Monday, 30th October 2017

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Deli belly

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By Chef Joymalya Banerjee has opened a takeaway with a difference, says Rahul Verma PHOTOGRAPHS BY RASHBEHARI DAS
  • Published 6.06.10
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It’s not often that you hear a chef hold forth on the Grateful Dead. But then Chef Joymalya Banerjee likes to spring these surprises on you. I remember our first meeting in Calcutta several years ago. A common friend had then told me that apart from food, we had another shared interest — and that was music. Chef Joy, I was told, was a Deadhead.

The man has gone and surprised me again. This time, he has actually started his own venture — a dream that I often hear people voice, but few end up realising. Some years ago, Chef Joy (who was then the mainstay of the Oh! Calcutta chain of restaurants) had told me that he planned to open some kind of an eatery of his own. He talked about it off and on, and then I got a mail from him a few weeks ago. He had started Chef Joy’s Deli — a takeaway with a difference in Calcutta.

Royal Bengal mutton roast with bhuna sauce

I’ll tell you why it’s different. At first glance, you’ll think he has the usual sandwiches, burgers, submarines and pastas. But if you look closely you will find that the dishes are a beautiful amalgamation of flavours. You would not expect the Bengali panchphoron — a mix of five traditional spices — in an asparagus wrapped fish and prawn mousse, would you? But that’s exactly what he has on offer — a mousse of bekti and prawns wrapped around an asparagus stem, and topped with a garlic and panchphoron sauce. And he serves this with a bori pilaf — which is a pilaf peppered with dried dal balls that are usually found in Bengali mixed vegetables and fish curries.

Panchphoron mousse

Chef Joy stresses he has always wanted to break the rules. I can imagine him in his mother’s kitchen, simmering plump pieces of rahu in a white sauce or mixing chochori vegetables with a mustard sauce. His deli does include a vegetable mélange with garlic, coriander and spicy mango cream. “Why can’t I combine ingredients and create combinations that people thought were impossible,” he asks.

So it’s not a surprise any more when I find that one of his desserts is a mousse flavoured with panchphoron, and another is a gondhoraj soufflé. The gondhoraj is a lime with a beautiful flavour that once blossomed in my father- in-law’s garden. It’s a fruit that lends itself to all kinds of food and drinks — squeeze it over a dish of light masoor dal served with rice, or in a tall glass of mojito, and you will know what I am talking about. The gondhoraj figures in his seafood section as well — with prawns flavoured with gondhoraj in coconut cream.

I can see that the chef is breaking a lot of rules — and clearly enjoying every moment of it. His poultry section includes a bacon-wrapped chicken supreme bundle cooked with a mango mustard reduction, and steamed chicken breast with a curry emulsion enriched by radhuni, which is again a typically Bengali spice known for its subtle yet flavourful aroma.

Chef Banerjee

He cooks a keema pie with garlic and coriander, roasts mutton and serves it with a bhuna sauce, grills a hamburger steak with asafoetida and fennel, stuffs spicy potatoes, fries green tomatoes and cooks chicken strips with aam kasundi — that piquant mango mustard sauce that you get in many departmental stores these days.

The deli — it’s in Old Ballygunge — was meant to have started operating from the Bengali new year in April, but was deferred by a few days. And while the dream was always there in him, taking root and branching out over the years, it took him only three months to put the menu together.

The dishes that he has conjured up are a part of his palate memory. He had seen hing (asafoetida) and saunf being put in a dal, and that worked with his hamburger. He also wanted to take Bengali food “forward” — so he tweaked a dish here and there (adding a new flavour to chingri malai curry, for instance) – and came up with a whole new menu.

The chef tells me that there has been quite a good response to the takeaway. And that should keep him going because if there’s one thing that eggs him on, it’s good feedback. “Adulation is my oxygen,” he says.

Well, if all goes well, he’s going to get a heady dose of oxygen with his innovative dishes. And, like the Dead sang (he has 36 of their albums!), he is going to wake up to find out that he is the eyes of the world.       

Cabbage dolmades with green tomato and kalojeere (black cumin) vinaigrette (serves 3)

Ingredients

For dolmades: • 6 cabbage leaves • 50g cooked basmati rice • 30g finely diced and blanched carrots • 20g finely diced and blanched beans • 30g finely diced and boiled potato • 15g chopped mint leaves • 15g green chilli paste • 15g soaked raisins • 3g kalo jeere powder • 10ml lime juice • salt and sugar to taste • 20ml ghee • 3g green chilli pickle • 20g grated cheese

For the vinaigrette: • 100ml green tomato puree • 150ml cream • sugar and salt to taste • 60ml kalo jeere oil • 20g green chilli paste • 5g kalo jeere powder • 2g whole kalo jeere • 20ml refined oil

Method

Heat oil in a pan and temper with kalo jeere. Add the green tomato puree and reduce heat to a minimum. Simmer till the tomato is cooked. Add seasonings and half the cream. Cook for 45 minutes till flavours are concentrated. Cool and strain with a fine cheese cloth. Keep aside. Blanch the cabbage leaves in salted water and chill in iced water. Drain and trim the frayed edges. In a mixing bowl, lightly mix the remaining ingredients for the dolmades. Refrigerate for an hour.

Divide the filling into six equal portions. Add a portion of the filling on each cabbage leaf and roll tightly, tucking in the edges. Repeat the procedure. Steam the rolls in a steamer for about eight minutes.

Pour the green tomato mixture in a pan. Dilute with cream and simmer. Add kalo jeere powder and season. Remove the cabbage rolls from the steamer and arrange on a tray. Add kalo jeere oil to the green tomato mixture and whip with a hand blender. Pour over the cabbage rolls and serve as an appetiser.