above represents an expertise acquired over the years in the true art of Indian cooking in order to satisfy the most discriminating tastes in Indian cuisine.

Thanks a lot for reading everyone! And if you have any other cool stories you'd like to hear about, let us know.