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Setting on a delicious path

Walk into Kokni Kanteen – 1972 in Panjim and the ambience of the place is enough to take you back in time to an era when stocking of food items for the wet months was a compulsory task. An era sans the refrigerator and microwave, when everything was cooked fresh, using the vegetables and fish of the season. Manisha M Kamat Talaulikar has been handling the kitchen of the restaurant since its inception about a year back and has made it a point to keep the dishes as authentic as possible.Manisha completed her studies from Institute of Hotel Management, Catering Technology and Applied Nutrition, Porvorim before moving to Mumbai for her training at the Flight Kitchen by the Taj Hotels. She specialised in continental cuisine, but whenever there was a need for a Goan chef, she would be available.
Konkani Kanteen is owned by Girish Desai, who also operates The Brasserie at Clube Tennis De Gasper Dias, Miramar. “I’ve known Girish since our school days at People’s High School in Panjim. We reconnected at Taj Hotels in Mumbai in 1992-93, when Girish was a senior chef there. After getting married, I lost contact with Girish until we met recently in Goa,” says Manisha.Together, they decided to set up a menu that would be a tribute to the authentic Goan dishes, something Manisha holds very dear to her heart. “All the recipes are my closely guarded secrets. Before even thinking of coming back to a hotel kitchen, my daughter and I would go in search of tasty thalis in Panjim. After a busy morning in the office, I could see how office-goers enjoyed a wholesome meal, especially something that reminded them of home food. When Girish came up with the idea, I told him that I want to specialise in the thali. Besides the thali, I also make different types of curries such ashumman, bangdyachi uradmethi, Goenche tondak, which can be cooked with oysters, shark or prawns. The key to preparing the masala for the curries is that it should suit the palate of food lovers of all age groups,” explains Manisha.
The daughter of Hiralal and Sheela Mhamai Kamat, Manisha’s family is known as one of the first families to settle in Panjim. Their kitchen also had the same splendour. “I learnt cooking from my mother and these are very old recipes that are passed down for generations. When I was a Std VIII student, I could cook a full meal. After marriage, I decided to stay at home and care for my daughter. They (her husband, Ajit, and daughter, Nandini) themselves were instrumental in encouraging me to get back to working in the kitchen. It feels great to have regained the confidence I had nearly 20 years ago,” says Manisha, adding, “We had trial runs before the restaurant was fully functional to understand the needs of the crowd and for me to handle the work load.”Now handling a sizeable workforce, Manisha shares a friendly and yet strict relationship with the staff. “Everything functions smoothly in the kitchen because all are doing their duties well. Everyone is important and I give full credit to them. The work is planned a day in advance and I instruct them about the specials a day in advance, which gives them enough time in the morning to prep. I hope I can inspire more women to get more involved and grow outside their homes. Women can be entrepreneurs and times have changed compared to when I was starting out in the hotel line. It is not a man’s world anymore,” concludes Manisha. [H]

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