India Inc India Inc: Tuesday, 06 March 2018 07:01

Branding a Little Kolkata in London

Prabir Chattopadhyay, the Founder of a unique supper club concept in the UK, talks through his vision of curry diplomacy.

What is the story behind Little Kolkata as a supper club concept in Britain?

Britain has approximately 12,000 curry houses with an annual sale of £4.2 billion, according to data compiled last year by Lord Karan Bilimoria, the chairman of Cobra Beer and a member of the UK Parliament’s Curry Committee, which advises on government policies. However, the irony is, there are hardly any restaurants in Britain offering classic Calcutta dishes.

My journey to becoming a chef patron of Little Kolkata has been rather challenging yet interesting. Though I have played different roles throughout my professional career, as a marine engineer to begin with, moving on to working in multi-national conglomerates in India, the passion to start something of my own was deep rooted since a very early age. When I moved to the UK over a decade ago to pursue my Master’s degree, I began to work part time with one of the celebrated British chefs, Michael Cains, which gave me an opportunity to learn the tricks of the trade of the food industry at grass root level.

Having completed my studies with exceptionally good grades, I got the opportunity to work in companies like The Cooperative Group, Arcadia and Costa Coffee, which enabled me to acquire a multi-dimensional perspective about the food and retail industry and the backward and forward integration at large.

After years of rigorous preparations, tasting sessions and innumerable supper clubs, I launched my brand “Little Kolkata” through a completely sold out supper club in July 2017. My mantra has always been to stick to classic and authentic Bengali recipes inspired from my grandmother’s kitchen, Calcutta street food, patisseries like the famous Flury’s and popular delicacies introduced during the Mughal period and British Raj.

It was a means, through collective effort, to place Calcutta cuisine on a global platform. The most rewarding part of launching Little Kolkata is that it has been able to bring people together from different genres and nationalities who love what I offer and give me valuable feedback towards a more enriching learning experience.

What are your future plans for the business – in the UK and elsewhere?

Opening a restaurant is the inevitable succession for most supper clubs. However, it has its own challenges which are very different to running an event. So, whilst I am mulling over the thought of opening a permanent site, I am not completely oblivious to the risks. I would definitely want to continue with my efforts of bringing authentic Calcutta food to the people of UK and beyond.

To what do you attribute the popularity of the supper clubs?

For me, Little Kolkata is about sharing the spirit of Kolkata and its culinary delight with people of Britain. Our food offerings are very carefully selected to make sure each meal is fulfilling and satisfying to our guests.

More importantly, every dish on our menu has its own story to tell, drawn from the various culinary traditions found in an urban metropolis like Kolkata. In effect, our recipes are very unique, soulful and boast a tale, which add a touch of personality to each item on the list and has immensely contributed to the popularity of our supper clubs.

We bring dishes from every part of Kolkata, be it their street food or traditional canteen offerings, home food or recipes from classic Bengali weddings. It even includes recipes from temple meals and from the kitchens of the Mughals. And, of course, one cannot deny the quintessential existence of Bengali desserts which are always an integral part of my supper clubs.

How do you set your offering apart from similar experiments?

Calcutta dishes are best described as subtle, sumptuous and aromatic and the confluence of Indian flavours lends itself well to appeal to English palates. The offering is eclectic which comes from my inherent strength of growing up in the city of joy. It gives me the edge to offer a more informed and balanced gastronomic experience, all of which I myself have enjoyed as part of growing up in Calcutta.

The dishes I offer are cooked with authentic spices in traditional style and in a controlled cooking environment, which imparts the same level of perfection to the dishes as one would find in Calcutta. Given that there is a real dearth of Calcutta food offering in Britain, our menu comes as a breath of fresh air within the Indian food offering – for not just the fellow South Asians but also to a much wider crowd.

What makes cuisine and culture a soft power for India globally?

Food and culture have always been associated together. While culture is an experience that engulfs the way of living, food plays one of the most important roles in binding that culture among the people. While music, art, language, religion, are some of the pillars of the founding culture, it is food by means of which culture may be introduced in different strata of global society.

Being a global Indian is definitely a boon towards my making informed decisions about what to offer to the global palate at large. My deep-rooted connection with my land has been instrumental in giving me an edge in business. I could never have got this far had I not been a global Indian connecting with some of the great minds who helped Little Kolkata grow.

I truly believe in being global and thinking local.

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