Mahabir Halwai had emigrated from Bihar's Gaya district before
Independence and made sweetmeats for the prosperous Marwari
community. He was retained by the likes of the Birlas to cook
at births, weddings and funerals.
Munna's parents died in quick succession in 1979,he failed his
9th standard in the turmoil of his parents' passing. There
after he began
to learn cooking and started keeping his father's team of
10 workers together. "My parents wanted me to study,
go to college and do business. Fate decreed otherwise, but
I hope they are watching me build a business," he says.
Munna slogged for nine years. In 1988 when he was 25, his
earnestness and skill was impressive and he got his first
big break. "Aditya Birla knew me because I was my father's
son ," he says. For 15 days he cooked day and night at
Mumbai to cater for Kumar Mangalam's wedding."Our kitchen
was in the old Taj Flight Kitchen near Centaur. We used refrigerated
vans and trucks to take the food to the festivities and at
the main reception at Mahalaxmi Race Course," he says.
Since then he has been doing the big dos across the country.
Sterlite's Anil Agarwal had a seven-day party in Goa which
had everything from beach stalls to the main party, round-the-clock.
He did the super star littered Kolkata wedding for billionaire
Lakshmi Mittal. He did three Hinduja weddings in Mumbai besides
hundreds of other feasts. "Each had different tastes-an
Oswal in Ludhiana, a Birla in Kolkata, a Sanghvi in Indore,
or a software millionaire in Bangalore. My business prospers
on a trusting relationship over generations. It is a time
to be happy and neither of us can just count pennies. Satisfaction
is the key," he says.
He catered gratis to the definitive Bollywood party by the
Oberoi pool-side to fete visiting pop superstar Michael
Jackson. He did all their Big Vegetarian Banquets.
"I cook, they serve,"
Munna Maharaj now has the muscle to do 15,000 dinners at a
single sitting anywhere, served up on imported China, genuine
silverware and pure crystal. His south Kolkata godown covers
two bighas, along with a fleet of packers and trucks. He now
has a national buying operation and can cater any exotic thing
anywhere, His big chefs fly, stay at good hotels and the others
take the train.
Munna has really moved up in life and lives on Kolkata's posh
Theatre Road, where RBI governor Bimal Jalan is sometimes
his neighbour. His younger brother Sanjay Singh is in real
estate business, and assists him in all his ventures. They all live in a traditional joint family.
But he continues to drive himself.
follows a punishing schedule. He gets up at 5.30am and exercises,
eats a full rice and dal meal before leaving for work at 8.30
am. His first stop is at the old flat in Burrabazar where
he still maintains a gaddi and meets the network of semi-independent
cooks who work with him. He has a corporate office in south
Kolkata. "It is important
that I never forget where I started out from," he says. His
staff says he never loses his cool, addresses everybody including
the handcart man as 'Babu' and meets everybody with folded
hands in complete keeping with his role in the hospitality
The 37-year-old Munna has been making waves in Kolkata as
he begins to put a brick and mortar business into place. He
first bought out Park Street night spot Blue Fox. Then he
set up Munna's Vegetarian Gourmet Wonders and the Pub near
La Martiniers.Then came the launch of Bakers Square, where
he has a large base kitchen for his growing non vegetarian
and continantal menus under former Oberoi Grand Chef Alphanso
Gomes. He is also managing the "Agarwal Park
Banquets" at Diamond Harbour Road (near Burdwan Road
recent venture is a 10,000 square ft. Banquets, "Marwar",
on Judges Court Road in posh Alipore. His new venture is
coming up at Camac Street, Kolkata. Munna is also negotiating
with Jewel of the East on Loudon Street. Burrabazar's Munna
will someday own a national chain of hotels and restaurants,
as he aspires in confidence to his friends & colleagues.