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From the Corporate world to Masterchef India, this chef will leave you inspired with her journey

Chef Anuroopa Banerjee Gupta is the curating chef behind Oi - Kitchen & Bar in Khar, Mumbai, which serves amazing Latin-American food. She has travelled to 24 countries in the name of food, leaving behind a promising career in the corporate sector

From the Corporate world to Masterchef India, this chef will leave you inspired with her journey

Being a foodie and a traveller is a perfect combination of interests to define someone who likes to experience life to the fullest. Where many of us take ages to plan that dream trip, a few convert these dreams into their most immediate reality. Chef Anuroopa Banerjee Gupta is one such person who has travelled across 24 countries so far, all in the name of food. She finds passion in savouring dishes and cuisines from varied places across the globe and adopting the skills to craft the best food experiences here in India. 

Chef Anuroopa is the Consulting and Curating Chef at Oi - Kitchen & Bar in Khar, which is one of the latest additions to the city's restaurant scene. Serving Latin-American food, the restaurant is clad with unconventional artistry and quirky yet classy colours. It is all about a unique experience. 

In an exclusive interaction with the Chef, we got to know much about what drove her to leave behind a flourishing career in the corporate world and pursue cooking and excelling at it. Taking that leap of faith as someone completely amateur in the space, roughly at the age of 35, she was determined to spend her life doing what she loves the most - cooking and travelling to experience different cuisines prepared in the most authentic style. Being a part of Masterchef 2016 and further studying culinary arts at Italian Chef Academy in Rome, she went ahead to pursue something, many just dream of. 

Early food experience and the start of the cooking journey

Food was always a very integral part in Anuroopa's life even though she wasn’t a first hand chef. She claimed herself to be a nonconformist as she loved food but never cooked. 

Why should I enter the kitchen just because I am a girl? However, I grew up across the country and went to 11 schools, and that gave me an insight into cultures and a lot of regional cuisines within India. As a child, I developed an inquisitiveness about what is locally the best food anywhere, even though I never really thought about becoming a chef then," she added while talking about her earliest food experiences.

Her earliest kitchen memories are that of making anda bhurji, paneer bhurji, bhindi, dal, maggi, and the likes during her graduation days, when she was staying in a PG accommodation with 5-6 girls. 

At home, she recalls trying out new recipes at her mother's elaborate dinner parties. Those were early memories but Anuroopa's cooking journey actually started somewhere around 2008 with all the international travels.

Chef's pick at Oi Kitchen and Bar: Roasted Pumpkin Salad
Mistreated as a chaat, it has been slow roasted for about 17-18 hours. This dish is made with the philosophy of zero wastage, where even the skin is edible. The seeds from the vegetable are dried and dehydrated to use as dressing for other dishes. The pulp is put in the salad in a puree form. 

Food and Travel 

Starting to travel around the world in 2007-08, she began experiencing different cuisines from different countries. She realised that there are not many options to have the same cuisines here. That’s when this whole journey of cooking at home started.

Till 2014, she recalls a saga of travelling and doing short cooking courses all around the globe, buying ingredients, coming back home, cooking, throwing parties and inviting friends over. 

Talking about the meal which changed her perspective completely, she mentioned that, when in Barcelona, she went on trip with two of her girlfriends. It was a very expensive yet a fantastic meal at a Michelin restaurant called Massana.

We spent €400 on the meal but it made me realise then that I want to become a chef. I knew that the day I die, this meal is going to flash in front of my eyes. I felt that the power food has over a person is phenomenal. If you can create that kind of experience for even one person in life, it is a wonderful thing to be able to do.

Becoming a chef

She started from the very basics, joining Chef Daniel at Dragon House in Jaipur to learn knife skills. It was her first experience at a commercial kitchen. Anuroopa further went to Australia to learn culinary skills and also take French classes where she learnt Sicilian cooking. 

Talking about her Masterchef India experience

I got a call from Masterchef India in 2016, for the auditions. And even though  I don’t cook Indian food, I ended up being a part of the top 30 contestants amongst 16,000. That kind of told me that probably I have it in me.  After that, I went to Italy and joined the Italian Chef Academy.

When back in India, she ended up doing a lot of individual pop up events, calling these ‘Around the world in 6 plates’

Chef's pick at Oi Kitchen and Bar: Mushroom Manchego and Truffle Aioli Croquetas
If one loves mushrooms, this dish is a must have. Strictly vegetarian, even the aioli is made out of milk, instead of egg. Termed as one of their comfort food, this dish is truly amazing.

People she met on the journey

From Chef Daniel in Jaipur who taught her knife skills to the other mentors during her internships, Anuroopa feels blessed to have been mentored by the most skilled chefs across the globe. 

While studying in Rome, she interned with Chef Ornella at the Coromandel at Piazza Navona, who had also quit her job in the corporate sector to pursue her passion and became one of the top 5 female chefs in Italy. Having trained with someone like her in the beginning of Anuroopa's career had worked in her favour in many ways. 

She fondly recalled training with Chef Jose Antonio at Gastrobar Sabores in Spain. Talking about him, she said,

He is a wonderful chef from the basque culinary and the basque region. I use a lot of his recipes here at Oi (Mumbai). He gave me some 9500 recipes, his life’s work in a pendrive as a gift.

Oi - Kitchen and the Latin-American cuisine

When approached for Oi - Kitchen & Bar, she was told  that they’re coming up with a South American restaurant. To this, she advised that Indian food is not as meat-driven as the Argentinian or Brazilian food. She further recommended them to take up the entire gamut of Latin-American cuisine.

Chef's pick at Oi Kitchen and Bar: Guavatini - Guava and Tamrind Mary
This cocktail is made out of Tamarind and Guava infusions created in-house out of Pink Guava, Tamarind and Chilli. Sweet and sour, this drink has a perfect tamarind flavour, apt for your taste buds and absolutely delicious. 

Fondest food memory
My grandmother’s ‘Kosha Mangsho’. It is a typical Bengali dish where you slow cook meat for hours.

People who inspired you?
- Madhur Jaffrey, who actually made Indian cooking known to so many people across the globe.
- Garima Arora, one of the new age girls who is doing so phenomenally well with her restaurant Gaa in Bangkok. 
-Vikas Khanna, who has put the name of Indian cuisines on the international map. 
- Chef Gaggan and Jiggs Kalra. 

Favourite cuisine
 It keeps changing but for today, it’s Italian and Thai. It’s very difficult for me to put my foot down and like one thing. 
Also, being a Bengali, I love Bengali food.

Favourite ingredient you really like to cook with
Beetroot! It is so versatile. You can make so many things out of it. It can add colour to different dishes. You can make desserts with it. 

Next favourite hobby
Wear pyjamas and watch Netflix all day and do nothing else. 

Food ideology
I love slow cooking.  It is something which is very close to my heart because whenever you slow cook any ingredient, whether it’s a vegetable or a meat, it adds on or condenses the flavour. There is a certain amount of patience and hard work that goes into making something with it. So, it is the labour of love that creates dishes.

Favouring the ideology that one should ‘Dare to Dream’, Chef Anuroopa is all about pushing your limits, unafraid of failures and challenges. She makes it very clear that there is no age to follow what you truly love. 

Not believing that butter chicken, dal makhani and tandoori chicken is all what Indian food is about, she strives to serve something different for the Indian palate, which is as indigenous as it can get. 

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