In this scorching heat, think: a delicious plate of fish, tomato and rice, carefully and creatively moulded and presented in layers, giving it a captivating look. From the very first spoonful in your mouth, the flavour and relish you’re met with might send you tumbling if you’re not careful. You may also decide to treat yourself to amazing meals that aren’t just a delight to taste buds, but also extremely healthy and fun to eat.
Corporate professional turned food-preneur, Guwahati-based Palash Borah is a home chef and competent caterer and has now made a name in the food circuit with modern and innovative ideas, poised at giving the Assamese local dishes a global appeal. With his venture; Petuaa, it’s not about introducing western dishes to Assamese indigenes for Palash, but giving the traditional cuisines a contemporary look, and taking it to the rest of the world.
The journey to being a dedicated home chef was not smooth sailing for this young entrepreneur. Palash credits a huge part of his motivation to beginning this journey to inspiration from watching Masterchef Australia. He soon figured out that to become a successful home chef, you have to look beyond the recipes to the science and logic that forms the bedrock of cooking. Now, studying foods and ingredients and finding new ways to improve on current recipes has become his most distinguishing factor.
Talking about how it all started, Palash says, “Once I quit corporate life in Hyderabad, I had plenty of time in hand and was watching a lot of Masterchef Australia. One day inspired by it, I decided to try and make something for a very close friend, mostly to impress. I soon realized that food is not recipes at all and there is a lot of science to everything that is done. I started researching the science in cooking and experimenting and was instantly drawn to it as I started understanding food and ingredients. Haven’t looked back since and my life is all about creating food and drinking some beers now.”
The name ‘Petuaa’ might sound hilarious to many, especially the Assamese. It means ‘fat’. Palash tells us why he named his venture ‘Petuaa’ and about its concept.
“When I came back to Assam last year, I wasn’t sure what to do. However, I did want to explore the food scene in Guwahati and create something of my own. I was meeting some people and needed to make a presentation about services that I could offer and so needed to come up with a name. That [Petuaa] was the first thing that came to my mind (probably because I was one in school), and being back home brings back all those memories. Not much thought went into the name, I just felt comfortable with it. Even the logo is just my father’s signature that I twisted and edited to make it look like mine. I don’t have great knowledge of the Guwahati market yet. So, I am in the process of understanding it before I commit myself to a certain plan/concept. I am currently doing weekend menus and customised catering / private party orders,” he says.
For this food entrepreneur, innovation is an essential part of his craft. He has been able to successfully introduce modern innovative solutions to traditional Assamese food items, which otherwise look simple. He shares how he put together one of his popular dishes – Rosogulla Cream Nimki Cake.
“My life is entirely food now. I am always thinking about food and what can be done with food. ‘Rosogulla Cream Nimki Cake’ was a random dream about rosogulla and nimki, and I woke up craving some. This was in Hyderabad, and Swiggy didn’t have rosogulla options for breakfast, so I decided to try and learn how to make some. By evening I was setting an entire planned entremet with rosogulla, cream, nimki in a mould to let it set in the fridge,” he says letting out a mild chuckle.
With most of his other dishes, Palash usually starts by aiming to prepare a particular dish and then follows it up with a few kinds of research on more innovative ways he can combine the ingredients, or change the base dish to attempt a different approach. He also tries playing around with the colours and taste to get the best possible combination. His motivation to continue preparing unique dishes comes from seeing the joyful reaction on the faces of his satisfied customers. He believes his job as a home chef is not just to quell hunger but also to get people excited about Assamese food.
When it comes to desserts, only a handful could measure up to Palash in his raw element. He describes his recent skill in baking professionally. “I started making desserts only about early 2020. When I started cooking and reading about the science in cooking, I got a little overconfident and decided to bake a cake for a friend’s birthday which turned out so hard and dense that she couldn’t cut it. So, I never tried making desserts after that for a year but then I eventually decided to shed my fear and researched the science and experimented intensively. I was supposed to go to culinary school but that didn’t materialise, so I haven’t learnt it professionally,” Palash admits.
He also heartily describes some fun memories he has had ever since he began the journey to culinary perfection. “My first pop up brunch in Hyderabad was at the end of 2019. It was memorable for a bunch of reasons. Most importantly because I got to work in a commercial kitchen for the first time and see how they run the services. It was an incredible amount of learning for me. And although the guests were mostly all my friends so I can’t tell if they liked the food or were just incredibly supportive. Either way, it was one of the most exciting couple of weeks for me,” he recounts with a smile.
A few of his widely-loved dishes include; Aari Maas and Paani Lau, Green Apple and Mango Dessert, Rosogulla Cream Nimki Cake, Doi Seera Gur Mould, Ronga Lau and Phulkobir Khichdi, Pork and Pineapple sweet treat, among others. Truth is, you may never fully grasp the excitement and relishing goodness that comes with every meal until you taste it.
So apart from cooking and baking, does Palash have any other hidden talents? “Well, I always make it a point to mention and brag that I am also very passionate about beer chugging and represented Hyderabad in the Kingfisher National Beer Chugging Championship and came third. Would have come first, but I messed up in one round,” he laughs.
Looking ahead, Palash says, “There are a few ideas in my head around tasting menus using local produce, ingredients and flavour combinations, but they are not fully ready to be released. A dessert pick-up joint might not be a bad idea for this city. Let’s see!” Food lovers in and around Assam and even beyond will simply have to wait to see what he has in store for them even as he continues to create new delicacies and menus with enviable craftsmanship.