Ottawa Citizen – 2006

Ottawa CitizenAim to please
Indian sharpshooter sets her sights on the kitchen

Michele Oberoi, The Ottawa Citizen Published:
Wednesday, June 07, 2006

It’s a long way from being a college sharpshooter and police officer in Delhi, India, to creating a fine biryani in Ottawa, but Manpreet (Baby) Chhatwal makes the switch effortless.

Named “best shooter in India” in 1975 by Indira Gandhi, then India’s prime minister, Mrs. Chhatwal now counts a former Canadian prime minister and current premier among her fans. And where once she carried a gun, “now I have a big knife in my hand,” she says, laughing.

“I never thought cooking would be my profession,” says the Indian-trained chef and co-owner of a takeout and catering company, Ishina Enterprises on Bexley Place.

Named after their two daughters, Ishleen and Gina, Ishina is a dream come true for Mrs. Chhatwal and her husband, Parminder (Nippi) Chhatwal. The couple, who gained their Canadian experience by managing a well-established Indian restaurant in Ottawa, had long wanted to run a family business.

“The progress has been really nice,” says Mr. Chhatwal, who handles the sales and marketing end of the business.
“People have really started to know us.

“They include former prime minister Paul Martin and Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty, both guests at Ottawa area fundraisers catered by Ishina.

“We like to keep ourselves involved,” says Mr. Chhatwal. As a member of a non-profit organization, The Circle of Canadians, Ishina has donated its services to several well-heeled charity events in the almost four years since opening its doors.

In addition to fundraisers, religious events and private parties, Ishina also caters a number of events for local companies including Claridge Homes, Phoenix Homes and Ottawa Honda. Their authentic Indian cuisine is also served at the Ottawa VIA Rail station, and in several high-tech company cafeterias.

But you don’t have to work in high-tech, attend a fundraiser, or throw your own party to enjoy food from Ishina. Along with catering, the company has an extensive line of takeout foods available at area stores including Rainbow Natural Foods, Herb and Spice Shop, Epicuria, India Food Centre, Sachis Cafeterias, the Produce Depot, and several other locations in Ottawa, Cornwall and Arnprior.

Packaged food “was a good way of introducing the cuisine,” says Mr. Chhatwal, describing a mouth-watering Northern Indian menu selection that includes butter chicken, lamb rogan josh, malai chicken, chicken tikka masala, malai kofta, baingan bharta, palak panir, and dal makhni.”They are prepared in authentic Indian style,” says Mrs. Chhatwal. “It’s seriously how people eat in that part of the country.”

Indian food is known for its rich sauces, marinated tandoori-cooked meats and variety of breads and the use of intricate spices, all aspects Mrs. Chhatwal incorporates in her dishes.

“Traditional is better to bring the authentic taste and flavours of the foods,” she says.

The proof is in the tasting.”Once people eat (the food), they know the difference.

“Those unfamiliar with Indian food often feel shy about walking into a restaurant and ordering. Packaged food allows them to try smaller servings at a fraction of restaurant prices at home. “It becomes easy for people to experiment,” says Mr. Chhatwal.

And, once people start experimenting, it isn’t long before the more adventuresome will want to try their hand at cooking the exotic foods themselves.

Mrs. Chhatwal suggests three popular recipes, suitable for beginners and more experienced cooks alike: a mild daal soup, fragrant chicken curry, and creamy palak panir.

Suitable as a first course, or a light meal on its own, daal soup is simple to make and delicious. Chicken curry, with its tender pieces of meat and thick, flavourful sauce, is sure to be a favourite, particularly when served with vibrantly coloured and spiced palak panir and basmati rice. *The recipes appear here and on page E1. (*Note: not available on website).

When giving advice to budding chefs, Mrs. Chhatwal starts with the importance of fresh ingredients. “The more you use fresh produce, the better the taste,” she says, adding that Ishina grinds its own spices and mixes its own garam masala, a combination of spices. Garam masala is one of several basic ingredients in Indian cooking. Others include onion, tomato, garlic, ginger, turmeric, fenugreek, green coriander, dried red chili peppers, salt and oil, most of which can be found at larger grocery stores.

For more information, contact Nippi Chhatwal at 613.721.1067.

Ishina Owners

Photograph by : Bruno Schlumberger, The Ottawa Citizen