Thursday, June 23, 2011

Club Chicken

There is an unseemly controversy at The Calcutta Club over the suspension of 2 Management Committee members – a somewhat usual occurrence, if not entirely unprecedented. One of them had sent out an email to the general members leveling some damaging charges against the incumbent President of the club, which was considered, probably rightly so, as a major misdemeanour not acceptable of a committee member. What the suspension effectively does is to debar the members from contesting the forthcoming annual elections of the club. A political masterstroke of "all the President's men" !!

Politics is not uncommon in clubs. In fact, some would argue – a healthy dose of politics is what makes club life what it is. The antics and machinations of rival groups at The Delhi Gymkhana – especially between its civilian and services factions – regularly make news in the mainline dailies. Members of many well-known clubs have been known to periodically go to court.But, what makes the current imbroglio at The Calcutta Club particularly interesting is that, one of the main issues of contention – is about the affairs of the kitchen and the Bar (Wine and Cigar Department).

In one of my earlier blogs (Raj Redux - click here) – I had described the club – as an extension of the “baithak khana” (parlour) of a North Calcutta Zamindar residence. The atmosphere remains like that of a Bengali joint family of olden days – with their share of enfant terribles and a few black sheep. So, you can trust a quintessentially Bengali institution to get worked up on the highly emotive subject of Food & Beverages.

In the instant case – it appears that, the previous committee had after a lot of deliberation changed the source of fish, poultry and meat supplies from the traditional vendors of New Market – to a Multinational Cash & Carry chain – that came to Calcutta sometime back. This did not go down well with the old guards of the kitchen. The current committee has reversed the decision and re-instated some of the earlier vendors. The letter of the dissenting Committee Members insinuates ulterior motives to this move among a whole host of other damning accusations.

I am not going to take sides, getting into the merits (or, for that matter, the lack of it ) of the allegations – though I would agree that there was serious breach of propriety on part of the earrant committee members in sending out such an email to general members without first tabling it before the committee. But, my concern remains wholly about the quality of food - because for me that's the principle attraction of the club (apart from it's great location) - for which I am prepared to suffer the atrocious service and shameless soliciting (for tips) of the bearers.

Incidentally, the Steward of another venerable club of Calcutta – who too have switched their supplies to the same Cash & Carry outfit – had sometime ago confided in my wife similar reservations about the quality of their stuff, lamenting the fall in standards. One thing I can vouch for is – on a good day, the beckti at the Calcutta Club – in any form, fried, grilled or as meuniere – is simply unbeatable. I can't say that, about the the other club anymore - though it's culinary excellence is legendary and still remains it's sole raison d'etre.

By and large - I have given up poultry – unless it’s the country (desi or gauti) chicken variety or duck. I think the broilers served in restaurants and hotels (now also in clubs) are better described as ‘wrestlers’ – which are as rubbery as they are tasteless. But, there are still a few places – where I eat chicken. These are usually the Muslim eateries in Calcutta or Delhi’s Jama – Masjid area (Karim's or Al Jawahar).

Today, caught in a heavy afternoon downpour on the way back from an external meeting, went to Shiraz in Park Circus for an unscheduled lunch and ordered a Chicken Chaamp to pair with the Mutton Biriyani. It was the breast of a tiny bird – tender and succulent. I had absolutely no doubt in my mind that – it could not have come from a Cash & Carry supermarket. It may not have been a pure grain fed free-range chicken – but it wasn’t from a commercial poultry farm either. The Miyan Restaurateurs and Bawarchis know their chicken for sure – and they could teach F & B Managers at Clubs and Hotels a thing or two about how to judge the quality of meats from the butcherie or vendors of fish and vegetables.