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The young and fresh faces on Kolkata’s home-chef landscape

From cheesecake to comfort food, these chefs have all your cravings covered

Ramona Sen | Published 17.09.21, 12:32 PM

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You know that feeling of scrolling down your Instagram feed, wishing that delicious brownie would just come to life? These days, it’s almost that easy! With all the young bakers on Instagram, all it takes is one DM, and later that week voila, you’re digging right into that fantasy cake… or quiche! My Kolkata caught up with some of the city’s finest young chefs – Vanita Tondon, Bijoyini Sarkar, Zareen Desai and Samir Aamir tell us what they’ve been whisking up lately. 

Brown’s by Vanita Tondon

Vanita Tondon

Vanita Tondon

The Brown’s menu sells out almost as soon as Vanita posts on Instagram. 

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The 38-year-old attributes this to the fact that, a year into her business, she realised she needed to upskill; being entirely self-taught, all her food looked very amateur. Off she went to France, to École Lenôtre in Paris, for a course which was tailor-made for people already in the business and had experience of a patisserie. “They ran a bunch of cafes and restaurants in Paris, as well as in the outskirts, which is where the school was, adjacent to their factory. We would go to the factory and see the production process for the cafes… it was a huge learning experience,” explained the young chef. 

Vanita, who is particularly fond of creating entremets (layered cake, served cold), was able to learn how to set a mousse cake with different layers of crunch. Learning to pack a flavour into bite-sized dessert as well as create different types of finishing, such as mirror glaze and velvet coating, were some of the tools she picked up in France. 

Back in India, the challenge was to source ingredients she needed and build a reliable supply chain. Once that was done, Vanita has always leapt at any opportunity to broaden the horizons of her kitchen. She recently added sushi to her menu after a course at The Oberoi Grand and is trying to perfect the cheung fun – “I’m Gujju. We make Khandvi. It’s basically the same technique… it's a steam. So, I thought it would work but it didn't. I think it needs a different container,” she laughed. 

 

What you must order: 

This berry entremet tart which promises an explosion of flavours and textures while the bread-and-egg with a twist is perfect for brunch!

This berry entremet tart which promises an explosion of flavours and textures while the bread-and-egg with a twist is perfect for brunch!

@browns_foodwithlove/Instagram

3B’s Gourmet Food by Bijoyini Sarkar

Besides having inherited the responsibility of Taaja’s from her mother Bibi Sarkar, Bijoyini also runs her own brand, 3B’s Gourmet Food. She’s always wanted to be a chef. In fact, she’s been in the kitchen for as long as she can remember, chopping vegetables on her high chair and later taking an interest in school bake sales. “I grew up in a restaurant atmosphere... the kitchen, the baking, the food, the cakes, everything.” She started taking weekend orders when she was 15, and now it’s become her life. She sends orders around the country, mailing the non-perishable items via Blue Dart or FedEx. 

Bijoyini’s busiest days are the weekend, so she likes to take Monday off to spend time with her family. She recommends sandwiches, quiches, pies and cupcakes if one is gathering for high tea. “There was a time that I only wanted to bake cakes. But of course I saw the food my parents were serving every day and learnt to love making that too!” she laughed. “Even now, I don't really like regular ghar ka khana. We cook Bengali food in the afternoon but then I’ll rustle up a continental or Thai dish at night.”

 

Bijoyini has a hands-on approach in her kitchen; she believes that people can always tell the difference when she’s made a pie or a cake herself. “I like to be involved in everything, even the shopping. I have one help who used to be my babysitter, so she’s been part of the journey too,” explained the young baker, who dreams of opening a cafe and a bakery one day. The pandemic has put a hole in her plans, besides having also made it difficult for her to procure the kind of ingredients she needs. But Bijoyini remains enthusiastic about the future because she knows her “world will always revolve around food.”

 

What you must order:

The quiche never gets old and the lemon tart is a classic.

The quiche never gets old and the lemon tart is a classic.

@joyeebijoyini/Instagram

Zee’s Coffee Shop by Zareen Desai

Zareen Desai

Zareen Desai

The first time Zareen Desai cooked meat – Mutton Bhuna – she charred it. But her dad – the famous Indian tennis player and her biggest champion – Akhtar Ali, ate it anyway! And what’s more, declared he loved it and paid her Rs 50 for the dish. And that’s how the ball… er marinade… started to roll. “When I was growing up, there would be many picnics, there was always a lot of food involved,” reminisced Zareen. She dabbled in fashion designing and photography before she realised that she was happiest when she was in the kitchen. “I realised, this is my calling. I’m never too tired or too upset to cook.” 

“Cooking is so much about recrafting memories. My husband travels a lot, so he comes back with memories of food that I try to recreate. He loves his dessert, which makes him my biggest critic.” Zareen, a certified Barista from Le Cordon Bleu, Bangkok, finds herself open to constructive criticism. For instance, a client suggested she flambé the pineapple on her upside-down cake instead of leaving it raw, and it did in fact make it better. For Zareen, now 35, every item on that first menu told her story – the chilli cheese toast reminded her of the snacks she’d dig into at Calcutta South Club, while the caramel custard harked back to dinners at The Saturday Club. 

Zee’s Coffee Shop is in its fourth year now, but the kitchen has always been in Zareen’s house. The noteworthy feature of Zee’s Coffee Shop menu is that it’s all inspired by cherished family recipes. Zareen, a Muslim woman with a Parsi mother-in-law in a mostly-Gujarati family, found herself in a melting pot, ripe for dishes ranging from Poha to Patrani Machchi. “I’m always on the lookout for recipes. If I go anywhere, to anybody’s house, and I like something, I actually ask them for the recipe, whether they want to give it or not!” 

 

What you must order:

This baked lemon tart is what you need on the side with coffee. As for the Cheese Chilli Toast, when the chef recommends it, you have to have it!

This baked lemon tart is what you need on the side with coffee. As for the Cheese Chilli Toast, when the chef recommends it, you have to have it!

@zeescoffeeshop/Instagram

Sam’s Cheesecake by Samir Aamir

Samir Aamir

Samir Aamir

Samir Aamir has always had a massive sweet tooth, and when he was visiting New York, his favourite stop was The Cheesecake Factory. So it stands to reason, when the pandemic shut the world down, he would take to baking cheesecake. “My dad’s uncle, who I’m very close to, insisted I learn how to cook. I started baking at home and sending him stuff. I guess I wanted to impress him,” said the 24-year-old hotel management graduate. 

Samir’s candour will catch you off-guard, as will his cheesecake. It’s a no-frills, honest approach he has to himself and his cake. The classic New York Cheesecake is his personal favourite, though the Oreo and Red Velvet have been very popular as well. There are a variety of toppings available for the classic cheesecake, such as salted caramel, strawberry and blueberry.

“I didn’t think it was actually going to work. I started selling by the slice only, but now people want whole cakes. These days I get a lot of orders! The support has been quite overwhelming,” confessed Samir, almost bewildered by his own talents. He’s also surprised at how well his mother’s oven works. “She bought it four years ago but we were being lazy about using it. And now it’s being used a lot!”

Samir’s cheesecakes tend to be just the right amount of dense and gooey. He’s always preferred tea cake over cream cake, so a cheesecake strikes the right balance for him. He’s also loath to add more cakes to his repertoire, wanting to perfect the art of cheesecake – an attitude which has led to him becoming Kolkata’s Cheesecake Guy. 

 

What you must order:

Honestly, the simple New York style cheesecake is the best. If you’re a small eater, you might want the jars…

Honestly, the simple New York style cheesecake is the best. If you’re a small eater, you might want the jars…

@cheesecake_sams/Instagram

The Proof of the Pudding

Brown’s caters full meals for people, and is looking to move slowly towards catering for small parties, at home or at other venues. “Brown’s has become a one-stop shop for someone having a small get-together. People usually order two or three savouries and a dessert.” But Vanita is also dreaming of opening a dessert bar which offers a six-course dessert menu, paired with alcohol. “I’m not sure people are ready for that, though,” she said, sadly.

Vanita is also very flexible with her menu and is willing to ideate with the client for a perfect cake. A chocolate entremet can have a layer of hazelnut or pistachio. “If you're going to order something I’ve never done before, then I need at least four or five days to see for sure that I'm giving a product which is saleable,” said Vanita. 

While we might all remember Taaja’s as one of the pioneers of modern continental food in Calcutta, Bijoyini has inherited her mother’s inventiveness for adding a twist to traditional favourites. Scrolling down her Instagram feed, you’ll pause at the mention of Gondhoraj Lebu and Gin Cheesecake, but rest assured that mouth-watering classics such as Dark Chocolate Orange Cake or Lemon Tart also feature prominently. All you need to do is DM to know what’s on offer for the week or the month. Customisation is not a problem. 

Samir is no stranger to the foodpreneur business. Aminia, New Market, has belonged to his family since it was established in 1929. “It helps with credibility, I guess,” he said, shrugging. He has no desire to merge the two identities, but he remains open to whatever opportunities the future might hold. He’s far more interested in getting the smaller picture (or batter?) right, such as finding a way to make his cheesecake slices available on Swiggy and Zomato. And we’re with him on that! 

These days, Zareen is ensconced in her garden house in Duttapukur, 40km from Zee’s Coffee Shop in Ballygunge. She’s working on the Farm to Table concept where meals – such as Khichuri-Begun Bhaja-Maach Bhaja – will be curated from the organic produce of the farm. “We’re calling it Bagan Farm, and once a week I curate a bag of fresh edibles to send out to whoever wants it. We’ve also set up a brick oven for pizzas.”

It’s no surprise that the city with a soul, effortlessly dishes out food for the soul. 

Last updated on 17.09.21, 12:49 PM
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