Arpon Changma: Meet the chef committed to putting Bangladesh on a global platter
Hotel InterContinental is hosting the coveted Annual Chains De Rotisserie in Dhaka on 19 May, where Arpon Changma has been commissioned to curate the menu. The Business Standard recently spoke to the talented chef who shared his insights into the world of food
Arpon Changma could have easily embarked on a cruise ship as a chef after graduating from Subhas Bose Institute of Hospitality Management. However, as a lover of authentic deshi food, he sought to quench his thirst for exploration.
Delving deep into the nuances of Bangladeshi cuisine, Arpon aimed to uncover its hidden gems and showcase our rich culinary history to the world – a story waiting to be told with flair.
"The story associated with food extends beyond its flavours; it encompasses the ingredients, spices, and the thoughts and emotions behind it," Arpon told The Business Standard.
"The distinctive culinary practices of indigenous communities, such as the Chakmas and the Marmas, have inspired me to explore our local cuisine further and merge it with global practices," he added.
Arpon's journey into the world of food began at an early age. His mother taught him while cooking, allowing him to witness the precision in measuring ingredients, the use of spices and the broths that bring out the best flavours in every dish.
A strong advocate of authenticity, Arpon inherited his regional culinary practices, firmly believing in preserving the originality of each dish.
As a perpetual adventurer, Arpon opened his first restaurant, CHT Express in Kazipara, Mirpur. Initially unsure about the response, he soon gained fame, which motivated him to launch his second restaurant, BBQ Express.
"While I was delighted to see people embracing our indigenous food, I realised that the people of Dhaka have a penchant for meat. This inspired me to venture into the world of BBQ," he said.
Arpon Changma has continually drawn inspiration from global culinary movements, pushing him to go the extra mile in his endeavours.
While he had already won hearts on the home front, his quest for knowledge about global cuisines, particularly the workings of Michelin-starred restaurants, led him to join Le Cordon Bleu in Bangkok, Thailand. This renowned culinary school further honed his skills and instilled in him the confidence to amaze the world.
"I had the opportunity to work for private dinners in Bangkok, where I promoted Bengali cuisine alongside wines. I served a dish inspired by Mezbani gosht sauce paired with Shiraz, a popular wine from Southern France, and it left food connoisseurs astonished," Arpon recounted his mouthwatering journey.
His encounter with Ashwini Nayar, the General Manager of Hotel InterContinental Dhaka, introduced him to the world of curating menus for international events hosted in Dhaka. When the Dhaka Art Summit approached him to design a menu this year, Arpon was taken aback.
"To my surprise, all the suggested items had no local representation. I was appalled. As Dhaka was hosting the biggest Art Summit in the region, it should have showcased our local cuisine," Arpon asserted, demonstrating his commitment to putting Bengali dishes on the global platter.
Thus, he decided to serve something that may seem unthinkable to many. Bakorkhani, an Old Dhaka snack, was paired with salmon, while fruits were served with local Dhaka paneer (cheese). Additionally, items like tarts made with Binni rice and jaggery were given an honourable place on the menu.
Arpon's stroke of genius took the guests on an unprecedented gustatory journey. The success of the Dhaka Art Summit boosted Arpon's confidence. Now, he and his team of seven chefs prepare exquisite dishes for 40 guests attending the global gastronomic extravaganza, the Annual Chains De Rotisserie in Dhaka, on 19 May.
Hotel InterContinental, this time, is hosting the event, and none other than Arpon Changma has been commissioned to curate the menu. So, what has this mad genius decided to serve?
The menu sounds like another bold attempt to amaze the distinguished attendees from Dhaka. For starters, Arpon drew inspiration from Dhaka street foods. Fuchka with guacamole served with Pagla Pani, a savoury sauce, will tantalise the taste buds as the amuse-bouche.
"I have noticed people saying they don't like bharta, but at the same time, I see them indulging in mashed potatoes or guacamole! I find this contradictory, and that's why we need to promote the stories behind our foods to encourage them to try," Arpon explained.
The menu is also expected to feature chitoi pitha with a chutney of coriander leaves, tomato, and mustard. "The kick of the chutney with the pitha is then calmed by the sweet and sour Pagla Pani, followed by a sip of Champagne. Voila! You will be transported to a different world of flavours," Arpon said enthusiastically.
The menu, which took two to three days to conceptualise and seven to 10 days to implement and test, holds more surprises. Serving achari scallops (scallops with linseed sour from Sylhet) pays tribute to pickles—a tradition preserved by our mothers and grandmothers like a family heirloom since time immemorial.
Arpon also intends to honour regional foods such as chui jhaal from Khulna, Mezbani gosht from Chittagong, chicken curry from Goalondo, and herbaceous sauces from the Chittagong Hill Tracts.
"We must acknowledge the rich traditions in our culinary practices. For example, choi or semai pitha, a spindle-shaped pasta, is far more flavoursome than pastas available worldwide, thanks to our rich rice culture," he emphasised.
In his current menu, he pairs it with malaikari foam atop a semai base and shrimp sautéed in butter.
Another aspect of the menu involves pairing local dishes with suitable wines. Arpon received his certificate from the Wine and Spirit Education Trust in Bangkok. "Pairing the right kind of wine with locally curated items will undoubtedly generate interest among global gourmands in Bangladeshi cuisine," he confidently claimed.
Arpon's courage to experiment shines through.
Serving Sauvignon Blanc with Kathal bichi pora (burnt jackfruit seed) and sauces made of mustard and green mangoes sounds truly exotic. Likewise, pairing Chardonnay with dudh chitoi and chingri malaikari showcases Arpon's vivid imagination, deserving a resounding round of applause.
For Arpon, food plays a significant role in national identity, and with proper storytelling, we can utilise it for national branding. "Foodies are global nomads. Whether you serve them a smoked paan (betel leaf) from local Bihari community or Kaun payesh (rice pudding made of foxtail millet) with pandan—sounds like a marriage between Bangladeshi desserts and those of Indonesia—the true winner is the cuisine that diligently preserves these ingredients and practices," he said.
As the interview draws to a close, Arpon's eyes gleam with a thirst for knowledge, eager to explore the intricacies of wine pairings and embark on further culinary experiments. His unwavering passion and tales of triumph ignite a flicker of anticipation within us, whispering that the day is fast approaching when he will carve his name in history as the first Bangladeshi chef to earn his coveted Michelin star proudly.