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Chef Vicky Ratnani tells about Kosha Mangsho Burger, his Atlantic moments and the importance of local bazaars

t2 sat down for a chat with the renowned chef about Calcutta, the experience of turning vegetarian, writing a book and more

Debanjoli Nandi | Published 27.10.23, 12:07 PM
Chef Vicky in the kitchen of Speak Burgers’s new outlet in Novotel Kolkata — Hotel and Residences

Chef Vicky in the kitchen of Speak Burgers’s new outlet in Novotel Kolkata — Hotel and Residences

Picture: Pabitra Das

As juicy, loaded burgers arrived one after another, from the swank kitchen of the gourmet fast-food brand Speak Burgers — on the ground floor of Novotel Kolkata — Hotel and Residences in New Town — by Vicky Ratnani, t2 sat down for a chat with the renowned chef about Calcutta, the experience of turning vegetarian, writing a book and more. Excerpts.


It’s great to have Speak Burgers in Calcutta. Tell us about some of the signature offerings of the brand.

When I look at the burger brands in India, every burger is very different. If there is a chicken patty, the patty is the same and only the sauces change, which makes it a different burger. Here, the marination of the patty is different, the sauces are different. We make pickles in-house. Our signature mango jalapeno ketchup is made in-house. We do beautiful barbecue and smoked Korean Chicken Wings. For Calcutta, I am offering Fish and Chips Burger and Kosha Mangsho Burger. Among vegetarian options, there are Portobello Mushroom and Pepper Burger, the Mexicano made with kidney beans, corn and chipotle chillies, and the Bohemian, which has beetroot and black beans with feta cheese, to name a few. Our USP is the use of spices and good quality ingredients that make these burgers wholesome.

Why did you choose Novotel to open your Calcutta outlet?

I have done many events here in the past. The management loved my products. I think they thought my brand would be ideal to be a part of the hotel.

How has the journey to the City of Joy been so far?

I’ve been coming to Calcutta over the years on different occasions. I have been to different cities. I moved back to India about 13 years ago. I’ve travelled a lot to Delhi, Bangalore and other places. Calcutta carries a sentimental value for me because two of my very dear friends who I grew up with are Bengalis. I love Bengali food. The city is free-spirited. I think Bengalis are down-to-earth people. They’re very proud and loyal to their traditions. This is one of the few cities left in India that has retained an intellectual charm. They’re lost in time and somewhere it brings a freshness to me because I’m too used to skyscrapers and glass buildings. Calcutta is a great amalgamation of old-world charm and the adaptation of the new.

Are you incorporating any local culinary influences in your offerings here?

We have a Kosha Mangsho Burger, then we have a burger made with bhetki, fried in a crispy way and modelled on the English-style fish and chips. Veggistan is very close to our railway cutlet or veg chop. We use kasundi in our burgers.

You have worked with 37 nationalities and cooked for the late Queen Elizabeth II and Nelson Mandela....

I have worked on many cruise ships, including the iconic ocean liner Cunard. This company has a lot of history. And with history came a lot of classical cooking, different nationalities, travelling around the world. I think the whole circumnavigating the world, working with 37 different nationalities, and making various kinds of European and international food have groomed me into who I am today. There is a vast repertoire of food that I do. One memorable experience would be when we were sailing from Southhampton to New York. This was during the 9/11 attacks in the US. We had to stop in the middle of the Atlantic until the situation eased up. I have had to deal with a lot of crises in the middle of the Atlantic several times. It happened once that our ship was almost hit by a tidal wave. So these are the memories that have made me a very strong person. On duty, I have fed the who’s who of America, from Beyonce to Antonio Banderas, Gloria Estefan and Donald Trump (at that time he was not the US president). That has given me a chance to work with different kinds of ingredients, very exotic ingredients.

What do you think should be the foundation of any type of cooking?

It starts with seasonal produce and quality ingredients. Before you start cooking, you must have the right kind of ingredients. And you should be able to cook them and eat them and feed people at the time when the ingredients are in season. That’s the basic philosophy of cooking. A lot of my menus change with the season. Then comes integrity, cooking techniques and know-how. One should know how not to manipulate the real flavours of any food.

What is your comfort food?

I am a Sindhi. I love Sindhi Kadhi, biryani, Rajma Chawal and Pav Bhaji.

You turned vegetarian at one point and wrote a book. What was the experience like?

It changed my life. I was asked to do a show on vegetarian food, which is not Indian or Asian. I do most of the recipes for my cooking show, including the research. For a person who’s travelled and worked 19 years of his career abroad and always worked in Western kitchens, it became hard for me not to think non-veg. In order to get into the whole creative process, the first thing I did was eradicate meat from my mind. I started imagining that there was no meat or fish in my kitchen. There was this whole transformation when I started consuming more vegetables and getting creative with vegetables. Then my book went on to bag the Gourmand award for the best vegetarian cookbook. Vicky Goes Veg is a very popular show even today. A lot of people still remember me by that show. It does not feel like the book happened 10 years back.

Where do you feel the most comfortable?

I feel comfortable working in any environment. When people ask me why I don’t open a restaurant, I tell them I am the restaurant. I am a mobile, asset-free restaurant. I am a restaurant that does not have tables and chairs. I come to the hotel and I launch my menu and I train the staff. We serve the food for the week, two weeks, two months.

You have worked in many exotic locations. What are your favourite travel and culinary destinations?

When I’m looking to eat, pray and love, I like Amritsar. When it comes to eating, adventure and fun, I like Thailand and Vietnam. Peru and Argentina are exotic for both culinary and travel delights.

You are known for your market tours. What’s your take on Calcutta’s bazaars?

I have been to all the bazaars here. Gariahat has a beautiful market. Then there is the one in Lansdowne. I love Manicktala fish market. If you ever want to know about the people of any place, just go to the local market. As a chef or as a cook, you have to learn every day. I always tell chefs, upcoming cooks, passionate cooks, and young chefs that if you want to learn about ethnic local fish, which you will not find in any school book or textbook or anywhere else, and the kind of leaves and vegetables the way these are used in Bengal, you will not find it anywhere. There are very typical things which are not eaten everywhere. For example, the leaves of the pumpkin are not eaten everywhere. There’s a lot to explore... Bengali food, Awadhi food... Bangladeshi influences.....

Tell us about your upcoming projects.

I have a beautiful restaurant coming up in Delhi. There are also a few upcoming consulting projects in Calcutta, but it is too early to talk about them.

Last updated on 27.10.23, 12:08 PM

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