Regional cuisine is in the spot light. Food enthusiasts often wonder how native ingredients endemic to a region explain its culinary history. While over the years, ice berg lettuce took over the local ‘Mani Muni’, and imported fruits and vegetables almost drove local produce away, things are changing now. The culinary world is undergoing a renaissance, rediscovering lost recipes, marrying local produce to create new dishes.
Needless to say that the Assamese Cuisine is going through a self-discovery phase as chefs are bringing back traditional flavours. One of them in the forefront, embracing local food, understanding and taking it to new avenues is Chef Anirban Dasgupta at Vivanta by Taj, Guwahati. He is on a mission, reworking Oxomiya (Assamese) Cuisine and making it mainstream. With a vision to create new dishes using local ingredients, he is always experimenting, foraging and learning about Assam’s indigenous food. A casual discussion about our humble “Tekeli Pitha” (steamed rice flour cakes) leads him to create a masterpiece and turning it into a global dish.
We met him to understand what inspires the chef who is not an Assamese by birth, but is in love with the state’s cuisine.
1. When did you know, you wanted to be a Chef?
This was mostly during my training at Trident Udaipur way back in 1999. Hotel management frankly was a gamble that I played. I was not sure initially, but during my training, I realised my passion lies in the white uniform and the buzz in commercial kitchens.
2. What was the first dish you cooked?
Though it’s difficult to remember what I first cooked in commercial kitchens, I clearly remember making omelet and tea for myself during my childhood days.
3. Tell us about your cooking style
My cooking style is routed into the concept of “glocal”, which is showcasing our local ingredients to the world and presenting it in international styles. Contemporary food and cooking is what I specialize in, and would like to excel by showcasing our food to the world.
4. Your love for local produce and Assamese cuisine is creating a buzz. Tell us more about it.
Assamese food and cooking is India’s best-kept culinary secret, it is my endeavour to showcase first to India and then to world the beautiful and flavourful food of this state. Having said that, my approach to Assamese food will be different from most restaurants and chefs—it will be a modern approach, without playing with the flavours and taste.
5. What inspires you?
I would like to answer this one differently, in my case it is not what, but who. It is my mother who according to me the best finest cook, perhaps better than most chefs I have met in my 16-year culinary journey. She is not only tireless, but when cooking for her sons the love she brings to the food defines the final dish and that is what I have tried to emulate from her.
6. Describe a meal at the Vivanta by Taj, Guwahati in one word.
7. Best Assamese Dish.
Gahori Lagot Bansh Tenga, it has a potential take the cuisine to heights that butter chicken has done to Punjabi food.
8. What is your favourite mid night snack?
Chocolates—mostly dairy milk
9. Who is your favourite Chef
Hemant Oberoi, he is the epitome of dedication. At Taj, I was fortunate to work with him closely, and I attribute most of my success to him.
10. One kitchen anecdote you would like to share with your readers.
Don’t try too hard on a day you don’t feel like cooking, it is something that you need to approach with passion and lot of heart. There is no alternative to passion and dedication in this craft.
11. Are you so calm in the kitchen, as I see you always?
Not exactly, but I have learnt to keep my cool.
12. Favourite ingredient in the kitchen.
At the moment “Thekera” (Garcinia pedunculata). Itis unique and has a universal appeal
13. Where do you see Assamese Cuisine in the future?
Up there with Punjab/Kerala and Bengal, which I feel, has gone beyond India now. Assam will soon follow.
14. Your favourite restaurant in the city/across the globe.
15. You are always surprising guests at 7 and Umami, what can we expect now?
We would like to make food more contemporary by pushing boundaries of food presentation at Umami, which will also have a page dedicated to the pork lovers of the city. 7 will play homage to Assam in all possible ways, including bringing forth more and more Assamese dishes and ingredients to global dishes. Our bar Octave will soon have a menu that is quirky and different at par with pub hoppers. It is something that we are excited to launch as first in the city.