Is PM Modi A Foodie? Restaurateur catering to culinary needs of India’s Prime Minister in Washington, says so: Exclusive

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Anand Poojary and his wife Sumita Poojary with PM Modi during this most recent visit to Washington DC in September 2021. PHOTO: Anand Poojary

When Indian Prime Ministers travel to the United States on whirlwind tours, they travel on extremely hectic schedules. Upon landing, they encounter various challenges including acclimating to local weather conditions, fighting jet lag, and most importantly functioning with utmost alertness while dealing and negotiating with top political leaders and other high- profile personalities. But, one important thing that keeps them going is good Indian food, to minimize gastronomic disruption and allow them to continue with business as usual.

Precisely for that reason, the Embassy of India in Washington D.C. has carefully selected the person who can handle this important task.

Meet local restaurateur, Anand Poojary, owner of two successful Indian restaurants, Woodlands, and Jewel of India in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area, who has been taking care of culinary needs of more than one Prime Minister of India.

Delegates dining during PM Modi’s most recent visit to Washington DC in September 2021. PHOTO: Anand Poojary
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Over the last few years, he has taken care of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his delegation’s catering needs during their visits to our nation’s capital.

Poojary’s catering journey with the Embassy of India began 20 years ago – he is the Embassy’s official caterer, and thereby entrusted with all its catering needs. He has also been fulfilling the catering needs of the D.C. Metropolitan area community, including events held at Capitol Hill, the World Bank and other organizations.

Back in 2013, during Indian Ambassador to the U.S., Nirupama Rao’s tenure, Poojary got a special opportunity to cook for the then-Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh, during his trip to Washington D.C.

Cooking for Heads of State is not simple – scrutiny extends well beyond the chef’s culinary skills, and includes an evaluation of their personal backgrounds as well.  Poojary’s team is required to strictly adhere to protocols enforced by the Special Protection Group (SPG), a highly trained elite group that provides protection to Indian Prime Ministers and their immediate family.

A printed menu showcasing undhiyu and khichdi cooked by chefs for PM Modi during his most recent visit to Washington DC in September 2021. PHOTO: Anand Poojary

Even though Poojary couldn’t personally meet Singh in 2013, he said, “during that trip, I was happy that we got to prepare fresh roti, vegetables, dal, paneer dishes and other items for PM Singh, who was also accompanied by his personal chef. His chef cooked a few items as well at Ambassador Rao’s house.”

Within a year, in 2014, Poojary and his team had an opportunity to meet PM Modi for the first time, at Blair House, the U.S. President’s official guest house in Washington DC.

Since then Poojary has been taking care of Modi’s catering needs for all of his Washington D.C. visits. During his most recent visit to the U.S. in September 2021, PM Modi stayed in Washington D.C. for two days.

Cauliflower and peas vegetable served to PM Modi during his most recent visit to Washington DC in September 2021. PHOTO: Anand Poojary

“We have two separate teams – one for PM Modi, and the other is for the delegation accompanying the PM.  The PM’s special team has five people including three chefs, a supervisor, and me personally supervising all operations. The second team prepares food for the delegation, which includes ministers, diplomats, security officials, and others who are accompanying the PM,” said Poojary, in an exclusive interview with News India Times.

According to him, Modi likes Gujarati, South Indian, and North Indian cuisines – so these are always on the menu.

For breakfast, he mostly prefers South Indian dishes including idli, poha, khakhra, upma, and pongal. He loves to drink masala chai along with chivdas, mixtures, and Indian Marie cookies for snacks in the evening.

He likes mixed vegetable soup, roti and vegetable, and masala buttermilk for lunch, and prefers khichdi, undhiyu, theplas, and stuffed parathas for dinner.

Modi likes spinach items such as palak paneer, and is always eager to try new dishes, Poojary says. The chefs also prepared cauliflower with peas, stuffed eggplant, sautéed asparagus, and beans. They served jalebi, kesari bhaat, and puran poli for desserts.

Besides the official menu, Modi enjoyed special dishes based on recommendations from Poojary and his team, and at times has even requested to taste the food prepared for the accompanying delegation. All meals are vegetarian and cooked with limited oil and are mildly spicy.

“PM Modi is a food connoisseur, and pays close attention to food presentation skills. Importantly, he requests fresh seasonal vegetables from local markets. So, we find the best available fresh and colorful vegetables to cook and use the best crockeries with utmost creativity while serving him. So far, we have had had a great experience cooking for him – he thoroughly enjoys our cooking, and admires our team. He has personally met our chefs and interacted with them and enquired about their families both here and in India. He’s very humble, and treats us more like family. These are small memories we take with us,” said Poojary.

The menu is finalized by the Prime Minister’s Office in New Delhi in consultation with Poojary’s local chefs through the Indian Ambassador’s office in Washington D.C. The set-menu will be in possession of the SPG, who upon arrival, accompany the local chefs for all activities ranging from the purchasing of groceries to the locking and guarding the stored supplies.

Poojary explained that the entire cooking has to done under the supervision of the SPG. Once the cooking is completed, a taste test is conducted first by a member of the SPG, and later by an official representative from the Embassy of India. Once they provide clearance, the food is then taken to the PM’s room under the strict supervision of the SPG. All cooked food items are recorded on video and preserved in containers for a few days, in the off chance that it needs to be tested in a lab due to post-consumption issues.

“It’s a pretty intense exercise. But, at the same it’s an honor and a lot of joy to cook for the PM and his delegation. It’s a well-coordinated effort from all three teams, which includes the embassy, the SPG, and our catering teams,” he said.

Ingredients used for the preparation of undhiyu, one of PM Modi’s favorite dishes. PHOTO: Anand Poojary

Poojary said Prime Minister Modi knows him by name and that he feels honored by that gesture. His wife, Sumita, a healthcare professional, who has been providing back-office support, including accounting and other office tasks, also had an opportunity to meet Modi during his most recent visit.

“I have worked with so many Indian Ambassadors and have had good relationships with them. I know the current Foreign Minister, S. Jaishankar, and Foreign Secretary, Harsh Shringla since they both served here as Indian Ambassadors. I have a good relationship with the current Indian Ambassador Taranjit Sandhu as well,” adding “they all like me since they know that I am fully committed and passionate in what I do. I am always around.  I fully understand that food is the most important thing when they travel abroad and I provide them with the best Indian food with excellent choices.

“ ‘Anand, the food was excellent,’ Mr. Jaishankar once told me after the breakfast,” recalled Poojary.

Poojary also had an opportunity to cater for a Diwali Party at the White House during President George Bush’s tenure. He said that his team had made Indian sweets and mixed appetizers for that event. Since then, the White House has started celebrating Diwali every year. During President Obama’s term, he not only prepared Indian sweets but also designed sweet boxes, at the request of the Shiva Vishnu Temple, in Maryland, that were distributed to guests attending the Diwali party at the White House.

Even for him, the pandemic has been very tough. But, with the support of his regular customer base, his restaurant’s own online app, along with other delivery apps, his business has been going well.

Assorted nuts and spices served to PM Modi during his most recent visit to Washington DC in September 2021. PHOTO: Anand Poojary

“The restaurant business is a tricky one. We always strive to be on top of things and continuously try to be creative to prepare new dishes for every event.  We have to be passionate and at the same time fashionable with our presentation skills. We are always striving to give our best.”

Hailing from the small village of Aloor in Udupi District in Karnataka, Poojary came to the US, in 1995, and worked for three years at Jewel of India, a well-known Indian restaurant in New York City. Three years later, in 1998, he opened his first restaurant, Woodlands, in Langley Park, Maryland.

Pickles and condiments served to PM Modi during his most recent visit to Washington DC in September 2021. PHOTO: Anand Poojary

Woodlands went on to become a well-known brand for its pure Indian vegetarian dishes, and ten years ago, he opened another restaurant, Jewel of India, in Silver Spring, Maryland, in honor of the New York City restaurant, he once worked at which is now permanently closed.

A father of three children Aryaan, Anisha, and Tara, Poojary has plans to help underprivileged children in the education field, especially girls, in his ancestral village, where his father and brother live and own a farm.  He hasn’t had the opportunity to visit his village recently as a result of the pandemic, but when he visits next, he says, he is interested in exploring additional opportunities to support local charitable activities there.

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