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Dominic Chapman, Michelin star chef, goes on the Calcutta Walks Food Trail

4th September, 2013
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Chapman’s Chomp

ON SUNDAY, T2 TOOK DOMINIC CHAPMAN ON A FOOD TRAIL — FROM A HOMEMADE ANGLO-INDIAN MEAL TO STREET PHUCHKAS

YELLOW RICE & BALL CURRY: Dominic Chapman has a special interest in the Anglo-Indian heritage of Calcutta. “My grandfather was posted here during World War II,” he explained. Having brought British curry to Calcutta, he was in search of the origin of curry. And t2 took him straight to the Collin Street doorstep of Rubin and Pamela Ribeiro. Rubin, a musician, has sung many a time with Carlton Kitto and the soft-spoken Pamela is a name the community swears by when it comes to good Anglo-Indian food. The couple finish each other’s sentences, have a wealth of knowledge on the Anglo-Indian community and despair of today’s generation’s “disappointing small appetites”. Having put Yellow Rice, Ball Curry, Pork Vindaloo and Beef Jalfrezi on the table, Pamela happily answered Chapman’s culinary questions on everything from mustard oil to marinades! “The food is so, so good. It’s fresh and spicy, yet not overpowering. It is delicious. This is food I’d love to cook back home,” raved the Michelin chef, quizzing Pamela closely about each and every recipe. He was amazed at the propah ways of the Ribeiros. “They’re as British as my grandparents!” he exclaimed, adding that the afternoon with the family was definitely the “most massive highlight” of his trip.

ROOM FOR TEA: “This could be a tearoom anywhere in Europe,” was Chapman’s take on Flurys. Though not a big fan of sweets, however known he may be for his desserts, he dug into a bit of history with the mandatory Rum Ball. The highest point for him however was the Darjeeling tea. “This is amazing. We don’t get loose leaf tea in UK anymore. The honey and a twist of lime give it such a refreshing flavour. Reminds me a bit of a palate cleanser I do at my own restaurant, a dessert with green tea and lime.”

SWEET STUFF: No good thing in Calcutta can end without a bit of mishtimukh. The last stop was Girish Chandra Dey & Nakur Chandra Nandy. “It has amazing history and the workshop at the back where they make the sweets is very interesting. They should let everybody come in,” said Dominic, who clicked pictures of the 169-year-old sweet shop. His reaction after trying the Malai Roll, Jolbhora and Chocolate Black Forest Sandesh? “Interesting”.

“Calcutta is a very civilised city. There is so much history and so many communities existing together. There is a remarkable diversity. There are places where you feel you could be anywhere in the world and places where there are lack of privileges. But people just get on with their lives, do the best they can. It is humbling. There are some great hotels and I loved the Gariahat market. The fresh fish and the produce… it was amazing. The city has great food culture. The streetside stalls make delicious food and then there are so many communities with their own style of cooking. I’d be highly stupid if I didn’t take back what I learnt on this trip. One of my restaurants is a more informal, relaxed kind of place, so I am hoping to introduce a nice curry, some naan bread maybe. I tend to cook stuff I like eating, so it’s probably going to show up. I see no reason why a British restaurant wouldn’t do well here…. There is much, much that’s left to be seen. I hope I get to make a longer trip again.”

—  DOMINIC

POWER OF PHUCHKA: This one certainly blew the Michelin-star chef away. “What a flavoursome snack,” was his refrain, as he looked closely into the phuchka, getting the minutiae of how the phuchka shells are made, what the dough contains and more. All outside Vardaan Market.

STREET WISE: Next on the street-food trail was the “spicy chickpea stew” or what we know as ghugni with loads of coriander, onion and tomato toppings. It won the seal of approval right away. “One hell of a snack,” was the verdict.

#likeamuriwallah: The chef got hands-on with the jhaalmuri mug. “Oh, this is almost like Coco Pops (breakfast cereal), except it’s savoury and spicy,” he grinned.

Text: Anindita Mitra
Pictures: Anindya Shankar Ray

IFTEKHAR AHSAN OF CALCUTTA WALKS TOOK HIM AROUND TOWN

One of the most special people I got to meet and introduce the city to was Dominic Chapman, the renowned Michelin-star chef.

Dominic may be an international celebrity but all we got to see was his childlike enthusiasm for mundane everyday Calcutta life, which he doesn’t get to see in his everyday life of star hotels and star restaurants.

He immersed himself in the Calcutta experience, inquisitive about every little thing we take for granted. Like the way a barber shaves on the streetside, the ingredients that go into the making of a perfectly spicy jhaalmuri, the history of Darjeeling tea, the imposing architecture of mega structures on Park Street and the warmth of the Anglo-Indians. On learning that the American consulate is located on a street called Ho Chi Minh Sarani, he said, “That’s such a communist brand of wit!”

He took shots of the Armenian College and Philanthropic Academy, with the plaque outside which lets the world know that novelist William Makepeace Thackeray was born in that house and lived there during his infancy.

That very morning, Dominic had visited Gariahat market. “It’s like a farmer’s market. The produce is fresh and there is such variety. The tent-like structure was typically Calcutta, as were those broad, flat blades with which they cut fish, but the people, the chaos and the noise is like any fresh food market the world over, with its own local character,” he explained.

He was left amazed as to why many more international visitors don’t come to Calcutta and I told him that the answer to that was a long one and we shall leave that for his next visit!

As published in The Telegraph on 29 Aug 2013.

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Posted by Iftekhar Ahsan Ifte's passion for trespassing is second only to his love for this city. Life is an adventure for this true romantic, for whom the predictable is abhorrent. His antennae tune in to all that's 'forbidden'.

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