December 04, 2019 7 min read
Priyam grew up in the cultural capital of the British raj India: “I come from the household of exceptional cooks holding on to recipes dating back to the early 19th century, my grandmother’s uncle ruled the 24 province of Bengal and food from that time, especially sweets, hold a very big significance in our family. My mother comes from the province of “noakhali” from Bangladesh and her cooking style and ethos are completely different and unique than the taste of the Calcutta cuisine style.
As a child I was raised eating two distinctive cuisines at home. My mother cooked traditional Bengali classics and my aunts fed me the modern gastro dishes Calcutta was evolving at that time. Family meals and gatherings were a regular affair at home and hospitality runs in our blood followed by art, music singing and dancing every three or four days a week and of course the madness of good, good food!
These are my early stages of growing up: Eventually I was sent to a British boarding school at the age of 12 and this is where my learning of farming and gardening began, it was compulsory for us to learn gardening and had our hands with soil and animals and farming. As a child this was a very intense moment for me because the memories; I recall actually planting the seeds of strawberries and cherries and watching them grow during season. Plucking guavas and peaches and eating with friends taught me the importance of eating good nutritious food.
I finished school with no other dreams but to join the army so cuisine was nowhere in the scenario for me, although I began cooking with my mother and sister from the age of 13, helping them and learning how to cut and process fish and etc., but this wasn’t a time when I pictured cuisine as a professional job. I guess, however, destiny had something else in store for me when I landed my left ankle into a major injury and my dreams of army shattered. I spoke to my mum and decided to pursue a degree in hotel management because it was unique, and I didn’t want to be with a group with people that does the same things. That’s how I was introduced to the world of gastronomy.
Even then, although I was interested in cuisine, I was not too sure until my first internship with the PARK HYATT hotels. It is here where I completely fell in love with food, the culture, and the life. The pain and the pleasure of it, the politics that break you and the politics that make you who you are; are everything! I had begun to just soak in everything, and I was in love. During this time, I was heavily into professional music and had a band in which we played gigs almost thrice a week. I have been playing drums for about 16 years now and we had a blast. I finished college and began looking for jobs but during that time music had become a very serious hobby. I had to make a decision and finally decided that I had to get back to my profession. It was a very tough decision, to give up playing professionally and before I could get over this shock, I had a breakup! That break up sealed it for me that I would become a cook, so I went to the most remote corner of India and started to train In a small hotel like a normal kid who was entering the industry although my sister had already made a big name for herself in the culinary field.
I worked there day in and day out for 8 months before I was absorbed by the PARK HYATT HYDERABAD pre-opening. They were the first Park Hyatt brand coming to India and it was a grand opportunity I couldn’t miss. At the hotel I met my two chefs and my career took off, I learnt butchery and garden manger to begin with and slowly moved to main kitchens to play a la carte. The first and foremost thought process was to learn one cuisine in and out. I was spending a lot of time with chef Jean-Claude Fugier, my god father, and a person responsible for making me the cook I am today. With him I was introduced to the philosophy and culture of France and her people her ethos and value systems.
My chef taught me that cooking is secondary and its labor work, understanding what we do and why we do it was what makes all the difference.
My foundations began with French classic and moved gradually to more haute cuisine and nouvelle cuisine with the chef. I eventually moved out from Hyatt in order to pursue a career with Fauchon Paris to open their flagship boutique in Oman. At Fauchon, although I was the sous chef for the kitchen, I spent many, many extra hours learning pastry and breads because I didn’t want miss out on this amazing opportunity. This experience brought me closer to the exposure of ingredients and more techniques. Upon finishing my stint with Fauchon I worked with two other French establishments before coming back to New Delhi where I took charge of this fine dining restaurant called Qla and ran it for three years before moving with opening ROOH New Delhi, the Michelin recommended restaurant brand from America."
Q1: What have been some of the most pivotal moments in your career? How does it feel to know that you are the first Indian chef to receive the Chevalier de l’Ordre du Mérite Agricole, or the grade of Knight, in the Order of Agricultural Merit since it was instituted in 1833, 186 years ago?
A: The most important moment for me was what I would consider “the start.” The time when my, then girlfriend, broke it off with me, that’s when I decided for the first time that it’s time to get serious and pursue my career goals. I honestly think I owe where I’m at now to her. Second and forever important will be chef Jean-Claude my mentor, my god father in cuisine.
Wining any award is the direct reaction of experiences the experience curated by an artist, when that happens I feel privileged to touch so many hearts but I don't take it to my head. Getting the knighthood to be honest still has not sunk in, I am the living the dream but a dream I passionately worked ten years for.
Q2: Chefs are true artist, using food as a medium to display their expertise. In addition to this you are also a traditional artist as well as a musician (drummer). What inspired you to pursue these additional skills and how often are you able to enjoy them?
A: To tell you the truth, I started cooking and serving at family gatherings since I was just 12 years old or for as far back as I can remember. My family heritage is royalty, so hospitality is ingrained in my family, but growing up I just wanted to join the army and nothing else.
I kept cooking on, and even though I am a Bengali boy I come from a house of poets, writers, dancers, and musicians so art has always been a part of me and my life. I myself am a painter, sketch artist, and a drummer and as you know, a songwriter. Before becoming a cook, I was a professional drummer and I still try to make time for music and painting, no matter how busy I am.
Q3: After introducing New Dehli to a never before seen dining approach, utilizing and balancing creativity and taste; have you noticed other chefs adapting to that new benchmark and style you’ve developed and introduced? What inspires you when creating these new dishes and how have you successfully meshed French cuisine and Indian influences?
A: Yes, at the time what I had brought to the New Delhi eating scene, no one else was thinking or creating the same. We introduced a new creative curiosity and it was nice to see others coming out and trying new things and appreciating each other. For me, inspiration comes from anywhere and almost everywhere. I am an avid artist; I see nature, societies beauty, and that inspires me to provide an edible perspective.
I believe in provoking a thought process through edible art. I grew up in Calcutta eating old school French classics at home made by my aunts. My mum is of Bangladesh heritage, so she brings in her blend of gastronomy in the family. My first chef mentor was French, as well as my second so I have been cooking the cuisine for ten years. The French and Bengali way of cooking and eating culture is very much the same and after understanding the depth of both the cuisines I wanted to blend the two.
Q4: As an artist, you are sharing your message and raising awareness through your food. For example, ‘MOTHER AMAZONIA, PRAYERS FOR YOU’ on your Instagram page highlighting climate change. Could you share some more dishes and their messages with our audience?
Q5: For someone who has been so successful in recent years we’d love to know what goals or accomplishments you hope to achieve in the future.
A: Success? I am far from it but thank you for being kind. I hope to continue inspiring and imparting everything I create and everything that I know to the younger generation of cooks.
I want to continue being the mad maverick and perhaps stand outside of my restaurant, soon earn my two stars in the Michelin guide, and welcome you all wearing your chef jacket, and I will say “amen” to that.
If you're interested in learning more about chef Priyam Chatterjee you can visit him on Instagram @priyamchatterjeeofficial to get a glimpse of his life.
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