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Canadian Chef Profiles: Chef Rene Bhullar - Calcutta Cricket Club, Calgary AB

Updated on July 24, 2017
Chef Rene Bhullar
Chef Rene Bhullar

Chef Rene Bhullar took some time out of his busy schedule to discuss his new role as executive chef at Calcutta Cricket Club.

Rene told me that while he was earning a degree in chemistry at university, he enjoyed cooking for himself. He started to work in the pharmaceutical industry, but realized that he might have a future as a professional chef. He says, “I applied for a job as a cook and started working. I’ve been cooking professionally for about five years now. I haven’t looked back since. It’s just a really enjoyable job.”

Starting in his mid-30’s meant that Rene had to learn through a combination of experimentation and observation. He explains, “I just jumped into the industry and I wasn’t afraid to try things, so I could speed up my improvement. If I didn’t know how to do something, I would just try it to get accustomed to cooking. I would just do things and see if they worked. I absorbed everything from everybody around me. If there was anybody who could do stuff that I couldn’t do, I would watch them and learn.”

The Bengali cuisine at Calcutta Cricket Club is a departure from what people usually associate with “Indian food” in Canada. Rene says, “Most of the food you see in Indian restaurants in Canada is Punjabi-style food which is heavy and rich. Bengali food is lighter and more fragrant. I just try not to do not too much to it and I just let the flavours speak for themselves.”

Papri Chaat - Semolina crisps, spiced potatoes, yogurt, onions, chickpeas, mint, tamarind, chaat masala.
Papri Chaat - Semolina crisps, spiced potatoes, yogurt, onions, chickpeas, mint, tamarind, chaat masala.

Rather than trying to create a new style of cuisine, Rene wants to present classic Bengali dishes for people to experience. He says, “For example, our chicken rezala is a classic dish that’s been around for a long time. It wasn’t anything that I invented. It’s a very special dish in certain parts of India and I just decided to do it my way.”

One of the dishes for which he has a lot of respect is Calcutta Cricket Club's lamb shank kosha mangsho. Rene describes the dish, “It’s a play on a traditional festive Bengali dish. We did it with a lamb shank rather than mutton pieces. We serve it with a rice dish called mishti pulao. It’s full of cashews, raisins and a lot of spices like mace, cinnamon and ground cardamom. I think that’s probably one of dishes on the menu that’s most representative of what we’re trying to do here.”

Quality is the main motivating factor behind Rene’s sourcing of ingredients. He wants to find the highest quality in all of his produce and meats because that ultimately adds to the quality of the finished dishes. He says, “I try to maintain a good relationship with my suppliers so I can get the best quality ingredients from them.”

One of the crucial traits for any chef is the ability to stand behind the food that they create. Rene points out, “You have to have a lot of confidence in your food. You just have to be willing to put your food out there and take any criticism that you get. You have to have a thick skin. Some people will like it, some people will hate it and you just have to accept both sides of that.”

Lamb Shank Kosha Mangsho - Slowly braised lamb shank served with traditional mishti pulao with cashews.
Lamb Shank Kosha Mangsho - Slowly braised lamb shank served with traditional mishti pulao with cashews.

In his kitchen team, Rene mostly looks for people who are going to be willing to learn new things. He elaborates, “Most of the kitchen team doesn’t have a lot of experience with Indian food or Bengali cuisine. They’ve learned quickly and they’re starting to pick up the nuances of it. You need to be willing to do more than come in and cook monotonously. You have to understand what kind of food you’re cooking, just so it makes sense to you. There’s a lot of different ingredients they’ve never heard of. A lot of the spices they’ve never heard of, we use different oils they’ve never used and different techniques of cooking, so you have to be open minded.”

In a year, he hopes that Calcutta Cricket Club will become a destination for people in search of something different when it comes to Indian cuisine. Rene says, “A year down the road, I’d like to be synonymous with a certain type of more upscale Indian dining in Calgary. There’s not too much of it here and I’d like to be an alternative to the classic choices that people make when they think of Indian food here. “

In order to deal with the demands of his job, Rene tries to keep himself mentally and physically sharp and ready to perform. He says, “I read a lot, watch a lot of YouTube cooking videos and keep in shape. I go to the gym every day. It’s a long, hard road and you have to be prepared for it and stick to it. As soon as you stop preparing for it, it becomes a lot rougher than you think it’s going to be. If you’re not exercising your mind and your body, you’ll just fall apart.”

Phuchkas - Spherical fried semolina filled with potato, chickpeas, cilantro and chilies.
Phuchkas - Spherical fried semolina filled with potato, chickpeas, cilantro and chilies.

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