How this chef’s mom’s rice pudding recipe became a staple at a Michelin-starred restaurant – Advice Eating

At Junoon, authentic Indian cuisine with sleek, contemporary style is always on the Michelin-starred menu, and with the help of the chef’s mother, one of her homemade desserts also has a permanent place.

Chef Akshay Bhardwaj and his mother, Nina Bhardwaj — or “the restaurant’s executive mother,” as he calls her — told Good Morning America how their rice pudding has evolved from a homemade staple loved by friends and family to a restaurant has employee and customer favorite.

“We came to this country in 1990 and I didn’t know much about cooking, but I had seen my grandmother, my mother and my mother-in-law making it, so I had it in my head,” said Nina Bhardwaj. “The products here are different from the products available in India, so I just made up this recipe. … Everyone liked it and then so did Akshay, his friends and the Junoon staff, so that’s how it all started.”

Akshay Bhardwaj recalled that his mother “cooked every day, seven days a week” while his father owned and operated restaurants. “Restaurants and food have always been a part of our lives,” he said.

“My friends would come over – we would play, watch football on Sundays and my mum would cook something for me and my older brother like you always offer to my friends,” the chef said. “They started by just trying a little bread. The bread then became ‘Okay, let’s try some more.’ In sixth and seventh grade through high school, they would schedule their Sundays to come to my house to watch the football game and then have a meal my mom prepared.

At times, he added, the group of friends and guests expanded to over 20 children by dinner time. “It was a huge event on Sunday and the rice pudding was definitely a part of it; she used to make that for dessert,” he said.

Some 20 years later, during Akshay’s stint as line chef at Junoon in 2012, the rice pudding reappeared, this time among his colleagues in the kitchen.

“Sometimes my mother would send me the rice pudding. She made a big tray out of it and sent it on auspicious holidays like Diwali or Christmas, and the first time I put the rice pudding out for the staff on a tray — the first three or four people came, they tasted it, and then they grabbed it in large quarts[size] container, so only about three out of 80 employees could actually eat it,” he said. “After that, I always had to hand it out to the staff. I stood there after the meal and poured it into some copper and gave it to everyone. … And that was kind of a tradition.”

When Akshay took over as executive chef in 2017, he and pastry chef Gustavo Tzoc, who had previously tasted the rice pudding, discussed the future of the dessert menu.

“He jokingly said, ‘Why don’t we get your mother to come and make the rice pudding?’ I said, ‘Yeah, let’s do it,'” Akshay said.

“I was kind of surprised because I never expected that I would make it for the restaurant,” his mother said. “I liked that [they] wanted me to do it.”

The only learning curve for the six hour cooking process was working with larger batches made in a professional restaurant using pots five times larger than the home version.

“So she goes and then my chefs actually fight over who’s going to stack it because they know we’re going to scrape the bottom and set aside a little bit for ourselves,” Akshay explained. “You’ll never see chefs in a restaurant struggling to consolidate and pack things — but when it comes to rice pudding, there’s literally a waiting list.”

“My mom would definitely try it with what we topped it with — candied almonds, pomegranate seeds, and roasted bananas or figs. When we got the blessing, we agreed,” he said.

Check out her full recipe for making a batch of her delicious dessert at home this Mother’s Day.

Ma’s rice pudding

serves: 4 to 6

ingredients
4 cups half and half
3 3/4 cups whole milk
3/5 cups basmati rice
1 green cardamom seed (remove pod top)
3/5 cup sugar*

directions

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan over a very low heat, add the milk and half and half and add the green cardamom seeds.

Wash the rice seven times in room temperature water and add the rice when the milk is warm.

Let it cook over low heat, stirring it from time to time so it doesn’t stick to the bottom or burn.

Once it has reached a pudding-like consistency — it will take about two to three hours — turn off the gas and add the sugar.

It can be eaten warm or cold.

*Note: you can add the sugar as you like.

Garnish with pomegranate seeds, slivers of almonds, pistachio crumble and ground green cardamom.

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