It was while trying to rustle up Spaghetti Arrabbiata during her board exams that Vedika Bhootra realised she had always wanted to be a pasta specialist. Since then, the girl has been besotted by pasta whether it’s Modena’s Farfalle, Emilia’s Tortellini, Piedmont’s Tagliolini, the popular Roman Fettuccine or the Bolognese Tagliatelle. Having worked in a couple of three Michelin star diners, her best learning experience has been in Piazza Duomo Ristorante in Alba, Italy.
“The precision and discipline that I saw and learnt there, had a big impact on my way of working. The produce that I saw and got to eat there blew my mind. It also made me appreciate and respect the ingredients,” recalls the chef.
And it was the Italian town Alba that inspired her to open her own artisanal pasta label Alba 18 in November last year — that aspires to be the city’s neighbourhood Pastaficio — a shop where you can get fresh handmade pasta, some sauces and certain weekly specials, like lasagne or gnocchi. Currently, you can order the freshly made Tagliolini, Tagliatelle, Scarpinocc, Buttoni, Cappellacci or Agnolotti from their Instagram handle and have them with equally delectable sauces ranging from Buerre Blanc, Sugo di Pomodoro, Saffron Parmesan or C re m a di Parmigiana.
“The Italian supermarkets would sell fresh stuffed pasta off the rack. It would take just 10 minutes to put together a beautiful bowl of fresh pasta. This was something I really missed after I came back. And I was sure many others would appreciate fresh pasta, too. That’s how Alba 18 was born,” she tells us. We talked to Bhootra about her life as a chef with niche expertise and more. Excerpts:
Being a woman, how challenging is it to be a chef?
Being a chef is tough, it’s a lot of hard work, long hours on your feet, lifting heavy stuff, working in the heat. Sometimes you get shouted at, yelled at. But that happens to both men and women. The only difference is that women have to work a bit harder to get the same level of respect or responsibility since some chefs think that girls can’t work as hard or they are there for a short time and are delicate. However, I have been blessed to have worked with some amazing chefs who didn’t care for gender in the kitchen.
What made you come back to Kolkata?
In the eight years that I have been outside of the home, I literally lived out of a suitcase moving from Mumbai to Italian towns to Copenhagen. I missed the sense of belonging and a cupboard.
How much has Kolkata’s taste buds changed in all these years?
Though Kolkata has always had a refined palate, there has been a shift in the taste, it’s become more global. Indian and Continental were the two most enjoyed cuisines, but now, Asian besides Italian have probably become the city’s most beloved cuisines.
How different are the pasta offerings from what’s locally available?
Alba 18 makes both stuffed and long pasta, like Tagliatelle and Tagliolini, along with sauces. The menu changes with the season, though there are some staples. I specialise in stuffed pasta, which I believe is new to the city, and tastes fresher than the dried pasta off the racks.
Do leave us with some words of advice for aspiring female chefs.
Just keep your head down, mouth shut and eyes open, while you work. Stay a bit longer, work a bit harder, ask questions, and look for a mentor. It’ll be a long journey, but a good one.
Pasta at Rs 320 onwards.
Source: Thanks https://www.indulgexpress.com/food/food-calcutta/2021/mar/05/chef-vedika-bhootra-is-proud-to-gift-kolkata-its-first-artisanal-pasta-label-alba-18-32129.html