Modern Or Classic, Indian Food Is All About Balance: Chef Prabir Banerjee

Cooking up a storm at Hong Kong’s Chaiwala, the young chef took his passion for Indian food all the way to Southeast Asia and gave it a fun modern twist.

Published On May 20, 2024 | Updated On May 20, 2024


A journey that took him from Kolkata to Bengaluru to Hong Kong, chef Prabir Banerjee, who leads the vibrant modern Indian kitchen at Chaiwala, enjoys a life of culinary adventure, one that definitely isn’t halting anytime soon. He’s learned to play with food, bring his creativity to the table and give the Indian food lovers of Hong Kong and his patrons something to look forward to each time they visit. 

It’s definitely a lot of work and it has not been easy. 

For Banerjee, who was in Bengaluru recently to conduct a popup at Aaleeshan at the JW Marriott Bengaluru Prestige Golfshire Resort & Spa, “to move into that area where Indian food was always been looked as being spicy” hasn’t been cakewalk. But he also admits that Hong Kong has definitely warmed up to Indian food in the past few years. “With Chaiwala, I had the opportunity to bring to the table something that was new and yet could keep my roots intact with my spices and ingredients,” he says. 

It's a mantra he rarely would move away from, he says, “No matter where my journey took me, my roots remained firmly planted in the flavours of India. It is what helps me to evolve as I serve people from all across the globe.” 

Cookery shows and books were what led him into the kitchen and Banerjee says, “I was always curious, yearning to learn more about the various Indian cuisines and the techniques.” And it is that penchant to learn that guided him to present Indian food with a twist at Chaiwala. “I am not afraid to do new things, especially now that I think I have understood what people want when it comes to flavour and taste. I try to bring in the unique blend of creative Indian affair, along with the visual appeal of the dishes which now elevates the dining experience,” he says. 


But the one thing he’s quite clear about is that he won’t mess around with that each of the dishes at Chaiwala represents. “One should always remember that each ingredient has its own taste and it can get as strong as the spices that go into a dish. What I make has to balance all the flavours even when it’s fusion food.” 


Traveling throughout South and Southeast Asia, Banerjee says that he’s noticed a fascinating phenomenon. “These cuisines are often seen as a monolithic entity outside their regions. People might just say "Asian food" without recognising the incredible diversity within. However, over the past few years in Hong Kong, which is considered to be a global culinary hub, there’s a growing appreciation for the complexity and vibrancy of South and Southeast Asian flavours. People are becoming more adventurous and willing to explore beyond the stereotypical dishes. Therefore, within this growing popularity, individual cuisines from these regions are carving out their own unique identities,” he explains. 

It’s true that working with Indian food anywhere outside of India might add a lot of pressure on a chef – the need to be relevant, modern, connect with the diaspora as well as even non-Indian diners, and Banerjee reiterates how important it is then to stay true to the core flavours and essence of Indian cuisine, but also make it relevant and appealing to a new audience. 

“At Chaiwala, we add a modern twist to classic Indian dishes, but never lose sight of the original taste profile. We use familiar spices and ingredients, but put them together in unexpected ways. We also believe in honouring traditional Indian cooking methods and ingredients. However, we're not afraid to experiment with modern techniques when they enhance the dish without compromising its soul and at the same time cater to the different tastebuds of our diners,” he says. 


For his popup in Bengaluru, which was the inaugural chapter of the ‘The Royal Homecoming’ series initiated by JW Marriott Bengaluru Prestige Golfshire Resort & Spa, Banerjee stuck to his roots. “I drew inspiration from traditional Indian cuisines that are both inspiring and royal in India. As we all know that the taste and food culture change every 100 km in India, so do the cooking styles. I wanted to infuse and blend dishes from all across the country while keeping the spices intact. My dishes go beyond the stereotype of “spicy” Indian food, which reflects in our tuna chaat, mutton sukha with mint chutney, and so on.” 

Photo: Featured Restaurant