From its conception in 2017, to its expansion in both Hong Kong and India, Gormei has been dedicated to crafting ‘extraordinary’ culinary experiences by collaborating with chefs and restaurants. Argha Sen, a Bengali from Kolkata, who moved to Hong Kong 17 years ago, has been running the platform for six years, but it is only after the pandemic, with the boom of home chefs, that it seems to have found its sweet spot. Some of the Kolkata chefs collaborating with Gormei are Katherine Chung and Sima Ahmed, and noted food historian Pritha Sen.
Regional home chefs from Kolkata who have collaborated with Gormei
Katherine Chung: Kolkata-based Katherine Chung made her passion a profession when she opened a home kitchen in 2020. She brings a progressive twist to Hakka Chinese cuisine, drawing inspiration from her family’s recipes. Embracing the tagline, “I am not a noodle”, Chung redefines traditional Hakka dishes and presents them in exciting and contemporary ways. Her cultural crossover was in the limelight at her pop-up at The Pullman New Delhi Aerocity this month, where she used Bengal’s chitol maachh to make a steamed fish dish, Chinese-Hakka style.
Sima Ahmed: Sima’s Kitchen Secrets is well known for its stellar Awadhi cuisine from her home kitchen in Kolkata, from Gosht Biryani to seasonal Nalli Nihari. She traces her culinary roots to mediaeval Yemen. Recently, Sima has been cooking in the Cloud Chef AI kitchen in Mumbai, recreating her kebabs for an audience in the US.
Pritha Sen: Originally from Kolkata and now based in Singapore, food historian and chef Pritha Sen’s culinary creations reached San Francisco through Gormei’s collab with Cloud Chef. Cloud Chef recreates dishes from iconic global chefs and restaurants by collaborating with them.
My Kolkata has a chat with the man who’s taking Indian regional chefs places, and takes a look at the stellar home chefs associated with Gormei.
My Kolkata: What’s the story behind the concept and the name of Gormei?
Argha Sen: The whole focus of Gormei is crafting extraordinary culinary experiences. ‘Extraordinary’ is the word. We strive to avoid anything ordinary or commonplace. The name Gormei is a play on the word gourmet. It also holds meaning in Chinese, where gormei translates to beautiful food. That apart, when I was searching for domain names, gourmet.com was already taken!
How did your transition from marketing and advertising to the food industry happen? What led to the idea of Gormei?
After working in advertising in India, I relocated to Hong Kong around 17 years ago. In Hong Kong, I held a regional marketing role for Toys R Us, overseeing operations in 18 Asian countries. Despite my successful corporate career, my true passions lay in food and travel. During a break from advertising, I had the opportunity to write about beer for the South China Morning Post, which allowed me to explore cuisines around the world. After returning to Hong Kong, I co-founded a secret supper club called Once Upon A Table. This unique dining experience gained media attention and sparked my interest in the culinary scene. Although many suggested I open a restaurant in Hong Kong, I know from my friends in the F&B industry that it’s a recipe for madness, given the high occupancy costs! However, I knew I wanted to pursue something food-related, and that’s when the idea of Gormei emerged.
Tell us more about the ‘timed booking’ hook in Once Upon a Table…
We started the private supper club Once Upon a Table around 2012 in Hong Kong. This concept involved taking over someone’s home where we, a group of three or four, would prepare an eclectic menu. We would announce the dinner online, and precisely at 12 o’clock (noon), interested diners had to rush and book their seats. This technique of timed bookings was inspired by a chef in New York, and it generated significant buzz. The thing is that if you can’t get something, you want it even more, so our sold-out events became highly sought after.
What is Gormei’s current focus and scope of operations?
In Hong Kong, Gormei collaborates with various chefs, restaurants, and establishments to curate specialised dining experiences. These include underground dinners and unique whiskey and chocolate pairings. Our goal is to create culinary events that captivate and tell a story. We have also expanded our presence beyond Hong Kong, hosting events in Singapore, Dubai, and Melbourne.
In addition to our Hong Kong operations, we have Gormei in India. In India, we focus on regional cuisine because that’s where we feel the treasures of Indian cuisine are hidden. We seek out talented chefs specialising in regional cuisines such as Awadhi, Oriya, Himachali, Nagaland, Bengali, Hakka Chinese, and South Indian. We work closely with these chefs, delve into their stories, build their stories and then we showcase their expertise through pop-ups and dining experiences. We collaborate with leading hotels and restaurants, like Masque in Mumbai, currently one of India’s top-rated restaurants. We have events at The Pullman New Delhi Aerocity, the Sheraton Grand in Bangalore and Alila Fort in Jaipur. In Kolkata, we have a good partnership with The Glenburn Penthouse.
How large is your team, and how do you operate?
We are not a huge company; we prefer to maintain an artisanal approach. In Hong Kong, we have a dedicated team, whereas in India, we operate on a consulting basis, hiring individuals for specific projects. Additionally, we have access to a panel of experts whom we can tap into for various projects as needed.
Who are some of the chefs you have collaborated with?
We are constantly bringing experiences and influences from around the world to India. One of our recent collaborations was with Italian-American chef Vinny Lauria, whom I have worked with extensively in Hong Kong. His cuisine is specifically Italian-American, which creates a unique dining experience. Another collaboration was with Spanish chef Alex Fargas at Magazine Street Kitchen in Mumbai, which was received well because Spanish cuisine is not widely explored in India.
In terms of taking Indian cuisine abroad, we have taken our south Indian chef Prima Kurien to Singapore for a three-week pop-up. We also have plans to showcase our Naga chef, Alistair Lethorn, in Hong Kong and Singapore, Himachali-Punjabi chef Sherry Mehta, and others like Rachit Kirteeman, who is a fantastic Oriya chef.
What is the common thread between your clientele across India?
We are developing a dedicated foodie clientele across India. Even in Kolkata, we have a small but loyal following. What defines our clientele is their international connections. They have either worked, lived, studied, or extensively travelled abroad. As soon as we announce our dinners in Kolkata, they quickly sell out primarily to this audience.
What’s next on the Gormei calendar?
We have some exciting events lined up. In July, we are bringing in Native, a top bar from Singapore that is currently ranked among the world’s top 10 bars, to Mumbai and Pune. They specialise in fermentations and distillations. Additionally, in September, we are hosting a global sake master for an all-India tour, offering a unique experience for sake enthusiasts. We are also collaborating with a Peruvian chef who will be visiting us soon.