A dash of mustard

Of spices: (below) Punam Singh and Shilpa Sharma; (top) Madhushree Basu Roy and Debjani Chatergee Alam  

As a food researcher who closely studies food across regions and communities, I realised a many moons ago that food, goes beyond the political boundaries of man-made maps. India’s food knowledge lies in its home kitchens and today we are seeing its custodians – mothers, grandmothers and home chefs – become ‘subject matter experts’ across verticals from hosting pop-ups at home, to consulting with chefs for recipes, and restaurant pop-ups.

One city force that’s a little over 365 days-old is Mustard, the brainchild of Punam Singh and Shilpa Sharma who have a long history of working together. Former colleagues at FabIndia Singh and Sharma share a passion to keep alive and revive traditional Indian crafts. It’s an ideology that stayed with them through all the projects they did and eventually led them to focus on cuisine. Mustard Goa was the result. Named after the spice that’s a key ingredient in both cuisines, the restaurant showcases French and Bengali cuisine. Not as a fusion but as two authentic menus offered side by side because Singh and Sharma wanted to offer multiple options without taking the ‘multi-cuisine’ route. In the initial phase, French chef Greg Bazire was in charge of the French part and food historian and chef Pritha Sen, curated the Bengali half. “Mustard the spice, in all its flavoursome forms, represented the reasoning behind our setting-up Mustard. And through [the restaurant] we could explore how this humble, yet heady, condiment binds cuisines together,” says Sharma.

Encouraged by their customers to take the bi-cultural culinary experience beyond Goa, Mustard opened in Mumbai in July last year. The intent was to stay true to self, yet evolve the eating out experience. One step was to expend the menu and plan a series of pop-ups. The first pop-up was Undivided Bengal, a jugalbandi between Nayana Afroz who showcased Bangladeshi cuisine and Sen (at that time a consultant with Mustard) presented West Bengal delicacies. The concept gave food lovers a chance to reflect on Bengali food traditions prior to Partition and was well received. Its success only inspired the duo further, “We realised we wanted to continue to uncover and present the nuances and secrets of regional Indian cuisines, shorshe-influenced or not,” asserts Singh.

Next came ‘Unsavoured Kashmir’ with Chef Sanjay Raina, then ‘Unsavoured Punjab’ with Sherry Malhotra and ‘Unsavoured Assam’ with Kashmiri Nath, each pop-up bringing talented regional food experts to Mumbai. A good example, are their last two pop-ups ‘Undivided Plate’ by home chef Sherry Malhotra and ‘Unsavoured Kerala’ by home chef Prima Kurien, the force behind Prima Kurien’s ‘Traditional Kerala Cuisine’, that documents and celebrates Kerala cuisine. Mustard’s home chefs have one thing in common: they are consummate storytellers whose menus regale the taste buds and fables give wing to the culinary imagination.

The duo says that it takes months of meticulous planning to devise the menus. “We first identify the home chefs, they have to come highly recommended from our circle of trusted food experts. They are then asked to do a food trial for us and a select panel assesses how they fit into our food philosophy of showcasing honest food from the home kitchens of mothers and grandmothers” elaborates Singh. The system followed by the duo is fairly simple thereon, “The chef flies in a day before the pop-up and cooks hands on through the duration. [We] respect their expertise and IP so no training is done, all of the cooking is done by them and our teams only assist. It works beautifully for both sides. We get to showcase new cuisines and keep our commitment to serve honest food,” she emphasises.

Singh and Sharma are now gearing up, for their ‘Unsavoured Pujo’ pop-up by Madhushree Basu Roy and Debjani Chatergee Alam, a food blogger duo. Roy and Alam have planned a Pujo menu comprising of dishes from bhog (offerings to God) or pandal classics, as a tribute to both the Goddess and the festival. “It is important that we bring regional cuisines to the forefront and share with the world. For years I’ve been cooking and collecting recipes from my mother, grandmother and others and after a couple of pop ups and food festivals at Kolkata.” Her partner in crime, Alam adds “We have curated the menu keeping in mind Durga Pujo and our rich heritage and have struck a good balance with dishes such as labra to offerings such as a simple bhoger khichuri without which pujo bhog is incomplete.”

Unsavoured Bengal October 4 to 8, Mustard, Atria Mall; 9619991166 / 8657425080

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Printable version | May 10, 2021 11:46:38 AM |

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