Meet Madhumita Mohanta, the only lady executive chef at a star hotel in town

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By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 3.04.14

She still loves Shiraz biryani. She still loves the feel of New Market. And she still loves buying fish fresh from the local market.

Back in Calcutta after more than a decade, chef Madhumita Mohanta is The Lalit Great Eastern’s executive chef. Make that the only lady executive chef in a star hotel in Calcutta. A t2 chat...

On being Bengali: No one can make out I’m one because of my good Hindi accent. Having grown up eating upma, samosa and dosa from my south Indian and Marwari best friends, I was never too Bengali. I am what they call the probashi Bengali.

Connect with The Lalit Great Eastern: Since my dad was with Coal India, we would stay at the Great Eastern in the late ’80s. The old section had a terrace area that was chequered where we would play kit-kit and the interiors had grand red carpets...

People called me petuk: I loved food right from the very beginning. Now people call it foodie but at that time they called it petuk! I would always taste everything — hot or cold — I just had to poke my finger in! You can make that out from my size (smiles).

A food street she loves: Chiang Mai in Thailand. Like you have nokul dana and batasha outside Kalighat temple, they sell insects like grasshoppers and cockroaches in Chiang Mai. It’s like kurkura with sweet chilli! Like in China, they have shops that serve snakes. They simply slit the neck and pour the warm blood for you to drink.

On meeting Michael Schumacher: In Bahrain, I was in this beautiful property spread across 26 acres and we had 20 VIP villas. To be a personal chef to a VIP, you had to be a sous chef onwards because a guest could order anything. All the girls told me, “You’re going there! Click a picture with Schumacher!” Ritz is very strict about this, so obviously I couldn’t... plus, I wasn’t a big F1 fan. When I first met him, he had on very short shorts and was a little surprised to see a lady. He said, “Hi, I’m Michael”, and I said, “Hi, I’m your chef for the day. How may I help you?” All he had was three whites and one egg yolk and a few glasses of juice. He asked if I watched F1 and when I said that I didn’t, he was very happy! “Good, we can talk about other things then,” he said. I was his chef for three years after that, each time they had the race in Bahrain.

When they win, there are no boundaries. I remember the pool was filled with champagne, there were women and wine and the party went on till 4am.

On cooking for the crown prince of Bahrain: No one usually comes to the kitchen area. One day, when the royal family of Bahrain was staying with us, this boy walked in, said “Hi!” and jumped up on the kitchen ledge. I was new to the country, my only introduction to the Arabs being through Tintin! While we were chatting, someone entered, bowed down and kissed his hand. I asked him why and he said, “I’m the crown prince!” and I was like, “Really?!” We became good friends after that. And because he was a good friend of Michael Jackson, I remember Jackson coming to the hotel once for the ceremony where the singer was converted to Islam. It was a very hush-hush thing.

Plans for The Lalit Great Eastern: To become the market leader.

Text: Karo Christine Kumar

Picture: Rashbehari Das