How Imtiaz Qureshi helped shape ITC Hotels

Shivaji Dasgupta
New Update
Imtiaz Qureshi

Imtiaz Qureshi (File photo)

Kolkata: Conrad Hilton famously said that the three reasons for a hotel’s success are location, location and location. In the case of ITC Hotels, the factors may well have been food, food and food,


The diversification of an otherwise accomplished conglomerate to the seemingly specialised domain of hospitality was the wisdom of Ajit Haksar, Chairman from 1969 to 1983. Cuisine was his special passion, leading to the hiring of Imtiaz Qureshi who was running a Lucknow catering gig. He also poached Roger Moncourt, French maestro, from ITDC and Bukhara was assigned to Madan Jaiswal, to upgrade and institutionalise the Hindu tandoori tradition from Peshawar.

Even in this galaxy of luminaries, followed over time, Qureshi was a spectacular presence. Firstly, as the curator of the haute cuisine restaurant Mayur and then as the impresario for Dum Pukht, making a mark since the 1990’s. Credited with resurrecting the dum style of cooking, a fine craft that was apparently camouflaged by new-age conveniences. 

Most iconic was his self-professed journey on the path to creation, the wisdom arriving from the traditional home kitchens of Lucknow ( Avadh). Complemented wonderfully by exceptional customer centricity, the know-how of crafting a single dish of biryani with the identical intensity of a giant handi. Thereby becoming the de facto ambassador of ITC’s thriving culinary legacy.


Which actually brings me back to the larger point on sustainable positioning, and I do not mean the environment in this instance. The first generation of Indian five-star hoteliers, Taj and Oberoi, were inarguably focussed on the dollar-toting Westerner as indigenous dining and travel were still subject to dark cash. Therefore the entire orientation of the experience was tactical appeasement, how to create a globally standardised template, as a valuable refuge in chaotic India.

Equally fair to state that well-heeled foreigners were still not experimentative in local cuisine, the fear of the Delhi Belly overriding the lucre of the spice route. Therefore the blasts from the past include Golden Dragon, Orient Express, Polynesia, House of Ming and a whole host of ‘Continental’ outposts. A key area of focus became the 24 hour coffee shop, boutique arrangements of multiple genres, with no particular partiality for local excellence.

ITC was the first in its genre to demonstrate India centricity, as a matter of preferred pride and not dutiful obligation. Bukhara attained sainthood due to global patronage and the undeniable seduction of a single-destination curiosity, with few failed extensions globally. Uncannily though, the patron saint became Imtiaz Qureshi, although completely unconnected to the restaurant. A very good reason being the scalability of the Dum Pukht genre, across speciality restaurants in the expanding portfolio as well as being the spiritual inspiration for even basic coffee shop regulars. Regulars will confirm that in a universe of pedestrian all-day-dining buffets, every ITC property stands out for romancing even the standard cast and crew.


As management recognised and marinaded the potency of the cuisines, many new brands opened with much success, scalably. Pan Asian, West View Bar and Grill, Dakshin, Peshawari and more recently Avartana and Royal Vega. Perhaps the consumer marketing antecedents of the larger group helped this thinking - sticking steadfastly to the Back-To-Roots approach without any pretensions of denial, available in most major properties. While competition stuck to the Fine Dining - Coffee Shop Buffet divides operationally - one does not need to be a gourmet to spot the difference in quality. In ITC, the restaurants are specialised expressions while the all–day gigs are deliberate abbreviations - of outcomes in consumption and not integrity in the blue-chip process.

Just as all great luxury experiences deserve a legend as an abiding adhesive, Qureshi assumed this stature for his company. While consistently evolving his core gharana, he stood for the overall patterns of excellence from the kitchens, genre-agnostic. Quite like Ravi Shankar and Zakir Hussain from Hindustani Classical music, greatness emanates from mastery of focused craft as well as legitimate accountability for a much wider treasure trove of riches. A double role, enjoyed only by the unbeatable combination of celestial blessings and the unquenchable rigour for riyaaz.

ITC Hotels, like many peers, is expanding rapidly in this changing landscape of hotels and dining. The new consuming superhero, especially post covid, is the affluent Indian, demanding global standards with state-of-the-art ethnic excellence. While the evergreen Westerner sees India with newer lenses, seeking limitless discoveries of palates and traditions. To both, Imtiaz Qureshi remains the charming leitmotif - having been there and done that longer and earlier than every other GOAT.