Chef Som Dasgupta's pop-up melds homegrown flavours with European textures
The best part about living in a gastronomic haven like Kolkata is the spontaneous and fantastically designed culinary experiments that we get to witness up-close. Acclaimed Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef Som Dasgupta’s Tasting Table session was an eye-opening adventure into one such experimental journey. Hosted by the Salt Lake food lab and culinary studio Curry Fwd Collaborations, the food popup was conceptualised as a way of bridging the narratives of homegrown flavours and European textures. Dasgupta, who has worked all over the world, including Michelin-star restaurants in the UK has crafted a menu that aspires to create a dialogue between familiar traditional tastes and contemporary styling, with a focus on locally sourced produce.
The nine-course meal was curated along the lines of a conventional Bengali spread, but the methodology was adapted from Italian, English and French specialties. “We’ve used native elements like Bandel cheese, pui shaank, pickled lau, and adapted them into the global culinary idiom,” Dasgupta enthuses. We pulled up at the premises of Curry Fwd, a snug Sector III property, on a cool Saturday night, and found ourselves at an intimate dinner soirée; a relaxed and homely set-up, so different than most food pop-ups. Our glasses were already filled with a toasty and taut white wine as we sat down, which obviously meant we were off to a fantastic start. The first course was of some fantastic epi bread, with three kinds of butters — salted, brown and citrus gandharaj; the latter was a total revelation, in terms of aroma and taste.
An epi bread is a French, wheat stalk-shaped baguette, and we could have been tearing away at it all night, had it not been for our next course — a summery arrangement of Bandel cheese, with olive tapenade and generous portions of white melon and mint oil dressing. “I tried to keep it in sync with a conventional Bengali meal; you know, how we start our meals with bitter veggies? This is a spin on the classic healthy starter,” reveals Dasgupta. If you’ve had Bandel cheese before, you’d be familiar with its even saltiness and grainy finish; the tropical pairing only brought out the freshness of the cheese, and made for a very interesting antipasti. Our next course arrived in a deep serving bowl, and was basically a cheeky Mediterranean spin on our good ol’ dal: a lentil salad, with apple, pork jowl bacon and laal shaak. It was a slightly herbal and complex melange of flavours.
The next appetiser for the night was the popular French potato puffs or Pomme Dauphine; but nothing about this dish reminded us of our usual tater tots, as the plating itself was a work of art. The soft, buttery dish was served with a chicken liver mousse, which was simple, yet so indulgent; it was lighter than a pâté, but had an incredible consistency. The show-stealer here was definitely the tangy red onion marmalade, spread out on a slice of pickled lau — a trailblazing palate winner, and the perfect companion to the well-paired appetiser.
Our next serving was a deconstructed version of the classic Shepherd’s pie, featuring a meaty fish fillet, peas, mashed potatoes, sautéed onions and carrot sauce; it made for an unpretentious and surprisingly wholesome pairing. Meanwhile, the Jamnapari goat ragu, paired with ricotta-filled gnudi dumplings and pui shaank, was the dreamiest entrée you can imagine. The ragu had a breezy taste, which went well with the dense, cheesy gnudi. For dessert, the chef reserved a selection of fruity fusion specialities like lyangda aam and coconut meringue, and a groovy tarte tartin with salted caramel and gandharaj.