‘I LIVE ON NOSTALGIA AND JUST THE IDEA OF LOVE AND HOW FOOD IS A STRONG MEDIUM TO EXPRESS THAT LOVE. SO I APPROACH BAKING WITH THAT MINDSET. IT’S SLOW AND DELICATE’ HAMZA GULZAR
Better known as ‘Boy Bawarchi’ on Instagram, one cannot scroll though Hamza Gulzar’s account and not want to try his delicacies. From baking croissants, pastries to cooking traditional dishes, Hamza owes all his learnings to those who helped him grow as an aspiring chef. He was kind enough to chat with us all the way from the US about his journey. Read on…
Hi Hamza, tell us a little about yourself and your upbringing.
Hello! I was born in Virginia, along with my three sisters, and when I was five we all moved to Lahore, where my parents grew up. We moved because my dad wanted to take care of our ‘dada abbu’, who had cancer at the time, and he also felt like the environment in Lahore was what he wanted us to grow up in. We stayed in Lahore for 10 very blissful and amazing years. They were the best years of my life; I could not have asked for a better childhood and those years have influenced me the most. As I was turning 15, we moved back to Virginia, and we’ve been here since.
Are you self-taught or did you go to culinary school? What would you say has been your greatest learning from your journey since you first started out until now?
I’ve never had any kind of formal training or went to any school. At the same time I don’t like using the word self-taught, because I still learn from others who are kind enough to share their knowledge here and there. Without their generosity in sharing knowledge, I wouldn’t be where I am today so it doesn’t make sense for me to call myself selftaught. I want to specially thank Chef Kiyah Syeda for helping me perfect so many things that I struggled with. I think it’s important to pay respect to the people that have helped you in your growth, and calling myself self-taught would kind of disregard all the help I’ve gotten throughout the years.
‘I never thought in my wildest dreams that the first batch of whole wheat honey peanut butter muffins, or heartbreak, would lead me here’
Did you always imagine being in the culinary industry or did you have other dreams?
I never thought I’d put my foot in anything related to food, I don’t think I even had any major ‘dreams’ before this. This was my first and only real dream that I’ve deliberately and consistently pursued. I first started to bake because I was going through a breakup and I needed something to occupy myself. Just something to get me through the day, nothing more. I never thought in my wildest dreams that the first batch of whole wheat honey peanut butter muffins, or heartbreak, would lead me here.
Were your parents and family supportive?
My parents were always supportive. They had their concerns, very reasonable ones, but they never stopped me from pursuing my dream. In fact it was my father who first told me I should try sharing what I do on social media. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for them. My mother and father both show their support and love in different ways. My dad shows it by showing up to work every day, by being the pillar that’s kept the structural integrity of this family intact. And my mom shows it by bringing life to our house every day, with her presence and her nourishing food.
Is there any recipe that is being carried on from your ancestors? If yes, tell us a bit about it.
I don’t think we appreciate enough the nuances each family holds in similar recipes, and how those nuances then make that food that everyone has a shared experience in, unique. Take a ‘paratha’ for example; everyone knows what it is, how it generally tastes, but every family has a different way of making it. My mom creates layers by first flattening the dough into a square, then adding a layer of ghee, and then folding the square into itself. She then flattens it again into a square and cooks it on a ‘tawa’ with more ‘ghee’. The outcome is a heavenly flaky ‘paratha’, and it’s the way her mom made it for her ever since she can remember. There are other recipes that my mom has learnt from our grandmother, and I plan on discovering and uncovering more of these as I take more trips back to Pakistan.
Where do you get inspiration from? Do you follow recipes or innovate – are you one of those people who like to do crazy things in the kitchen or are careful and precise?
I try to take inspiration from anywhere and everywhere possible. In terms of the recipes themselves, I’ll scroll through popular Instagram baking accounts, or I’ll think back to my childhood and remember the things I loved growing up. Sometimes my mom makes something that brings an idea to mind. But in terms of inspiration for series I want to create on social media, I try to keep my ears and eyes open every waking hour. Inspiration can come from anyone, anywhere, anytime. Ideas for different series have come to me while looking at random things at a store, hearing my sister’s friend talk about her grandparents love story, and just from listening to songs too.
Your favourite Pakistani dish; favourite meal; favourite street-food; favourite pastry to bake; favourite ingredient?
Favourite meal at this moment, a cold, sliced mango with a warm crispy ‘paratha’. Favourite street-food is definitely and always will be ‘halwa puri’. Favourite bake will also always be croissants! And favourite ingredient – chocolate.
Technology has taken over. We live in an era where everything is digital and showcased online. Any plans on being oldschool and opening up your own bakery/ cafe?
It is/was a dream of mine to create a space for people that could feel like home for them and could act as a safe space. But I don’t know if it’ll exactly be a bakery/ café. I dream of coming back to Pakistan and learning how to make our own traditional sweets. Every variety of ‘mithai’ and all the ‘halwas’ I can possibly learn. And also all the nostalgic cakes and biscuits I grew up with in Lahore. Once I learn all of that, then I’d like to open my own place. And I want it to be an ode to the people I love, so I’d name it after my mom or dad.
What is something that you think people don’t realize that goes into baking/ cooking professionally?
I haven’t baked in a professional setting as of yet, so it may be hard for me to tell! But from what I’ve heard from other professional chefs is it requires a lot of practice and attention to detail. When making pastries and just baking in big batches, you have to pay attention to every component. The temperature, the time, weighing each ingredient precisely. It isn’t easy being a pastry chef!
‘I dream of coming back to Pakistan and learning how to make our own traditional sweets. Every variety of ‘mithai’ and all the ‘halwas’ I can possibly learn’
How would you describe your style of baking?
I live on nostalgia and just the idea of love and how food is a strong medium to express that love. So I approach baking with that mindset. It’s slow and delicate. Definitely not something you can do in a professional setting, but when I’m by myself I really try to focus on the visuals of the whole process. The smells, the sounds, baking should be an act of love and how you approach it should be dictated by that.
Three baking tools you cannot work without?
A measuring scale, a whisk, and a kitchen towel (I’m not sure if that counts as a tool but so very useful).
Hamza Gulzar in three words?
This is going to sound funny but, a hopeless romantic.
INTERVIEW: SAFA ADNAN
PHOTOS: COURTESY HAMZA GULZAR