Dumpster Diving with the Master

The Master: Puspavana–Vegetarian Chef & Caterer Extraordinaire out of the DC area.

Two weeks ago was the Ratha Yatra Festival at Gita Nagari. Puspavana Prabhu, the famously expert vegetarian quantity chef, came all the way from DC to cook up sabji and dal for 300.

While I sprain my wrist stirring anything over 15 gallons, Puspavana relishes the experiene of cooking 40 gallons of food at a time. For him, it is a soothing meditation. His urad dal and zucchini/chickpea/potato sabji in kardhi sauce were So Freakin’ Good (and I rarely feel anything cooked in quantity deserves the title “So Freakin’ Good”) that I just felt impelled to gush over the sabji to him. And wow, was I happy he did so. Puspavana is a super sweet man interested in the good of vegetarian cuisine. He spent the rest of the afternoon talking shop with me–sharing techniques and cooking philosophy. I felt very fortunate.

A few years back I remember being in the kitchen with him at Gita Nagari for the same festival. He was in there cooking up a storm (albeit a neat, clean and orderly storm), while I cooked the Deity offering (more esoteric Hare Krishna stuff). I was impressed with his calm and know how, as well as his loving mood. He did not see me as a pain in the butt interference trying to steal a free burner but rather opened up his coffers of paneer cubes saying, “Hey, we’re all cooking for the same person.” What a sweetheart!

So while I was having this experience–this good fortune–of actually getting the cooking nectar from this man with the golden pot, well, I was feeling pretty darn fortunate.

His sabji, my heart.  This photo does not do it drooling justice.

The sabji was perfect, although Puspavana’s self-critic felt it needed more masala. To cook such a large quantity sabji, he cooks each component separately, salting accordingly along the way. The zucchini (blanched?) was carefully not overcooked. The red potatoes were oven roasted with olive oil and then immediately drained of their oil upon exiting the oven. Paneer was fried but I am not sure if he soaked in in whey afterwards. And the kardhi sauce was cooked separately. Everything then went in equal quantities into food grade plastic 5 gallon buckets, where it was mixed with the kardhi sauce and then served hot to the adoring public. A super yum experience!

After the meal is done, Puspavana likes to check out the trash to see what people left behind. As you can see, practically nothing.  Finger licking good eats!


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