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A chat with Speciality Restaurants Chief Anjan Chatterjee and Italian cuisine master chef Saby Gorai at Cafe Mezzuna

Excerpts from the two's philosophies, masala omelette and more

Zeba Akhtar Ali | Published 29.11.22, 02:43 AM
Anjan Chatterjee (left) founder and chairman-managing director, Speciality Restaurants Ltd.,with chef Saby

Anjan Chatterjee (left) founder and chairman-managing director, Speciality Restaurants Ltd.,with chef Saby

Cafe Mezzuna, the Mediterrannean and Italian dine den that opened doors over nine years ago is all set for a culinary and ambience reset. To know more about this brand refresh, The Telegraph got chatting with Anjan Chatterjee, founder and chairmanmanaging director, Speciality Restaurants Ltd, who has also roped in celebrated chef Saby Gorai for the task. Here’s an exclusive:

What is the idea behind the revamp?


Anjan Chatterjee: Mezzuna, as you know, has been a very loved and respected brand in Kolkata. And it’s a brand offering that we only have in Kolkata. It’s been almost nine years of the brand. And nine years ago almost nothing was happening in the city with regards to standalone Mediterranean or Italian cuisine, except for Fire and Ice. At that point one came across the thought that let’s gift Kolkata something of this kind. Honestly speaking, I’m not even a very big fan of this kind of food.

So, what is your kind of food?

Anjan: My food is maachher jhol and bhaat (laughs). Coming back, so the idea was that we need to get Mezzuna as a brand refreshed. Not just in terms of the menu, but also the overall look and feel of the outlets. It’s important to get the menu refreshed. There is a brand and decor fatigue so there’s a need for refreshment. Change is the only constant and there’s dynamism coming in. I’ve known Saby for quite some time and he’s a star. In the Indian scenario, not many chefs are doing the kind of work that Saby does. So, I spoke to Saby and said that I need some help with regards to the Mezzuna revamp and he gladly said that he’ll come along. This is the beginning, now he will tell you more about the food. He’s the star of the show…

Chef Saby: He’s the biggest star (referring to Anjan Chatterjee).

Some behind-the-scene fun in the Cafe Mezzuna kitchen

Some behind-the-scene fun in the Cafe Mezzuna kitchen

What’s your vision with regards to the extension of the Mezzuna menu?

Chef Saby: So, obviously a very long story. I go back with Mr Chatterjee since college. He was a college icon. I have always been inspired and seen what he’s doing and where he’s going. He loves Italian food. And all of the Chinese food that we eat in the country is because of his forays into the cuisine with his brand Mainland China. In Delhi we call it Chinjabi, and Maharashtra has its own version, but overall in the country, ‘tasty Chinese’ is to his credit. Of course he’s been a path breaker.

When he opened Mezzuna, I was really happy because I know he loves Italian food. He’s been a regular patron at Olive and Indigo Deli in Bombay. The last few years have been tough for all of us, and I really want to see Mezzuna doing well and going across the country. I think the time is right for Mr Chatterjee, who’s been a leader in the business to make a repositioning for his brand. He had contacted me earlier, but I was caught up. I had not done anything in Kolkata, even though I have been here at IHM Kolkata. He wasn’t sure that I would come so he was texting me at 1am that come to Kolkata and I’ll make you an omelette.

Anjan Chatterjee: Oh, I’ve discovered a new omelette that I’ll make you try.

Chef Saby: So coming back to the menu, I usually work with high-end Italian menus, especially because of my experience at restaurants such as Olive Bar & Kitchen, which was a pioneer in the business. The journey has been beautiful as we always had Italian, French and Spanish master chefs working with us. We were exposed to a lot of Mediterranean cuisine. Him and I, we both love Mediterranean cuisine, partly also because it’s healthy. The cuisine is very produce based, and also friendly to the vegetarian palate, which is us. You can even easily take the vegan route with these cuisines.

I am the ambassador for EU Flour; it’s a specific kind of flour that works really well with pizzas, especially Neapolitan pizza. I am the campaign face for India with regards to the Italian embassy, and I promote not companies, but ingredients. There are only two mills out of Italy that produce this flour. And interestingly, the wheat is not grown in Italy, it comes from regions such as Romania, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine and other East European countries. Part of this flour campaign is across pasta as well as dessert. It takes a while, you’ve to set a culture, it’s minimal yeast, and no additives. We call it a retarded dough. This takes between 48 to 72 hours to make. We usually make the predough and leave it for around 24 hours before even beginning with the actual dough. The hydration of the dough is insane, it’s almost 1:1. The dough is literally flowing. We call it a running dough. You need a lot of skill to handle it.

So, this is the kind of stuff that we can expect to see at Cafe Mezzuna?

Chef Saby: Yes, a hundred per cent. Soon, I’ll be sending my team over for training as well as setting up the infrastructure for this type of dough and flour and then the recipes and actual dishes will follow.

Apart from pizzas, what more can we see?

Chef Saby: So, we’re planning similar development in the realm of pasta as well. In fact, soon you’ll try out a gnocchi that has no potato and is made from Italian semolina and ricotta, and very little egg to just hold it. When you put it in your mouth, it will melt. You won’t even need too much of a sauce to go with it. You’ll see how the semolina from the Eastern European nations is different and can be used differently than how we use in India for our halwa and upma. Mother Nature and biodiversity work in such a way that you can have the hilsa here and not in Europe and similarly the produce that they have there is very different from what we grow in India. I have a pizza as well as a separate pasta chef who have worked under the supervision of Italian masterchefs. One is even a dough expert. I’ll bring these guys from my team to set up here for a few days and train the Cafe Mezzuna team.

Semolina and Ricotta Gnocchi made by Chef Saby

Semolina and Ricotta Gnocchi made by Chef Saby

How would you describe your style and your comfort cooking?

Chef Saby: So I’ve been involved with molecular gastronomy in my earlier days. But the last 10 years, my journey as a chef has been inwards. I still travel to places and learn and train and now my constant fight is to find ingredients that would create the same results by using local ingredients. Soda Bottle Openerwala was also a part of that inward journey.

So, it’s been a lot of learning and unlearning and creating...

Chef Saby: Yes, I studied in Naples for pizza and at an academy in Parma. So I did try and go to the root of things to understand it much more deeply. If you go to Naples, they say that what we do is real pizza, and nothing else is actually authentic. When you go to Rome, they have the same claim with a different type of pizza. I do both these styles, but no longer the wafer-thin crust anymore. Our pizza is soulful. The dough quality is so high that you won’t feel full even if you have an entire pizza. That’s what I’m trying to inculcate here, and of course it’s inspired by him.

Mr Chatterjee, what are your expectations from Chef Saby?

Anjan: I’m a firm believer in the fact that there are domain experts. There can be a foodie within me. My forte would be the food of Kolkata. Primarily what you eat in Oh! Calcutta and Mainland China because we’ve grown up in Tangra. It’s not possible to know everything, and whatever little I know, I’ve been continuing my journey with it. So for Bengali cuisine, we never had chefs. It’s all been passed down from one cook to another. But for something like Cafe Mezzuna, you can’t go that route. You need the best in class, and the time has come to refresh the brand and hence I handed this over to Saby. Fortunately, he’s not done anything in the city yet, so ab tumhare hawale watan saathiyon…

Chef Saby, what would be some of your favourite foods?

Chef Saby: It would have to be a well-made Margherita pizza, maybe a dash of truffle oil. A very basic mushroom or a truffle mousse-filled pasta. I don’t eat maida much. Neither do I eat too much starch.

Mr Chatterjee, lastly, we have been hearing about this omelette that you’ve used to reel Chef Saby in to the city, what is this omelette about?

Anjan: Oh yes! This was a recent discovery at my latest stay in London. I was at the Hard Rock Hotel and I ordered a masala omelette which quite didn’t feel like one. So, I went down to the kitchens of Chourangi (his restaurant in London) and decided to do a full flavour-packed masala omelette. All you’ve to do is add what you usually add to your masala omelette but then also add heaps of Kitchen King masala and also chaat masala. Masala omelette mein toh masala hona bhi chahiye na bhai… (chuckles).

Last updated on 29.11.22, 11:44 AM

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