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Sunday, 14 April 2024 | Shobori Ganguli


Today is Poila Boishakh, a day when Bengalis across the globe usher in their new year. And what better way to celebrate than food. SHOBORI GANGULI joined the feast and festivities at Hyatt Gurugram with critically acclaimed Chef Ananya Banerjee whose signature take on a traditional Bengali feast made it a special day indeed

The first day of the Bengali New Year is not just another date on the calendar to mark for rituals and ceremonies. It is all about cultural bonhomie, dance and music, a day to let your hair down, meet friends and family over a grand meal, a day when even the most humble of kitchens becomes the fulcrum of all celebrations, with everyone on the lookout for a feast to remember. Truth be told, nothing can vie with the spirit that enwraps all of Bengal this day. But for probashi (non-resident) Bengalis like me, scattered across the country, we crave to partake of a sumptuous spread, course by course, from a traditional kitchen this special day which, for many of us, dwells only in the realms of nostalgia.

In this context one draws immense consolation from the fact that roving itinerant chefs like Ananya Banerjee are rewriting centuries old traditional manuscripts, rich with secret spices and untold innovations, for a generation that is clawing back to find its roots today. The Chef’s

Bengal Bhoj at Hyatt this weekend provided exactly that opportunity.

For my generation, Chef Banerjee’s creations are a warm and nostalgic embrace from a distant past when our tiny lives revolved around our grandmother’s or mother’s kitchens, a time when festivals meant food, each meal a feast. Little did we know back then that as we grew older we would simultaneously travel far away from those kitchens, from their aromas and flavours.

It is therefore heartening to know that someone like Chef Banerjee, while keeping her much wider international clientele in mind, has carved a unique niche for herself in her quest to recover the history and philosophy that informs Bengal’s exquisite culinary heritage. As she puts it, that while going traditional, “I tend to be very progressive when I curate a Chef’s table.”

True to her promise, the Chef laid out a lavish Poila Boishakh spread, from a live Bengali street food counter of Phuchkas and Churmur to appetizers like Chicken Kobiraji, Mochaar Chop and Bhetki Paturi or the vegetarian alternative of Paneer Paturi.

The main course meandered its delectable way through Phulko Loochi, Chholar Daal, Kosha Maangsho and Aloo Posto. Accompanied by steamed rice were Chef Banerjee’s innovative twists to the traditional Prawn Malai Curry and Lebu Lonka Murgi.

Bengalis are never far behind when it comes to desserts. Even after a rich and sumptuous meal, there’s always space left to accommodate some mishti to sign off a great feast. Chef Banerjee’s Baked Roshogulla with Jhola Nolen Gur (a liquid syrup of date jaggery) delicately poured on top was really an elixir from heaven. So was the Patishapta, crepes with a rich filling of grated coconut and khejurer gur (date jaggery). The Mango Baked Yogurt too beckoned our undivided attention.

Even as technology takes over our time and lives, and reels and Instagrams provide instant and vicarious pleasure to millions of viewers, nothing in the world can ever replace the wholesome sensory experience of enjoying a good meal real time, even as our senses come alive to the sight, aromas, textures and sounds of a live kitchen.

The one attribute that sets Chef Banerjee apart from the rest of her tribe is the personal attention she devotes to every guest. She flits around the entire dining hall, at times personally mixing the magical phuchka filling to the guests’s satisfaction, or taking them on a guided tour through her handcrafted menu, her play with spices and herbs writ large on the fare she puts out. Chef Banerjee’s energy and vivacity is truly infectious, her culinary creations “something to live for,” as a friend at the table put it.

A very Happy New Year to all of you out there!

(Please reach out for the May Edition of our magazine Exotica for a detailed story on the above)

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