Kolkata biryani with potato confit? British Chef Shaun Kenworthy is rewriting the rules of Bengali cuisine

Written by: Minal Nirmala Khona

(March 3, 2024) Chef Shaun Kenworthy’s career graph is the definition of going against the norm. While most chefs love the idea of travelling around the world, working with multiple brands across cuisines, once Shaun based himself in Kolkata, he was happy to travel across India doing what he loves best. With no plans of going back to England, in the near future at least.

Oh Kolkata!

Growing up in a town near Manchester, United Kingdom, Shaun worked as a pastry chef at some of the most happening restaurants and bars in London. He was voted one of the top ten pastry chefs in London when he was barely 25. In an exclusive with Global Indian, Chef Shaun recalls, “At that time, I was working with the restaurant Quaglinos in London – the usual 14 to 15-hour days where you barely get four-and-a-half hours of sleep; and you burn out before you are 30. I met Rohit Khattar of India Habitat Centre at the World Gourmet Summit in Singapore, in the year 2000; an event attended by restaurateurs and chefs from all over the world. Rohit invited me to come to India for a couple of weeks in June 2000 and thereafter, with a few emails back and forth, in October 2000, I decided to come here and get out of London for a bit. I was the Executive Sous Chef for India Habitat Centre in Delhi. I had every plan of going back in a year; but one month prior, 9/11 happened and nobody was boarding flights. I also didn’t have a job to go back to.”

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He stayed back and happened to meet Priya Paul of The Park Group of Hotels. She asked him to join them as they were launching new hotels in Bengaluru and Chennai. “I joined the Park Hotel, Kolkata as Executive Chef and had a two-year contract, but they renewed it after one year to extend it for three more years. Those four years were brilliant; I was almost given carte blanche. I spent time in Chennai for the opening of the Park there, and in Delhi for the re-opening of their hotel. I was part of the renovation and relaunch of Flury’s, also owned by the Paul family, in December 2024.”

Here is where he made his mark in Kolkata. With no less a brand than the legendary Flurys; the tea room and patisserie that has been around since 1927. He recalls, “As a pastry chef they wanted me to revamp the menu. I even had Lord Swaraj Paul calling me from England, asking me not to change this or that dish on the menu. The entire Paul family was involved in the revamp.”

Chef Shaun left The Park in 2005. Somewhere along the way, he met Pinky, a model who he married in 2004. “When my time was up, we wondered whether we should go back to England; I also had offers in Beijing, Melbourne and Singapore. But I liked it here, so we stayed back.”

One Chef, Many Hats

That was sheer serendipity because it led to Chef Shaun getting consultancy offers, teaching assignments and setting up new hospitality brands. He says, “I have worked on more than 120 projects over the last 17 years – everything from small boutique properties to high end hotels, restaurants, bars, nightclubs, patisseries, QSR venues and remote properties in places such as the Himalayas, Rajasthan, Kutch and cities across India.”

Chef Shaun was also briefly part of a restaurant called The Blue Potato in Kolkata serving modern global cuisine – which had Bollywood stars and international celebs like Ricky Martin and Antonio Banderas dine there. It shut down in two years because it didn’t have a liquor license. The British chef has also mentored many students, as the Director, Culinary Arts for IICM – the Indian Institute of Culinary Management across several cities. “Thousands of young people have passed through my hands and so many of my students have worked with me.”

Projects he has recently worked on include the premium segment property, Suryagarh, in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan and Rann Riders in Kutch, and Sitara, in the Himalayas. He says, “I like to work on places that tell a story of the region through the food, in a modern context. These places get lots of international guests, so the stories of the place must be retold through the local ingredients and traditions.” He likes taking on selected projects, some on turnkey basis; creating a brand-new all-day menu, masterclasses, pop-ups… “I like loads of variety – doing one thing is boring for me,” he says.

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The place still close to his heart and one Chef Shaun is still involved with since the planning stages over a decade ago, is The Glenburn Penthouse, which opened its doors in the middle of 2018. “We [Glenburn Tea Estate’s Anshuman and Husna-Tara Prakash] decided to launch an elegant, boutique nine-room venue. It stands on Russell Street overlooking the magnificent Victorian Memorial and the Kolkata maidan. Other than focus on the rooms, we host intimate, bespoke events with 20-40 people over dinner. We are open for lunch and dinner and offer a traditional ‘Full English afternoon tea.’ We also did curated menus for special occasions.”

Chef Shaun reiterates that he does not personally cook Indian food. “I play around with flavours and Indian ingredients, but the food I make is more European and modern. I have been using Bandel cheese from Kalimpong for more than 20 years now in my risottos and pastas.”

Bengali Cuisine, International Touch

Bengalis have, more so than Indians from other states, a proprietary approach towards their cuisine. Any criticism or experimentation is often taken as a personal affront. Yet, Chef Shaun has experimented with ingredients and techniques, as he says, “a million times.” To great success. Even the sacrosanct elements of Bengali food – the hilsa fish, mishti doi and the Kolkata biryani –have been modernised and completely transformed under his creative touch. As have puchkas, pani puri to the rest of us, kasundi or mustard paste and paanch phoron – the Bengali tadka medley. The famed sweets too are served in unrecognisable avatars.  He says, “To make the Kolkata biryani, I broke it down into its four main components – rice, meat, potato and egg. I overcooked the rice, the goat was cooked overnight for 12 hours so the meat would just melt in your mouth. I served it with a potato confit and a soft-boiled egg. And topped it with crispy fried onions and a dollop of ghee because everyone loves them. Of course, people criticised it initially, but I told them to taste it first and not jump to conclusions. Similarly, with the hilsa, I serve it pan-seared alongside roasted arbi and green gondhoraj [the local lemon] Hollandaise sauce.” Chef Shaun has also served the much-revered hilsa as a mousse among other Bengali favourites turned upside down.


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Puchkas have been tweaked into various starters and dessert much before doing so became a trend. He recalls, “I like to experiment as the food is about telling a story. I’ve served puchkas dipped in white chocolate, or with crab mousse, a beetroot chaat, or Bengali sweets inside – in a million different ways really. I treat the aam papad or shoto as it is known here, as a fruit leather and play around with it as a glaze. The paanch phoron too is so versatile. Among desserts, which are the easiest to make for me, I made a mishti doi burnt basque with mishti doi and cheese; and served angoori rasmalai with little fruit pieces.”

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Global trends according to him are moving towards innovation. He says in conclusion, “India is in a great position and there are so many inspired young chefs doing intelligent stuff with Indian ingredients. Look at Goa, five or six years ago, nothing was happening and so much has changed now. There are so many trendy restaurants in Goa and it is a melting pot of cuisines. A lot of chefs are also reviving regional cuisines and reinventing recipes that have been there for a long time.”

While travelling, Chef Shaun Kenworthy likes to eat at:

  • Yauatcha, Kolkata: Crispy prawn Cheung fun
  • Comorin, Gurgaon: Any and many of their small plates; I love the bheja fry
  • Ode, Mumbai: Yellow fin tuna loin with avocado pachadi
  • La Chapelle, London: For a good Sunday roast
  • Amazonico, Madrid: For the most incredible Brazilian rib eye steaks
  • The Canton house, Chinatown, Bangkok: Their dim sums are to die for

You can follow Shaun on Instagram here: Chefshaunkenworthy


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