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The Food World

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Aakriti Patni talks to chef Ananya Banerjee about exotic cuisines, food trends and more, to get a taste of her world 

A chef with many hats, Ananya Banerjee has managed to dabble in just about everything that interested her, and not surprisingly, she was able to excel in it all. Starting off as a lawyer, she explored her passion for art and reached her, dare we say, final destination as the world of food and flavours engulfed her. Today she has two YouTube channels and a published cookbook, Planet Gastronomy, which features the 100 most popular global recipes. She also has a Bengali-themed cookbook in the pipeline and dreams of opening her very own restaurant sometime soon! We caught up with the chef to talk about her food, her life and more.

A lawyer, an acclaimed painter and now a chef and food stylist, your journey has been a long one. Tell us about it.
Since I come from a law background, my father and grandfather both being judges, I had to study law to keep the family tradition alive, but in my heart I always wanted to be an artist. Eventually in life you follow your heart, your dreams, and that’s exactly what happened with me. One fine day, I simply quit my job as a lawyer and started painting. Through the years, I indulged my passion and painted without any inhibitions; so much so, that I had the opportunity to exhibit my art internationally including at Paris, which is what every artist dreams of. Food has also always been a passion for me, and it was, I feel, an extension of art. Not only do I get to play with colours, forms and textures in food, but I can also savour the flavours.

Where does your love for food come from? What inspired you to get into this industry?
My interest in cooking grew seeing my mother and grandmother churning out absolute delicacies in the kitchen. I grew up in a family where food was an integral part of our lives, and the love for food was ingrained since childhood. My travels around the world enhanced this passion for food.

You conduct regular cooking workshops and food-based pop-up events in the city. Tell us more about them.
I love experimenting with food and trying new and exotic cuisines, especially those that may be unheard of. The cuisines I work with are not found in restaurants in the city. For example, I have held dining experiences and pop-up events on Ethiopian food. There is no restaurant in India that serves this cuisine. So I curate menus for Ethiopian, German, Peruvian, Russian and Georgian cuisines, and I also enjoy experimenting with regional food, especially home-style Bengali food and the native food of Orissa. I approach agencies and companies to help me organise these events, with the aim of giving people a taste of good food and a good time.

You successfully handle two YouTube channels, “Ananya-r Rannaghor” and “Ananya Banerjee”, where the focus is on cooking tutorials and travel vlogs. What kind of challenges do you face with this?
With the advancement of technology, the digital space is currently the best place to be in. Although this medium was new to me, the reach is tremendous and to stay relevant in today’s time, it’s important to adapt. While working in television is exciting, the reach is restrictive; but digitally your presence can be felt across the globe. However, promoting your videos is quite a big challenge in the digital space. Each day is a learning experience for me!

What are your thoughts on the new methods and trends, such as molecular gastronomy, or the trend of farm-to-fork in the world of cooking?
Just like the technology sphere is forever evolving, food too is constantly changing, and new flavours, techniques and methods make their way into the food industry, cultivating new trends as they enter. While some trends may not prove to be successful, some are definitely here to stay, especially with the practicality they bring to the industry.

Molecular gastronomy is nothing but theatre on your plate, to add a touch of magic and intrigue to food. While it is an interesting trend, I feel it has done its bit and is gradually fading now. The farm-to-fork concept is the latest trend that is being adapted across the globe and I am completely for it! I truly believe that we should think global but eat local.

You’ve been known to experiment with exotic cuisines and flavours. Which cuisine is the most challenging and the most fun?
Amongst the exotic cuisines, I would say that Peruvian food was quiet challenging. They use a chilly called ‘aji’ in almost all their dishes, which was next to impossible for me to source in India. So, I had to come up with substitutes for it. A Peruvian national dish called ‘Ceviche’, which is made with fresh marinated raw fish, was extremely difficult to source, as the fish is supposed to be freshly caught. However, it was all worth it in the end, as the Peruvian ambassador, for whom I was cooking, gave me a big hug and said that the flan dish that I made reminded him of his grandmother!

FOOD THOUGHTS

  • Your favourite fine dining restaurant in the city: Wasabi at the Taj Mahal Hotel
  • An exotic cuisine you want to try: African cuisine
  • A city whose local fare you love: Calcutta and Lucknow
  • A person who has inspired you in the food industry: James Martin
  • The first dish you learned to cook: Omelette
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