Have you heard about Lamhe the film? Released in 1991 and considered as one of the masterpieces of Yash Chopra, Lamhe was a commercially unsuccessful. Layers of relationship and a love story which spanned between mother and daughter both played Sridevi and a young Anil Kapoor (he sacrificed his then trademark and hotness quotient moustache) once falling in love with an elder Sridevi and then experiences the love of daughter Sridevi, who loses her mother in a car accident. I heard the audio track, cassette released by HMV and then watched the film in 1992 summer. At the age of 15- 16 then, I didn’t get an answer why falling in love with an elderly girl can be taboo because by then, I already had a couple of crushes on girls elder than me. Till date, Lamhe is a favourite watch for one of the last masterpieces of Shiv- Hari, subtle acting of Anil Kapoor and Sridevi and the premise of the story by Honey Irani and script by Dr. Rahi Masoom Reza is perhaps one of the masterpieces of Indian Screen.
36 Chowringhee, Ijazat, Grihapravesh, Utsav, Fire and many more films have been well ahead of their time and when now looked back, one wonders whether they were contemporary or a small step to change the fabric of the then cinema concept.
We tried out Bohemian in 2012 and two things played in our mind. One, this place should have alcohol, and the prices are perhaps not in sync with Kolkata. This was a time when Oh Calcutta was the undisputed ruler of Bengali fine dining, 6 Ballygunge place was still operating from one floor, no concept of Thali and the outlets were not there, Bhojohori Manna was doing roaring business (it still does) and inspiring many more to open similar formats. Kewpies offered some thing new whenever one visits. We didn’t visit Bohemian for the next 5 years but Chef Joymalya Banerjee kept on making news.
When we met him this time, Chef was on his journey and this is what revealed.
We have preconceived notions about mountains and meadows when we draw them. But why do the mountains have to be brown and the grass green? Why can’t we colour the mountains green and the grass brown but still make it look like mountains and meadows? That’s what Chef Joymalya Banerjee, aka Chef Joy, says when you ask him about his food philosophy.
Chef Joy’s five-year -old restaurant Bohemian, (which he set up after quitting the top position at Anjan Chatterjee’s Oh! Calcutta chain), has become one of the most sought-after food destinations in the city. His innovative and quirky approach to food takes traditional Bengali cuisine and creates moments of truth – you are uncomfortable with the idea of tampering with a classic dish and yet cannot resist the temptation of discovering how it has been modernised.
One of the latest innovations at Bohemian is ‘Boho Hours’, – a new service hour that is tucked between lunch and dinner hours between 4 and 7pm. It comes with a menu that is top lined by the Chef’s creative cocktails and finger foods at an extremely affordable price. The recipes combine classic Bengali flavours with modern elements, presented with his signature flourish. Consider Just Bohemian – Nolen gur with ginger and dark rum concoction which uses spicy puffed rice crisp (jhaal muri!) caramelised in nolen gur served as an accompaniment. There is Soya Chilli which is a hat tip to Kolkata’s most loved chicken dish with dark soya, fresh chilies and dark rum. The Bengal Dab Sangriya has chunks of steeped tender coconut with seasonal fruits and white wine to get the Bangali version of a white wine sangria- it simply takes a classic and gives it a fun spin to deliver a contemporary classic.
As he has often said, Chef Joy, an IHM, Taratola and Oberoi Centre for Learning and development (OCLD) alumnus, loves to challenge culinary traditions, break stereotypes about Bengali food defined by machher jhol-bhaat. His innovations include both in terms of the cooking techniques such as smoking and grilling and the use of essential Bengali ingredients such as panch phoron, nolen gur, mustard paste and gondhoraj lebu in totally unexpected ways. Some of his most standout creations include Pabda Rolls stewed in cherry tomato and spinach broth; Steamed Bhekti with pickled chilli and cheese; Mutton Vindaloo (Kolkata style), Royal Bengal roast mutton with bhuna sauce and many more. The menu at Bohemian is always full of surprises, that challenges one’s imagination and embarks on a journey of discoveries.
Couple of times when I have tried to get in touch with him, once only he picked up his call and someone had warned me to send him a message first and then he will pick up the call. After that, it has been interspersed SMS for which he responded also. When I asked him whether he shies away from media searchlight, he answered he wants to be in the genuine searchlight. I kept on wondering on this statement for a while. Once you get a chance to speak with him, it will be a different perspective in total that will come up, just like the fact that no one has ever heard of emulsions or reduction based cooking in Bengali food earlier.
So while Chef Joy could have taken the easier way out with Boho Hours, with Dry Chili Chicken, or Manghsor Chop or worse, Crispy Chili Baby Corn, he has once again created a smorgasbord of flavours, textures and experiences. He has taken the iconic phuchka and filled it with a mousse of pointed gourd skin served with spicy honey lemon water. Imagine nolen gur-glazed pork belly on a papri where the soft, sweet and sticky pork belly and crispiness of the papri makes you crave for more, potato medallions with tamarind chick peas, where the very known aloo tikki gets a makeover, Royal Bengal liver pate with dried mango on crispy bread and so on.
Chef says, one needs to come to his restaurant and taste his food with an open mind and he doesn’t mind challenging stereotypes or leading his guests to the moment of truth. One of them is when you see the Kolkata Biryani on the cocktail menu. I wonder whether anyone will dare do this in Kolkata in future also. The first roadblock will be whether you like to see the regal, khandani biryani in a cocktail form. But you will be curious. You will place the order, telling yourself that this could be that once-in-a-lifetime experience. The first shocker comes when the cocktail is served with three biryani flavoured baby potatoes with the drink and it only keeps getting more audacious from here on.
But that’s Chef Joy for you. A master alchemist who teases, twists, turns every culinary convention with a glee – why not?
Many may raise an eyebrow over the fact that why Bohemian is compared with Lamhe. We can debate that later but while a film rarely can’t be re released after 10 years and still become successful (would move to know the names of such movies) but Bohemian survived the test of time and the fact that many call it undisputed king of innovative contemporary Bengali food, is a testament to Joy’s efforts.
Address – 32/4, Old Ballygunge 1st Lane, Kolkata, West Bengal 700019
Phone number – 033 40019005/ 64601002
A portion of this writing came out first in GetBengal. You can read the original writing here.