New Delhi based food delivery outlet run by acclaimed wedding photographers Subinoy Das and Adusyanti Chatterjee is scripting a story of Improvising-Adapting-Overcoming, one meal at a time
French chef Éric Frank Ripert had once famously said that “the art of cooking is when you mix craftsmanship at the highest level with creativity.”
Éric’s thought sums up the story of two young artists – Subinoy Das and Adusyanti Chatterjee – based out of New Delhi, who are passionate about photography and cooking in equal measure, with the craftsmanship in one kindling the creativity in the other, and vice versa.
While Subinoy was a techie at Facebook, working on a gaming profile after completing his Masters, and later on as a UI designer whose love for travel and storytelling made him choose a career in photography and filmmaking, Adusyanti grew up wanting to be an explorer, traveller and photographer.
As she grew up, her parents unanimously disagreed on her prospect of being an explorer as a legit career choice, and she worked as a corporate trainer in organizations for about eight years before finally venturing into photography fulltime.
Together, they run Wowdings and make a living telling stories through their camera’s eyes, capturing moments and making them memorable for people.
But their creative collaboration extends beyond the camera work on to the kitchen. The duo embarked on a culinary journey with the launch of Bong Taste, a new food delivery outfit in the Capital, during the lockdown.
It was fuelled by their innate desire to cook up a surprise. “I am a Bengali born and raised in Assam. I have always been fond of hosting my friends and peers and dish out lip-smacking food for them. I knew someday I would love to nurture my passion for cooking,” he reminisces.
On the other hand, Kolkata-born Adusyanti who shifted to Delhi and settled here for work, kept on missing Bengali food, be it her family recipes, or her favourite joints in Kolkata.
“Eventually, I met other migrant Bengalis whose story was no different than mine. So she knew that for the love of food, it was a good idea to serve authentic recipes from everywhere, cooked with love,” adds Subinoy’s partner-in -crime.
The pandemic toppled the world order and had an overbearing impact on the lives and livelihood of artists and artistes all over.
It had multiple direct and indirect effects on people, mostly from bad to worse.
“In particular, indie photographers, who were not affiliated with any mainstream organization, were pushed to vulnerable positions. Even in normal circumstances, they had a limited support structure and the pandemic further alienated and marginalized them,” rues Adusyanti.
They were living under tremendous stress, and as a last resort to survival, the duo fell back upon their former experience in cooking.
The pool of recipes that they had amassed came in handy, and they started a home kitchen from their home in Malviya Nagar.
“Additionally, when the pandemic set in, the stray animals in our neighbourhood were suffering too. No hotels were open, and no one was feeding them,” says Subinoy.
That was the time, Adusyanti and Subinoy realized, they must bounce back and try to build something again with whatever they have so that they can survive and so can the animals.
“BongTaste is a story of IMPROVISING-ADAPTING-OVERCOMING to stay alive and also be self-reliant,” say the duo, almost unanimously.
The duo dispatched their first order on 26th of July, 2020.
In a freewheeling conversation with EastIndiaStory.com, the Bong gastro-nomad home-chef duo, who themselves are connoisseur of delectable fares , share their common love for C’s (camera and cooking) ahead of the launch of their pujor special menu in NCR.
On the business of cooking and clicking
Adusyanti: My father’s passion for photography has rubbed on to me. As a teenager, I loved travelling on an exploratory purpose and have stayed with the remotest of uncontacted tribes, singing troubadours, and blue-blooded scions alike.
Interacting with locals helped me understand our social and cultural anthropology in detail. I have friends from many countries of the world, who helped me get a better hang of their culture through popular food and culinary habits.
Subinoy: As a documentary photographer and filmmaker, I have traveled across the length and breadth of India, documenting different kinds of culture and handicrafts, and thus got to stay with the local artisans and gain knowledge about their lifestyle and food both.
Adusyanti: In this entire process, we had accessed unexpurgated secret heirloom recipes, be it from the British Colonial Era, or heirloom recipes from Indian Royal Families; the Traditional kitchens of Persia or 15th century forgotten manuscript of emperor Shahjahan, or lost recipes from the Bengali Nobles of 19th century Bengal (like Rabindranath Tagore’s family-kitchen in Jorasanko).
It came in handy to start this venture.
The story behind the brand’s name
Subinoy: Bengal isn’t just about the Bengalis. Bengal is a carnival of the Dutch, the French, the British, the Israelis, the Portuguese, the Armenians, the Russians, the Iranians, the Afghans, the Tibetans, the Japanese, the Burmese, the Mongols, the Chinese, and several other communities from all over India – and their cultural legacies.
The culinary sorcery of BongTaste is steeped in the cultural crucible of Bengal. BongTaste has been named so because the venture is serving recipes that appealed to the taste-buds of two Bong gastronomads.
And of course, Bengali food is a reasonably big part of it. Bongtaste is a fine-dining gourmet food experience that people don’t encounter every day.
Behind the Scene Action at BongTaste
Adusyanti: We serve on a pre-order basis (48 hours in advance) to avoid food-wastage and accept orders from Monday to Thursday.
We have a dedicated page on Facebook, on Instagram, and a website is also under construction.
Our customers reach out to us via WhatsApp, Call, Instagram, or Facebook messenger. They connect with us, we share the menu, then they place the order and share their location with us. We accept payment through digital modes.
Within a 1 km radius of our kitchen, we deliver for free. Beyond that distance, we have dedicated delivery partners all over Delhi/NCR. We also have the option of self pick-up.
Subinoy: It’s just the two of us. Safety is of paramount importance to us, and we haven’t let in anyone, inside our home since the pandemic set in. We also have an FSSAI license and stick to the guidelines of WHO.
The experience, challenges and learnings so far
Subinoy: Transitioning from a career in the photography industry to the food industry, mid-career, is likely to be a high-risk proposition for anyone.
The business aspects are an everyday learning experience, while we cook and serve with a lot of love and safety. The rich food culture that we have experienced from Kanyakumari to Kashmir during our long photography career spanning over 11 years is something that we are encasing on right now.
Adusyanti: The principal challenge is procuring the regional/local ingredients that make the recipes stand apart, not just the cooking techniques.
We are also able to educate people about the history of each of the recipes that we serve. People are thrilled, and we are literally on the moon. The experience has been nothing short of overwhelming.
The unique selling proposition of BongTaste
Adusyanti: We do not have a fixed menu. It varies. We keep the fun alive, by introducing new and different dishes every week. Like trunk shows, the recipes are up for grab, only for that weekend, though we can serve it later for bulk/party orders.
We do have separate party menus though, for ten people or more.
Subinoy: So far, we have served traditional Bengali menu, Anglo-Indian menu, North-Eastern India Menu, Islamic Royal family menu, and plan to introduce some Indian Regional menus, European and Middle Eastern menus, and even a Fitness Freak’s menu in the upcoming times.
Adusyanti: Given our current infrastructure, our target each week is not more than 15 orders. However, the number exceeds almost double, but we cannot accommodate, as we don’t want the quantity of sell to mar the quality of food.
Once our business grows , we have a plan to expand and curate more interesting menus.
Response to this venture
Subinoy: Every kitchen is the beating heart of the home. Likewise, ours started out, as the center of our team huddle, the place for bantering with friends, an entertainment center, a place where friends come and take over as cook of the day — and of the many hats that our kitchen was wearing, now it reaches for the hearts of many people through their belly.
We are truly blessed to acquire a niche segment of clientele in a short time period, who place repeat orders, can tell every flavour apart, and takes a deep interest in the origins of the recipe.
Adusyanti: Some of our patrons, who regularly buy from us to keep these culinary arts alive include noted food critics, food columnists, other chefs, food research scholars, and historians.
We are a bit nervous while cooking something new for them every time, but are overjoyed when appreciation comes from them.
An anecdote to remember
Subinoy: There are so many, and honestly, it’s so difficult to choose one. But there was one that was a sweep-you-off-your-feet review of our food.
Palzer Moktan is a lawyer working with Delhi High Court. He is a Tibetan by ethnicity, and his family stays in Kolkata and married into the Bengali community. Adusyanti had served him Zafrani Ilish, a soft-on-the-palate heirloom Hilsa delicacy from a Rajbari of Kolkata.
When we asked for his feedback, this is what he wrote:
“I tasted the essence of a Bengali woman, who’s given it her best. The food tasted subliminal. It was about time that some Bengali stepped up and showed some integrity that any cuisine so deserves. I’m glad that you did it.”
“I merely wish you could do it on a large scale, to spread goodness. But it comes with the evil of selling out too and with logistics not being able to put in the kind of love, care, and attention with every dish made. But, I’m just glad that I was able to sample your respectful rendition of a very fine and excellent dish. I am a happy guy.”
Plans in the offing
Adusyanti: We understand the cultural anthropologies of entire communities through their culinary journeys. Cooking is not just social bonding. The very thing a baby does after taking birth is wean.
Food is the most primitive form of sensory comfort. Our life starts with having food. It’s central to our existence. Cooking is the art we create with food.
Subinoy: We would love to get professionally trained on the aspects of food-business perhaps. As far as the recipes are concerned, we are voracious readers and curious minds, who are constantly researching, curating, and even making new recipes.
It does not hurt to get a little experimental from time to time, as we learned from the kitchens of our beloved poet Rabindranath Tagore, where there would be wild culinary experiments! No wonder Bengalis are known to be Bohemians.
Adusyanti: If everything goes well then maybe a BongTaste cafe will hit our beloved Delhi someday. We have already planned the visuals, and a lot of creatives have expressed their explicit interest to collaborate with us.
Right now, we are just taking it by one weekend at a time at our little home-kitchen and want to see where it gets us!
Featured image is of Anaros Ilish by BongTaste
Photographs by Subinoy Das
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Shillpi is a New Delhi-based freelance journalist, who mostly writes to while away her time and, at times, to explore the devilry of her idle mind, on anything and everything that tickles her grey matter.