|(From top) Chef Yvonnick Jegat Deniau checks out fish at Gariahat Market with Nondon; the duo at the vegetable market; Yvonnick at work in The Park kitchen. Pictures by Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya and Rashbehari Das
Way back in 1967, I made a deal with my mother. She was to give me the princely sum of Rs 900 and I was to do the daily bazaar for the month, and I promised her that there would be some change left over at the end of 30 days.
The deal did not include things like rice, lentils, flour and spices because these were not bought on a daily basis. We were a family of five and true to my word I was able to give mother back some money at the end of the month.
Lake Market was where we shopped. It was at a tender age that I discovered the joys of marketing in Calcutta ' a tradition among the menfolk in Bengali families (I was just a young lad, and it made me feel grown up).
The beautifully arranged vegetables in all their glorious colours, the fruit stalls equally beckoning, the untold varieties of fish, the noise, the chaos, the bargaining sometimes verging on becoming a serious argument ' it was great.
Even today, leaving the house with a couple of marketing bags tucked under the arm and heading for the market with no hurry involved, is a pleasure.
'Back home, the marketplace in the morning is a good place to socialise,' says Yvonnick Jegat Deniau, executive chef at The Park, who hails from Britanny, in France. 'You have a coffee and a bit of chinwag with friends and acquaintances and then you go about the business of marketing before going off into the kitchen.'
We were in Gariahat Market; it was 7.30 am. The idea was to shop, go into the kitchen, create a meal and then eat. A simple scheme, but full of possibilities because there was no pre-planned menu. It was take it as it moves along.
First we had tea. There were no friends or acquaintances to bump into that day, but Sanjoy the photographer was with us and there was a bit of banter with the fish mongers from whom I often buy fish.
They had sent for the tea and although we did no business with them that morning, they would not accept any money. That done, we had a good look around the fish market and then went to buy the vegetables.
Yvonnick held up a potol. 'What's this' 'That's wax gourd. You might have heard of it as parwal.'
Like all vegetables in the gourd family, it has soft flesh inside and seeds along the centre. That there is snake gourd (chichinge), that's ridge gourd (jhinge) and that's white gourd (lau ).
'We'll take some time,' he said, so we got half a kilo of potol.
'And this' ' holding up a kumro phool. 'That's the flower of the pumpkin plant. We dip it in batter and fry it to a crisp.'
'We'll take some,' he said, so we got a dozen kumro phool. I had no idea what Yvonnick planned to do with these.
My role was observer and chronicler. We picked up some standard stuff like tomatoes, coriander leaves and lime, then headed back to the fish market to buy four small bekti (totalling just under two kilos), and about a dozen medium-sized tiger prawns. On the way out, a couple of kilos of gulab khas mangoes.
'Take your time, and join me at the hotel at about half-10,' said Yvonnick. 'By then the chopping and cleaning will be done.'
In the main kitchen of The Park at 11ish, all was set. 'The starter first. French cuisine with Bengali products,' Yvonnick said, as he sauteed the potol (de-seeded and finely chopped), onion, garlic, tomato (all finely chopped) and basil pesto sauce (basil, pine nuts, parmesan cheese and garlic blended together in olive oil) together over a strong flame. When this was cooked, he put it aside to cool.
Out came the pumpkin blossoms, washed and stamens removed. The mixture described above was put inside, at the bottom of each flower; a whole prawn, marinated in salt, pepper and lime juice, also went into each flower, tail sticking out a little. We bound them up with twine and the stuffed flowers were steamed over a mixture of stock and white wine.
When cooked, they were arranged three to a plate, the vegetable stuffing serving also as a garnish, and the sauce smeared on the plate was a reduction of the stock wine mixture along with butter, lime juice and basil pesto.
This starter was a miracle of rare device, a true example of creative cooking.
And fortune favours the brave, for it worked well; the prawns had absorbed the fragrances of the blossoms and the marinade, the vegetable stuffing gave it body and an unusual but compatible character because of the wax gourd.
'Pleasantly surprised by the result,' was Yvonnick's comment.
The main course was also a steamed item. Bekti fillets marinated with ground white pepper, salt and lemon juice were rolled up and served with toothpicks.
These were placed on a bed of vegetables (onions, tomatoes, ginger, garlic and coriander leaves, all chopped).
White wine was poured in, to a depth not exceeding the vegetable bed, so the fish were steamed over boiling wine. When served, the bekti fillets were served with a sauce made from the same stock formed while cooking, reduced with a little cream and butter.
Vegetable accompaniments with the main course were roasted aubergine pulp panfried with sun-dried tomatoes and garlic, and crushed potatoes with burnt garlic and olive oil.
Dessert was the fresh gulab khas diced and served in a sauce made by beating egg yolk, white wine and sugar in a bowl held over boiling water, along with a scoop of mango ice cream. Fresh Mango Sabayon.
A fascinating journey from start to finish, as observer and chronicler and most importantly, as partaker.
Yvonnick's expertise in conjouring up course by course set meals was also in evidence on his arrival about a year ago; it should happen more often, and for a larger audience.
At present, The Atrium menu has some of his specials on it. Two personal favourites are the Chicken Liver Mousse (a starter) and the Red Snapper Fillet in Tuscany style.