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Oh! Calcutta offering weekday discounts as part of its 20th birthday celebrationIndia Blooms News Service
It is a flavour that he swears by, a flavour that has found its way into some of the signature dishes of his restaurant chain Oh! Calcutta, which is celebrating its 20th birthday in April this year.
“I tried growing it at my Lonavla [Maharashtra] home but it did not taste the same as the ones we get in Kolkata. Probably it has got to do with the soil of Bengal,” said Chatterjee.
Not only the aromatic lime. The founder and MD of Speciality Restaurants Limited, Chatterjee is equally finicky about the spices used for cooking at his signature restaurants that span across cuisines.
With the intensive research he has conducted into the use of spices, he can lecture you for hours on how to make fish curry with whole cumin, how to make best use of ‘panch-phoron’ and ‘radhuni’, how to make ‘aam ada murgi’ (a chicken dish infused with a species of ‘galangal’) or how to make the perfect ‘Bengali’ garam masala – something we found out as we recently met the man at the Oh! Calcutta outlet located in Kolkata’s Forum Mall.
Chatterjee, who began with a career in advertising, stepped into the culinary world with Only Fish, a restaurant he opened in Mumbai in 1992.
Happy with the accolades that Only Fish earned, he decided to expand his horizon. He shut down Only Fish but came up with Mainland China and Oh! Calcutta.
Today, Oh! Calcutta has a pan-India presence, with restaurants in Mumbai, Pune, Hyderabad, Delhi, Gurgaon, and Bengaluru, besides Kolkata.
“We source all the typical Bengali ingredients for our Oh! Calcutta restaurants from Kolkata,” said Chatterjee.
He never compromises on the authenticity of the taste, added Chatterjee.
“Ever since my childhood days, I have been a food lover. I have seen the diverse culinary innovations of Calcutta’s cuisine, from the quintessential jhaal muri to Royal’s Mutton Chanp, from Kolkata biryani to Sabir’s unparalleled Chicken Rezala. Oh! Calcutta has been on a path-breaking journey in search of culinary fusion that would be typically Calcutta,” he said.
Chatterjee has even teamed up with Sawan Dutta, the musical blogger of Metroname fame, for her post ‘An Ode to Calcutta’, where the restaurant Oh! Calcutta and its various dishes have been featured liberally.
Although hailing from western Bengal, Chatterjee was all praises for the cuisine of East Bengal [now Bangladesh], a cuisine to which he was introduced by his wife and mother-in-law.
“On one hand, we try to put the extinct or near extinct dishes of Bengal on the table at Oh! Calcutta, and on the other, we experiment to add to the repertoire of culinary fusion,” said Chatterjee.
It was his yen for perfection that prompted him to locate an 80-year old woman in Bangladesh who gave him the authentic recipe for Daab Chingri – prawns combined with green chilli paste in tender coconut cream and cooked in a green coconut shell.
To learn more about the different ways Bengalis prepared the basic dishes, in the beginning, the Chatterjees would land up at homes of friends and acquaintances with raw fish or meat and request them to cook it. The exercise gave them an insight into the adaptations that people made to add a different nuance to a known dish.
Wife Suchhanda personally trains the cooks for Oh! Calcutta. The classes used to be held at the Chatterjee home until Speciality Restaurants built its in-house catering institute.
“We also tried to dispel the notion that Bengali cooking means steeped in oil,” said Chatterjee. “We are very serious about using minimum oil in our cooking. We even have a system of rewarding the cooks who can prove that they use minimum oil while cooking without compromising the taste of the dish.”
Some of the dishes that are oft-ordered at the Oh! Calcutta restaurants are Gondhoraj Machh, Daab Bhapa Machh, Daab Chingri, Bhapa Sandesh, etc.
“Earlier, Bengalis were not quite adventurous about food. But now they are,” said Chatterjee, “which gives us a lot of room to experiment and innovate.”
Film Director Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury who was present at the 20th birthday bash at the Forum Mall outlet, said, “Oh! Calcutta is a place that has given people like me, who is constantly travelling and living away from home, no reason to miss out on the delectable Bengali food. This is like home.”
Very soon, Oh! Calcutta is going to introduce a new dish called ‘Khulna chingri’. And as part of its 20th birthday celebration, the much awarded restaurant is offering a 20 per cent discount on their a la carte food menu on weekdays (Monday to Friday) for a limited period.
(Reporting by Uttara Gangopadhyay, Images by Avishek Mitra/IBNS)