Asmat Ali, known around Gandhi Mahal as Baisab (“brother” in Bangla), has been our head chef since we opened our doors in 2008. Born in Sylhet, Bangladesh, he spent much of his life working in Qatar before coming to the United States in 2001.
How did you start working as a chef?
I started working as a chef in 2001, the year I came to Minnesota. Before Gandhi Mahal opened, I was working at Passage to India in Uptown, and learned everything on the job. Jamil (Ruhel’s brother) was my teacher. Now, all of the recipes are in my head — all are family recipes and ideas.
I have heard that you spent much of your life in Qatar before coming to the US. Is this correct?
Yes, I lived for about twenty-five years in Qatar, working for the chicken farm “Arab Qatari.” I went there on the 5th of July, 1976. Back then, I was a very young man. Arab Qatari was a big, big farm. Every day, we slaughtered more than 20,000 chickens, sending 15,000 chickens all over the world.
Was this a very messy job?
No, no. Everything was very clean. It was an all-automatic system. Lots of big machinery, with little water nipples for every chicken.
What was your job at the chicken farm?
I was a labor foreman, teaching other workers. It was a good job. They gave me free housing and food, and vacation tickets.
What was it like living in Qatar?
Everything was very new and clean, and very expensive. Everyone goes to visit there on vacation.
Do a lot of your friends still live there?
Yes, and now my nephew works at Arab Qatari, too.
Before you moved to Qatar, did you always live in Bangladesh?
Yes, I was born in Sylhet.
Tell me about your childhood.
We had a big garden, with lots of vegetables and animals. I had four brothers, and I was the little brother. They did all the garden work, taking care of the rice and cows, and I never helped. I was always playing football.
Were you very good at football?
Yes! I went to school until eighth grade, then for nine years, everything was football. I played on a traveling professional team.
Does your family still live in Bangladesh?
Yes. My two daughters are married and living in London, and my youngest, my 16-year-old son, is still in Bangladesh. He is in high school. He’s not very similar to me — he goes to school, then comes home. He likes books more than football.
How does Bangladeshi food differ from Indian food?
It is similar, but in Bangladesh the food is less spicy.
And what spice level do you prefer at Gandhi Mahal?
I like it medium.