How They Do It – The Food Cart Chef

Home Brooklyn Life How They Do It – The Food Cart Chef

By Bilal Lakhani and Aliza Moorji

There’s a secret behind every chicken gyro at the Halal Paradise cart on the corner of Atlantic Avenue and Pacific Street, and only Imran Khan knows what it is.

Imran Khan adds hot sauce to freshly prepared food.
(Aliza Moorji/The Brooklyn Ink)

He begins preparing this signature dish by unwrapping pieces of marinated chicken from a frozen plastic container. Khan then places the chicken on a hot flat grill. He holds a pair of tongs in his left hand and a blade-like cutter in his right.

“I enjoy cooking chicken, it’s the fastest thing,” says Khan as he gently maneuvers the chicken across the grill. He then scoops the chicken with the cutter and lays it out again with his tongs.

Khan has to be on his feet because it’s the middle of lunch hour on this chilly afternoon. He wears a red and black striped hoodie with rolled up sleeves and latex gloves.

After 90 seconds, Khan chops whole pieces of chicken with a sharp, swift motion, creating a rhythmic sound. He moves the pieces of chicken, now sliced into cubic squares, onto one side of the grill.

When he cooks, he tunes out the bustle of the busy street corner as his eyes focus solely on the grill. “I can tell when a chicken is well done,” he says. “Well done chicken is easy to cut. And if it’s red, it’s not well done.” He drops a slice of white pita bread on the grill.

He adds a garlic-flavored seasoning to the chicken, creating a slight sizzle. “We put the spices on the chicken ourselves,” Khan says.  “It’s our secret recipe. That is why our gyro is different from everybody else.” He will say only that the recipe includes traditional Indian spices mixed with salt.

Khan rips out two pieces of aluminum foil and places the warm pita on top. He then uses the tongs to fill the pita with three scoops of chicken.  Raising his voice through the transparent plastic window, he asks a customer, “lettuce, tomato, green peppers?”

He sprinkles the salad on the gyro, and asks his customer whether he would like hot sauce, white sauce, or barbeque sauce. He effortlessly rolls the pita within the foil and quickly places it in a brown paper bag.

“Four dollars, please,” Khan says as he puts in a few napkins in the bag. “Have a good day.”

A chicken gyro may mean no more than a quick bite. But for Khan, it’s a way of life. His daily shift is from 10 am to 3pm, regardless of winter cold or summer heat. He spends the rest of the day procuring chicken, and his secret spices.

When it comes to his own lunch, he eats from a Chinese halal restaurant down the block. But the cart remains a focal point of his day. “You think that this place is small but its how you look at it,” he says. “I think this place is actually big.”

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