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Priyam Chatterjee has just won the title of ‘Chef of the Year’ at a recent awards event. Though I have tried his food before, I was sceptical. Such awards can try a tiny bit harder to be interesting. Vikramjit Roy, Manish Mehrotra, etc. have won in the past, so why not crest a new entrant and cause a stir? We Dilliwaalas have ‘discovered’ every other cuisine, but not so much good progressive French/European. We talk of having ‘Asian’, ‘Indian’ and even ‘Modern Indian’ these days, but anyone saying they were going out for; ‘Progressive European’ could be misunderstood.
QLA is a beautiful restaurant, as most of us know. I am warmly welcomed and taken to my table, and from my chair, I see the kitchen and its conductor, Priyam Chatterjee. I would add that QLA is significant not because ‘specialists’ have pronounced it to be, but because of what the chef is trying to achieve. Whenever chefs talk of their ‘philosophy’, I think in my head, ‘You are not Confucius…. but a cook and your food be damn good’ …but in Priyam’s case it is nearly justified.
Priyam has always been an active participant in farming since his school days in Kalimpong, plucking a fresh peach or a nice wild plum, making pork stew with freshly harvested spinach, free range eggs and so much of nature’s bounty made him understand the pain and the importance of farming as he grew up. It was natural that he would only cook, for he knew nothing else better than this. I have tried his food previously, but on this visit my shield is propelled when, as it is his habit, he carries out a dish personally.
Small treats herald great ones; dig into QLA's new tasting menu and you will discover young Chef Priyam Chatterjee dishes out progressive cuisine in a true manner. Here the word ‘cuisine’ evokes rather unusual associations and innovative tastes and offers a surprisingly ingenious blend of produce and styles to delight any gourmet. Appetizers are extraordinary, especially his dish named ‘Heart Resides As The Souls Sets Free’; I am astounded by his treatment of watermelon and pineapple. The carpaccio of watermelon is cooked for six hours and smoked twice and the top layer that looks like a transparent sugar sheet is actually smoked pineapple juice that has been baked. How often do you eat pineapple like this? It is, after all, rarely regarded as a delicacy, yet it sets the hunger juices flowing.
I also like the dish ‘Van Gogh Was Hungry’, fermented baby beets pickled and arugula water, cider dressing, gelee chèvre, though savoury the beets contains a hint of sweetness. Perhaps this best sums up Priyam’s approach. I am still taking this in when he brings in ‘Palm Reading On A Monochrome’, which is seabass cooked sous vide and finished in butter sauce at a very slow temperature….that is it, I am floored!!! Other dishes on the menu too have interesting taste, texture, beauty, bouquet and looks such as the Braised Lamb Shanks ‘Lollypops’ that look like black truffles chocolates covered in edible silver and gold. This cuisine may or may not reign supreme with all, but it is exceptional to find such intellectual food served with such passion and love, so it is impossible not to love it back.