This August we are thrilled to be hosting two special events ‘Summer Spice’ starring Kolkatan based chef, food writer and Indiaphile, Shaun Kenworthy, whom we met at the Appejay Kolkata Literature Festival in January 2019.
Shaun has worked at some of the best gourmet establishments in Europe, North America and the Indian subcontinent including Bibdendum, Quaglinos, The Hyatt Regency, Park Hotels, Raddison, Mayfair and Glenburn Tea Estate etc. Plus he also consults for leading international hospitality businesses and exclusive private members clubs such as The Tollygunge and Bengal clubs.
A Passage to India
On arrival in New Delhi in the year 2000, Shaun set about creating his own unique style, focusing on incorporating his European cooking techniques and traditions to create his own interpretation of modern Anglo/Indian cuisine.
Shaun has developed this style to create his own niche and is sought after for his culinary prowess as well as hospitality business acumen.
Shaun frequently appears in Indian main stream media as a writer and a celebrity chef, and also takes part in TV Shows globally. If this wasn’t enough, Shaun is also trustee of the Jungle Crows Foundation, a sports and social development organisation in Kolkata supporting children and young people as they grow and develop.
We caught up with Shaun to find out about his passion for all things Indian, for his love of spice and in particular, Anglo India cuisine:
Who and what inspired you to become a chef?
Most probably the time I spent growing up with my Gran. She was a wonderful, traditional British cook preparing and making roasts, pies, soup and dumplings etc. She was the archetypal buxom Granny – always in a piny – cooking, cleaning and preparing staples for the family. She would also prepare game such as rabbit, brought over by one or two of my Grandad’s friends, who had recently caught a brace!
My Mother’s catholic sisters Mary and Josie – who remained unmarried all their lives – were also my inspiration. They spent most of their time in the kitchen baking cakes, breads and biscuits for the church. I used to love the sweet smells in their house and couldn’t resist their delicious bakes!
Why inspired you to head to India in 2000?
It was on a bit of a chance offer. I was working at Quaglino’s when we were invited to be a ‘guest restaurant’ for 10 days in Singapore at the ‘World Gourmet Summit’ back in 2000. I was burnt out by then and wanted a break from London. I was offered plenty of jobs in Asia and eventually committed to a one year contract in Delhi, India. During that year 9/11 happened and suddenly there were literally no jobs anywhere in the world! However, I was lucky to get another contract as Exec chef at the Park Hotel in Kolkata and the rest, as they say, is history!
How was the experience of adapting to India culture?
If I’m honest, the first year in Delhi was tough for me and for my employer. Getting used to the Indian rhythms, learning that everything runs on a knee-jerk and that the concept of peoples value of time is completely different to the U.K., took quite some getting used to. Over the years it has got much better and once I arrived in Calcutta, I felt as though I’d come home and I fell in love with the city in the first month.
What would you describe as an authentic Indian dish?
It’s difficult really, once you start to understand the history of who came and went, you start to realise that many dishes are not really as Indian as you once thought. That said, bhog or khichdi are as pretty close as you will get. One of my favourite Indian comfort foods is a delicious lightly spiced rice lentil vegetable – let’s say porridge called ‘Kitchdi’ – with lots of ghee. This is probably as authentic an Indian a dish as you will find.
What is your favourite Anglo/Indian Dish?
The word Anglo Indian throws up so much opportunity for chefs. Anything that isn’t really ‘traditionally Indian’ or ‘traditionally Western’, but is somehow a mix of flavours and ingredients, can be classed as being Anglo Indian. I love a succulent Anglo Indian Roast and in recent years, is one of my favourite dishes I cook and assemble. For a more contemporary dish, something like seared sea scallops with Goan chorizo, wilted red spinach, basmati velouté and Asian tomato salsa.
How does food differ in Kolkata the rest of India?
Wherever you are in India, regional food changes so much, from the cooking medium and styles of preparation with breads in some regions and rice in others etc. But Calcutta was historically a melting pot of many different cultures and has very strong influences from Persia. Murshidabad, a town in West Bengal on the Hoogley River and fairly close to Kolkata, was once an incredibly important place and apparently produced 10% of the world’s GDP, long before the British arrived. Hence a melting pot of European, Afghani, Parsi, Jewish – and India’s only Chinese community – having settled in and around the city of Kolkata and the influence has produced an anglicised cuisine all of its own!
Do you have a favourite spice for cooking with?
Most likely cumin as it’s the easiest to pair with any recipes from the West.
Your proudest career moment?
Many but probably being voted in London’s top 10 restaurant pastry Chefs when I was about 25!
Tell us about your work as a trustee with Jungle Crows?
It all began with a few of us unhealthy foreigners deciding to throw a rugby ball around for fitness in 2004. As we were playing, many local kids and adults would come over and ask why we were throwing a strange shaped ball around a muddy field! We asked them to join us and within a year we had a team.
Now we have projects in 32 slum communities in Calcutta alone, promoting the values of ‘Khelo’ or ‘play’ to over 1,000 kids. We also promote the importance of building positive futures and assist in supporting tutoring for scholarships. Many of the boys and girls have gone on to work with us in the community, playing and coaching rugby, which has launched involvement with national and international tours as part of the National rugby team.
My biggest contribution is taking part of in the Jungle Crows Winter Camp which we hold throughout the Christmas period. Over 1,000 kids taking part a day in Calcutta and over 3,000 in other projects around the country. I have managed to mobilise local hotels and restaurants to provide a breakfast each day for the children. In Calcutta, a team of hotel executives join in (at one of the busiest times of the year) on the Calcutta ‘maidan’ – an enormous open piece of land in the centre of the city – to interact and play with the kids as their corporate social responsibility commitment. I love my Christmases in Calcutta!
What’s next for Shaun Kenworthy?
Lots more eating, cooking, projects and writing / mentoring
What will you be cooking up for us at Summer Spice in August?
A good traditional ‘Calcutta biryani’ which is probably the most like a Persian pulao or Pilaf than all the Biryani’s you’ll find in India.
And of course some fun with flavours in Clive’s pop up, where nothing is particularly traditional but there is definitely a modern Anglo Indian touch to everything. Plus really looking forward to meeting you all.
Shaun is currently working on a book about his 20 years in India including the romance and food history of his beloved Calcutta Cuisine. The published book will be available towards the end of the year.