You completed 20 years in india in 2020. How did the journey begin?
I was working at Quaglino’s in London, one of the busiest restaurants in Europe, when we got an invitation to be a guest restaurant at the World Gourmet Summit in Singapore. That was in 2000. It was here that I met Indian entrepreneur Rohit Khattar and arrived in Delhi on his invitation. After a short stint in Delhi, I would have joined a restaurant in New York but then 9/11 happened and suddenly I was without a job. I shifted to Calcutta [Kolkata now] to join The Park. Apart from the Kolkata property, I also worked for their Chennai and Delhi properties. I left The Park eventually but settled down in Kolkata. My wife is also a Bengali from the city.
What was your feeling when you arrived in Kolkata?
When I decided to come to India, everyone back home said why India. And when I said I am moving to Calcutta, everybody in Delhi said the same thing, why Calcutta? During the interview at The Park, I had this bizarre conversation with HR. They tried to dissuade me almost. They said Kolkata is a very different city. It moves at a very different pace. The HR head took me down Park Street for a walk. We walked towards New Market. He said, the roads are crazy. Will you be happy here? But to me this was where the fun was. Even today.
Being married to a Bengali, what is your take on Bengali food?
The best food in Bengal is the most underrated—the vegetarian food. It’s full of interesting flavours and very different from other vegetarian food in the country, but nobody knows about it. Of course, I like my paturi and kosha mangsho. But simple things like shukto and doi potol are sublime...I love anything cooked with doi.
What changes have you seen in the Indian food scene over the past 20 years?
When I first arrived, in Delhi, I could not get iceberg lettuce or red capsicum on a daily basis. Today you can buy almost organic anything here. We have incredible cheesemakers around the country. We have great vegetables growing in aquaponics across the country. There's an established winemaking industry. The other big change happened about eight years ago. Young Indian chefs became adventurous. They trained under great chefs, went overseas. Since then India has become an incredible place.
How is Kolkata’s street food?
According to me, Calcutta has the best street food in the country. I am very disappointed with the Writers’ Building still being closed, because on its back side you would get the best street food in the city. Then there are some incredible things like the prawn kabiraji and dim-er devil which you don’t get in any other city.
Chef Recommends from the menu for Octa, Kolkata
I created this sushi dish which is not quite a sushi. It consists of edamame rice balls with black sesame, truffle oil and a bit of crispy chilli.
Bekti Miso Kasundi
A quite interesting dish is the Bekti Miso Kasundi, served with edamame rice and herb salad.
Essentially a small steamed dumpling, the prawn paturi has a Bengali twist: minced prawn wrapped in spinach leaf, some gondhoraj flavour, and served with mango ‘kasundi’ mayonnaise.