In 2021, Kishwar Chowdhury made an ‘unapologetic’ choice to cook a household staple and a popular Bengali dish, panta bhat (smoked rice water accompanied by aloo bhorta and sardines) that took on wings and a life of its own. Her version of the delightful fermented rice dish from Bengal, also known as poita bhat in Assam, pakhala bhat in Odisha, geel bhat in Bihar, cooked on the grand finale of MasterChef Australia, combined sophistication in presentation and deep-rooted cultural heritage.
“I was in Melbourne that time, and hearing news about this dish from all over the world—India
Born and raised in Melbourne, Chowdhury has curated dinners and menus which celebrate Australian produce with a hint of South Asian heritage. The reason why her food philosophy is about region-specific dishes – one that belongs at home (Melbourne) or reinvigorated with hints of Indo-Bengali culture.
Food has an unparalleled power to unite people across all ages and backgrounds, and cricket is no less. “Food, cricket and heritage has been close to my heart,” says Chowdhury, who magically transports her audience to show the best of Melbourne with culinary food trails, hosted gala dinner for the Western Australian Investment and Trade Commission in India and served as an ambassador for the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup
“It is important to know who the audience is, what’s the project, what are we trying to do on that day. Whether it is catering to a crowd of 90,000 people at the India vs Pakistan
Her menus celebrate the shared passion of food and culture between Melbourne and Victoria with Victorian produce taking inspiration from the iconic landmarks of the region. For instance, the hors d’oeuvres in the laneways were inspired by the colourful laneways at Hosier in Melbourne, full of colourful graffiti and street art. Beetroot and feta puchka made with semolina wafer shells with roasted beetroot, feta cremeux and micro herbs; or Yarra Valley Cellar Door, a dish of Beechworth honey (Australian honey) Mulwarra lamb (premium south eastern Australia lamb), saffron, potato, gnocchi finished with sage burnt butter sauce and lavender dust.
Having trained under the renowned Michelin star Chef Masahiko Yomoda and collaborated with celebrated chef Adam D’Sylva to create a modern Australian-Bengali inspired menu for iconic Melbourne institution Tonka, Chowdhury feels the south Asian culinary scene needs more attention in fine dining.
“My food is a reflection of my story, my heritage, but with a lot of French techniques, a lot of Japanese techniques. It’s about using techniques and telling your story. However, food in fine dining spaces has always been very Euro-centric. I’ve always challenged that notion as to why Indian or Bangladeshi food or food from South Asian heritage doesn’t belong in those spaces. So there’s a need for a reflection of this in the fine dining space,” she says.
Chowdhury appreciates the versatile culinary scene in India and the idea of sustainability. “The way we eat in this part of the world has always been sustainable—eating nose to tail or farm to fork. The rise of chefs from India, and having an international exposure, has become extremely competitive in terms of where the food scene is going, they’re able to now tell their stories. When I look at chefs in India, they are amazing, innovative, and for the first time, I find them extremely empowered in this generation, where they’re telling their food stories, the story of sustainability and veganism,” she says.
In the near future, Chowdhury’s plate is full of curating menus in different spaces globally which include hosting gala dinners with Indian ministers in Australia, and unveiling of her culinary book soon based on accessible recipes. “Those recipes which one doesn’t see in public or in fine dining. It would be good home cuisine, and easy to follow recipes,” she adds.