If you are in the suburbs of Hyderabad and happen to come across a man cooking in the outdoors, with ingredients enough to feed an entire village and onlookers eagerly waiting to catch a glimpse of what’s cooking, be assured you are in the company of cook Khwaja Moinuddin. A former journalist with a prominent Telugu channel, Khwaja now identifies himself as the cook from one of YouTube’s most loved food channels, Nawab’s Kitchen.
From delicious non-veg recipes to huge black forest cakes and king-sized omelettes, Moinuddin’s channel now has over one million subscribers on YouTube. While there is no doubt about the taste of the mouth-watering dishes he cooks, what has made this Hyderabad man a true internet sensation is the cause to which he's dedicated.
Every month, Moinuddin feeds over thousands of children belonging to various orphanages in the city. What began as an idea to feed a few kids on the streets has today expanded to include the whole city, with several children looking forward to relish Moinuddin’s recipes.
“My next recipe is a Maggi noddle dish. The last time I visited an orphanage with food, the children there said they haven’t tasted noodles yet. Though I have made noodles before on the show (which had the cook preparing around 100 noodle cakes), I will do it once again because this time the kids have asked for it,” Moinuddin tells TNM.
From a journalist to a YouTube star
It was almost five years ago that Moinuddin and his friends, Srinath and Bhagat, had a conversation about doing something unique, preferably on social media. “I was then working with a Telugu news channel and used to regularly do programmes like Day with an MLA or some other politician. Though the job helped me pay my bills, it never satisfied the urge to do something I really loved,” Moinuddin says.
In 2017, Moinuddin and his friends decided to go ahead with their plans and start a food channel where he would cook and Srinath and Bhagat would help film it.
“But we wanted to be unique and not just cook food and eat it all by ourselves. So we decided to make food in large quantities and distribute it among kids on the street. Discussing further, we thought why not we approach an orphanage and promise the kids and the staff a day’s lunch,” Moinuddin recalls.
However, the trio was quite sceptical on how orphanages would respond to their requests. “But the day I walked into our first orphanage, I was sure there was a purpose and the people there wouldn’t turn us away,” Moinuddin adds.
But, soon after they finished shooting five videos, the trio exhausted almost all their money. Moinuddin even quit his job because his company told him that he wasn’t dedicating enough time to his work and that he can’t do two jobs at once.
“We had a considerable number of subscribers after our initial videos. But there wasn’t enough money to make more. We decided to stop the channel and return to our old jobs. We were further scared since our families had no clue about what we were up to and didn’t know that we had quit our jobs,” Moinuddin chuckles.
On the same day they decided to quit, Moinuddin says he got a call from a well-wisher asking why weren’t they uploading more videos and upon talking, the latter suggested that they ask for sponsorship from the viewers.
“When I first gave it a thought, I found it silly. Why would anyone donate money to an obscure channel on YouTube? We had Rs 5,000 left more in our budget and thought we would close our channel with one last food video,” he says.
However, while shooting, Moinuddin looked at the camera and on an impulse asked the viewers to subscribe to their channel and also asked them to donate money to keep the channel running.
“That night I received 18 mails from people suggesting they could help. They wrote telling us that they were happy to donate to feed so many children and ever since, Nawab’s Kitchen has been running purely through sponsorship and goodwill,” Moinuddin says.
The Nawab’s Cake
Moinuddin, unlike other chefs or cooks, doesn't say that he had always been a passionate cook or that becoming one was his life’s goal.
“But I used to cook regularly at home. Not because I was passionate about it but whenever my kids would ask me to take them to restaurants, I wouldn't be sure that I could afford the expensive meals. So, I started making recipes with the help of cook-books and the children thoroughly enjoyed them,” the 38-year-old says.
And for the same reason, Moinuddin wasn’t too confident about making food for so many people at once in his videos.
“But once I started shooting, I realised I had a knack for it. The first video that went viral was the recipe for pineapple cake, which I cooked without an oven, on the wood fire,” the cook recalls.
It typically takes Moinuddin almost 4-5 hours to finish preparing for a single video. And he is also very particular that he does all the cooking by himself from the scratch - from washing the vessels to adding those final touches of garnishing.
Though most of his recipes (especially the tandooris and biryanis) have over a million views, Moinuddin’s cake recipes have their own fanbase on social media. Be it the 25-kilo huge black forest cake or the gigantic chocolate cakes, they are all cooked inside a large vessel which is kept atop another vessel with sand filled inside it.
“It’s the sand that gets heated and helps to cook the cake batter. The first time I attempted it, I had to throw away the burnt cake as the sand had got overheated. From then on, I have been very careful to heat it to the right temperature,” Moinuddin notes.
And what makes all the effort worth it is the happiness on the faces of the kids who happily relish the food at the end of every video. The team feeds close to 1,200 kids every month, and posts two to three videos every week, on an average.
Moinuddin recalls a particular incident where he and his team were able to reunite a lost kid with his parents in Gujarat.
“After one of our videos which we shot in an orphanage in Andhra went up, we got a call from a police station in Gujarat. To our surprise, the inspector informed us that a kid who had gone missing from his jurisdiction eight years ago was spotted in one of our videos on Facebook. I talked to the kid’s parents and asked them for more proofs, and they gave an accurate description of the kid. I put them in touch with the orphanage. I still remember the day when the kid, who had a mental health issue, ran to his father and hugged him tight, despite having been away from home for eight long years!” Moinuddin narrates.
Moinuddin in all his videos appears in a white kurta and pyjamas with a traditional skullcap. Asked if this was a deliberate choice, Moinuddin says that the one time he tried to change his attire, the comments section of his video was not very pleasant.
“Ever since, I have stuck to wearing the same dress in every episode,” he laughs, adding, “But to be honest, it’s the goodwill of the viewers that has kept out channel running for so long. There are certain days when I read aloud people’s appreciatory messages and trust me, money alone could have never brought this sense of satisfaction in our lives.”