Chef Priyam Chatterjee in his kitchen
Does Chingri Malaikari, Mutton Kosha, Sorshe Ilish, Bhetki Paturi make you drool? If yes, then like many millennials, you too seem to have been hooked to Bengali cuisine. The stuff that's actually available back in Bengal all through the year, and not just Durga Puja. Now rewind 200 years. These delicacies haven’t changed much since. Our great grandfathers would relish the same dishes. And sitting silently by the Qutub Minar, chef Priyam Chatterjee, chef patron-cum-director of Restaurant at Qla, Delhi, has been running a mini revolution of sorts, deconstructing age-old Bengali recipes. The chef spoke to T2 Online at Qla’s open terrace with full view of the Qutub Minar
Need for evolution
Talking about the evolution of Bengali cuisine since zamindari raj in colonial Bengal, Chatterjee says, “Has it (evolved)? It hardly has. That’s the problem. We are champions in what we do, and we are master players in cuisine. But the Bengali style of cuisine is heritage cooking and not modern. Or, let’s forget the word 'modern', and focus on 'evolving'. Are we evolved? Are we making it exciting while keeping our roots authentic? I doubt. We are the same old tape recorder.”
For the chef who has worked with Jean Claude Fugier from France, Spanish chef Royo Matteo Grandi and the legendary Fauchon, Paris, Bengali cuisine will lose its glamour if we don’t get serious about evolution right now. No wonder, he has decided to take the batton in his own hands.
What bothers the chef the most is inclusion of Biryani and not-very-Bengali food in most wedding menus in Bengal. “While the world is going gaga over Bengali food, we have stopped eating our food!” he exclaims. “Since when did Biryani and Pasta become my food? No, it’s not. Kids don’t eat regional cuisine. It’s the senior generation that still keeps the fire on. The only way to keep this going and growing is making sure we keep the flavours intact but reimage and give the cuisine a perspective for the future ones to cling to.”
So is fusion the way out? The chef differs there, saying modern food is not just about fusion. "The idea is to dismantle and then rebuild. And for that, we don’t really have to cook Paturi like Manchurian. No pretence business, please.”
Some pop fix
Chef Chatterjee recently organised a Bengal Pop up at Qla along with Prateek Arora, the chief wine officer, to show the people how reimagined Bengali cuisine may look like. The 11-course meal consisted of deconstructed Bengali dishes to make them unique. The Phuchka does look the same as traditional, however the tamarind water has been dehydrated giving it a cracker-like consistency. The same has been done with Shukto, where the gravy has been dehydrated. Other highlights of the meal included Daab Chingri that is served cold (like in fridge) along with a prawn spray to enhance the flavour, Phena Bhaat with egg that has been given a risotto flavour, and not to forget the deconstructed Luchi-Kosha Mangsho.
What is a Bengali meal without paan? And the chef did give that a twist by putting cheese cake inside the betel leaf to make it succulent and sweet.
Indeed a wonderful suprise for butter-chicken savouring Delhiites, this.