DUBAI // Constant experimentation has been the dominant force that guides one of India's most famous and established singers, who is in town to feed another passion.
Asha Bhosle opened a restaurant named after her at the Mall of the Emirates yesterday. It is her third in the UAE and the 10th in a chain spread over the Middle East and the UK.
The 77-year-old, who has recorded more than 13,000 songs in a career that stretches over six decades, is perhaps better known for her wide musical repertoire, which includes classics, folk music, pop, fusion and Urdu poetry. Her restaurant chain is an expression of her philosophy that people should never stand in one place too long.
"I have tried to be an all-rounder, place my foot in different things," Bhosle says. "I think you should always try new things. If you hold on to one thing then that will not work for very long."
Age has never been a deterrent for Bhosle, who still cuts albums and tours the world singing songs that have made her famous among the South Asian communities across the globe. She ventured into the restaurant business eight years ago following a suggestion from her son, who manages her restaurants and concerts. The first Asha's opened in the Wafi area in northern Dubai in 2002.
Her approach to the business is very much hands on. Her kitchen at home in Mumbai has always been the laboratory for sampling and adapting cuisines from different corners of the country.
"My wish is that the people who come to the restaurant should feel they are sitting in their home and eating," she says. "I can make all sorts of food and my restaurants have the best of what I've learnt."
Dubai feels like home to Bhosle because of the vast South Asian community that lives and works in the emirate. For her son Anand Bhosle, it was the best site to try out the restaurant concept before going international.
"Dubai has a cross section of Europeans, locals and Indians," he says. "It was a good test market. Earlier, Wafi was good enough but with the growth beyond the Marina, feedback from our diners made us think of another restaurant."
Mother and son keep a tight leash on quality control by deciding the menu and visiting the restaurants at least five times a year. Mrs Bhosle is so serious about authenticity that the first chef who came on board stayed in her Mumbai home for six months to learn her style of cooking.
The real-feel factor also extends to her "garam masala", a special blend of spices roasted and ground in her kitchen. The ingredient, which adds punch and flavour to Indian cooking, is then shipped to Dubai and distributed to the rest of the chain.
"The restaurants are an extension of her passion for cooking," says Mr Bhosle. "She is a wonderful cook and we have converted her passion into an enterprise."
She has credited friends and family for some recipes on the menu, including the lamb kebabs she learnt from the wife of the late Urdu poet and lyricist Majrooh Sultanpuri and a thick almond chicken curry she picked up from her elder sister, the legendary singer Lata Mangeshkar.
The chain tries to play to its various markets as best it can. The spice level in the dishes changes according to the country, said Rakshak Puri, the operations manager of Wafi Hospitality, which runs the first restaurant.
"Overall the flavour is maintained and the recipes are the same," he says. "But we take the spice level lower in Kuwait and slightly higher in the UK."
Bhosle is also in the city for a concert on Friday in Dubai's Sheikh Rashid Hall, a tribute to her late husband, the composer RD Burman. She will share anecdotes about her husband and the background behind some of the melodies they created together.
Bhosle has won two national awards presented to top singers by the Indian government as well as several awards for playback singing in Hindi-language movies.
Age is a state of mind in her book.
"Energy is from the mind and it's not as if because you are older, you can't do this or that," she says. "Keep smiling, keep everyone smiling and even if you are not happy, act as if you are. People will smile with one who laughs but will not cry with someone who is sobbing."