|Photo courtesy of Tucson.com|
(First off, just to note, all of the images in this tribute are from various sources and did not come from my camera. My interview and feature on Mukhi and his new restaurant was cut short upon his sudden death. So cheers to the Tucson Weekly, Arizona Daily Star and Google Images for providing me with some pictures. I don't make any money off of the Tucson Homeskillet, so if you come after me, all I can pay you with is a hearty shrug and a "Sorry". Thanks...)
The first time I met Mukhi Singh was the first time I ate from the Twisted Tandoor truck. It was a Wednesday, early evening, late spring, in a dusty lot off of Ft. Lowell and Campbell Ave. There were other food trucks around but this particular one served up my favorite cuisine, regional Indian. Years ago, while still living in San Francisco, I had fallen in love with Indian food on a chilly day when I had very little pocket money and a voracious appetite. There was this place up the street from my apartment that had a all you can eat Indian buffet for only $5. Not really familiar with authentic Indian food at the time (like I said this was a long time ago) but heeding the call of my rumbling stomach, I walked in, loaded up a plate of steaming colorful food and took a bite.
Immediately I was hooked. The complex flavors, the textures, the....everything! was so magical to me that I became a regular at that little Indian restaurant (what was it called...?) along with several others across the city. Moving to Tucson in 2006, I was lucky to find a few good Indian restaurants, but when I discovered the Twisted Tandoor, I knew I was in trouble.
Mukhi greeted me with a big smile as he leaned out of the sliding glass window of his truck. I asked what I should order, he gave me a knowing nod and wink and said "I'll fix you something and you'll like it." It was a spicy beef curry dish with potatoes and lentils and it was incredible. Seeing as it wasn't busy that night, we struck up a conversation as I ate his savory food.
He told me he and his wife moved to Tucson over a decade ago, started the truck in late 2012 and have been busy ever since. Having lived in India most of his life, Mukhi said he learned to cook by watching his mother in the kitchen and just walking around the busy streets of his hometown, Secunderabad, and studying the street food vendors there. Well, all that observation and practice sure paid off because my first dish from him was amazing.
That started an almost obsession with the Twisted Tandoor, as I hunted him and his truck down across the arid plains of this funky hamlet of ours seeking out new flavors and dishes that Mukhi had created in such a small and sweaty space. Like I said, I was hooked.
|Courtesy of Tucson Weekly|
One particular evening, after ordering way too much food, I informed Mukhi that I had been a chef in the past for several years. Studying the long line of tickets he had clipped up over his roiling cooking area, he leaned out the window and asked "Do you want a job?" Seeing as I had recently made the switch from kitchen to library (long story, I'll explain later...) and was actually kind of missing cooking professionally, I lightly bobbed my head and said "Sure". We exchanged numbers and social media information but the job of cooking alongside Mukhi never actually came to fruition.
But I was seriously considering helping him out on a few nights. Had it all planned out in my head: I'd work from 9-6 at the library, jam out to wherever the Twisted Tandoor was parked, help prep, cook and breakdown and then head home in time to watch bad TV with the wife. The wife, though, wasn't too thrilled with this idea and was relieved that the part time job did not come through. Not that she didn't like Mukhi or his food, far from it, but the idea of me coming home sweaty and stinking of curry was not her idea of a fun Friday or Saturday night.
|Courtesy of Tucson.com|
Then one day I got a text. It was She-Ra, the wife in question, informing me that the Twisted Tandoor was mashing it up with my favorite pizza place, Vero Amore, for one night and serving up Indian inspired pizzas. This, my friends, caused a ruckus in not only my stomach, but my brain as well. How can two of my all time favorite eateries come together and create a fantastic collaboration of culinary profiles like this? I was floored. In fact, I didn't care about the "how", I was just thrilled about the "why". Why they decided to pair up for a night of Italian/Indian wizardry was like an early birthday/Xmas gift for me.
At the time I didn't know this would be a regular event, so on that first night I ordered one each of the Indian pizzas. When I came to pick them up I was greeted by a wide grinning Mukhi, holding onto a frosty glass filled with beer, who shook my hand and asked what I had ordered.
"Umm," I began. "One....each?"
"Of my pizzas?" he quizzed with a giggle. There were like six or seven of them.
Mukhi just laughed and patted me on the shoulder. He was busy and had to get back to work. When my pizzas arrived ( to go mind you!) the bill came to $80, the most I had ever spent on pizzas. She-Ra just rolled her eyes. But I didn't care. The Indian inspired pizzas were glorious and I had leftovers for a week.
Best $80 I had ever spent.
Soon after I had gotten word that the Twisted Tandoor was going brick and mortar. A location was set, somewhere out on Limberlost, and I was so excited that I could barely contain myself.
Just a few months earlier I had re-started my food blog, this one!, and turned it into a full blown dot com after a lengthy hiatus. Knowing that I had to do a feature on Mukhi and his new stand alone restaurant, I messaged him asking for an interview and photo shoot. He immediately said yes and that he would get back to me as soon as he could seeing as he and his family were very busy with not only the truck but the restaurant.
I told him to take his time and we will keep in contact.
On August 18th, 2015, I sent him a text asking about the restaurant. He, once again, was very gracious, but said the interview would have to wait because of time constraints. Then, sometime in the late afternoon of Friday the 21st, over the course of social media, I got the news that he had passed away. Wait...what? Apparently, just two hours before the opening of the Twisted Tandoor restaurant, he collapsed suddenly suffering from a massive heart attack. Mukhi was only 52.
Shocked and saddened, I sent out a small tribute to him on Facebook. But that just didn't seem like enough. Sure, the Tucson Homeskillet is a fun food site, with snarky articles on rotten burritos and the like, but it is also a place for all things culinary here in Tucson, and Mukhi Singh was a huge part of that.
He was always gracious to me, he always filled my to go containers with extra portions and a tasty surprise on the side, he freakin' offered me a job at one point and was a kind man. I wasn't close to Mukhi by any means, we never hung out beyond his truck or Vero Amore, but that didn't matter. From what I did know of him, and the food and smiles he provided, he seemed like an amazing spirit.
For that, we at the Tucson Homeskillet want to thank you for all the good times, the fantastic cooking and the generosity you provided us over the years.
Cheers Mukhi. The other side is eating really well right now...
|Courtesy of Tucson.com|
"Metal" Mark Whittaker
Late August, 2015