He has an insane number of followers in FaceBook where film stars post their selfies with him . His columns in Hangla Hneshel – the first Bengali Glossy on all matters Gastronomic – is a runaway hit, with diehard fans spread from Atlanta to Alambazar swooning by the spoonful at his every printed word. He was a food stylist even before we knew what the term meant and needless to say, the creations he literally cooks up are stuff sizzling dreams are made of. Meet Celebrity Chef Debasish Kundu – the man who literally knows the way to your heart, through the stomach!
I caught up with Debasish while he was busy giving final touches to a line of Frozen Ready to Eats that should, Inshallah, roll out soon. Like everything else about the man, the sheer amount of attention he gives to the minutest of details is mindboggling. “It’s the details that differentiate between the good and the great” says Debasish with a wry smile. Dale Carnegie, Search for Excellence, blah ,blah, blah!
His last venture Fish Fish is, you guessed it, already a huge hit having carefully slotted itself in a niche that the foodies swear by. Nothing Fishy about it!
But it was not always like this. Born in the steel city of Jamsedhpur, Debasish grew up in a typically Bong joint family, where his father was the only breadwinner. He finished schooling in an equally nondescript Bengali medium school and it was in an impulse that he followed the crowd of friends to seek out a career in Hotel Management. “I was the most surprised when I was among the three who were selected from the fifty of us that had appeared” says Debasish reminiscing with relish.
“Going to IHM Hyderabad was akin to the crossing of Kaala Pani and I still remember the scenes at home before I took off for the three year diploma” says Debasish. Quick stints with ITC Windsor Manor Bangalore and ITDC’s Mysore property and Debasish was back home to start his first venture – one that involved canned food – which sunk without trace.
Then came that day in Debasish’s life that changed everything: for good, forever. “16th July 1994. That was the day I joined The Park Hotel Kolkata as a Trainee Commie III”. He looks at you in the eye, his chin firming up in a resolve that one doesn’t see on his otherwise ever smiling face “that’s just one wrung above the lowest. In plain speak, it means I was the one even doing the dirty dishes. And yes, it was that grounding that helped me evolve into what I am today.”
Close to two decades in the Park (by which time he had graduated all the way up to the position of a Sous-Chef), celebrity Chefdom, status of a selector in the East India leg of TLC’s cult programme Master Chef India, recognition as a food stylist … the feathers where being notched up with gay abandon. But Debasish refused to rust in his laurels (“moved on before the fare got stale” is how he puts it) and then came the second defining moment in his life, with the launch of Fish Fish in 2013.
Oh, before I forget, he has, in the meanwhile helped set up a swank Central Kitchen for the basket of gourmet restaurants he wields his Spatulas, Whisks and Skiers for – Only Alibaba, FishFish and Baked&Fried. Spread over an area of 31,200 sq feet, this kitchen may well set the yard stick against which cooking operations will be judged in the years to come. Incorporating more than 70 percent imported equipment, and state of the art processes, the end to end facility is an epitome of hygiene where human intervention is the least, ensuring a virtually contamination free end product. The fact that the facility can serve 15,000 plates of Biryani in a day, without hampering the normal catering of the other two restaurants is enough to give one a rough idea of its scale.
Today Only Alibaba is a household name having introduced to the city among other things, Jaan-e-Jigar Biryani cooked in cholesterol free oil as opposed to vegetable or animal fat – catering not only the calorie counters, but also the growing number of those suffering from lifestyle ailments. Similarly, FishFish too needs no introduction, positioning itself as it has, between the Fish loving Bengali and his ambrosia. But what is Baked & Fried all about? “Simple” smiles Debasish, “it is something that I want to prove to myself – that, we Indians, are capable of making foot-long’s and burgers that are as succulent and mouth-watering as the ones they make back in the States!”
What now? What’s next? “I am not even thinking. By Gods grace, we have a full house now and all the packs are taken. Let me rustle up the dishes that the customers have ordered. Only when we see that special look of containment, on the faces of every patron, that a hearty meal gives, will I think of the future”!
Now it is time for the parting shot – albeit a stupid question. So what would you have been, had you not been the Celebrity Chief that you are? “A Jaan-e-Jigar Biryani” says Debasish. “And I dream of a journey – a visual journey into the evolution of cuisine, over time and space, cooked with nothing but my Canon. A story, that you will have to see to taste!”
We sure wish you Bon Voyage Debasish, for we will be waiting, as usual for what you rustle up with your characteristic aplomb. Watch this space.
You can Follow Debasish in FaceBook: https://www.facebook.com/chef.kundu?ref=br_rs
*All Pics Courtsey Debasish