One of India’s most experimental chefs is undoubtedly Chef Joymalya Banerjee who founded a restaurant in Kolkata that was aptly called Bohemian. In his Instagram profile he describes himself as a “Nonconformist Maverick Chef”. His spirit of experimentation was clearly visible in the menu of Bohemian which had offbeat dishes like Coca Cola Chicken (chicken in Coca Cola gravy), Psychedelic Fish Curry and Malai Mutton Chaat. Sadly, this unique restaurant eventually downed its shutters… another casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Bohemian menu had a distinct Bengali flavour – most of the experimentation took place around traditional Bengali recipes, although there were some non-Bengali flights of fantasy like Chef Banerjee’s Cocktail Fish Fry and Gondhoraj Stew.
However, in spite of all his crazy experimental shenanigans, Chef Banerjee made sure that certain key ingredients were never meddled with. For example, some of the typically Bengali spices were retained in order to keep the Bengali ethos of the dish intact. Similarly, another ingredient that Chef Banerjee found irreplaceable was Mustard Oil – and also mustard seeds. He even insisted that the mustard seeds used in Paanch Phoran were freshly ground for each round of preparation.
Chef Banerjee often recreates a dish that his father and his uncle used to make: Haanri Murgi – chicken (Murgi) cooked in an earthen pot (Haanri). Yes, he has tweaked the recipe to match the multifaceted menu of his restaurant – but he hasn’t tried to substitute certain key ingredients that create the essential flavour of this dish. These ingredients include cashew nuts, garlic, red chillies and, of course, Mustard Oil. Chef Banerjee believes that the creation of fusion cuisine starts with a foundational flavour upon which variants and offshoots are built up through an experimental process. If the foundation is weak, the final flavour will end up being unappetizing.
Chef Banerjee knows that pure cold-pressed Mustard Oil is part of the foundational flavour of the highly creative dishes he conjures up – and that’s why, for him, this oil is irreplaceable.