Indian food, global charm

Indian food, global charm

Manish Mehrotra is the man behind India’s best-known restaurant, Indian Accent. Here, he talks about the power of ‘desi khana’

Manish Mehrotra

Chef Manish Mehrotra loves khichdi and he doesn’t see why the dish could be considered a misfit on a fine-dining menu. “Not with broccoli, or mushroom, or anything fancy. Just good ol’ khichdi, the way it’s made in Indian homes, with dal, rice and ghee,” elucidates the corporate chef at Indian Accent. The New Delhi-based restaurant has redefined modern Indian cuisine, finding a proud spot in the coveted list of the World’s Greatest Places announced by Time magazine recently.

From tuna bhel ceviche and doda barfi treacle tart to galautis stuffed with foie gras and mishti doi cannoli, the top chef from Patna is renowned worldwide for his gastronomical innovations and unusual style of complementing Indian flavours with global techniques. Excerpts from an interaction with the celebrity chef:

What’s global Indian food?

When we started Indian Accent 10 years ago, traditional Indian food was not the most sought-after cuisine in fine dining. Back then, I was trained as a Thai chef, but I wanted to work with Indian flavours. It’s a myth that traditional dishes cannot be modernised. However, it shouldn’t just be about mindless fusion food. There has to be a story behind each dish. Whether it’s a different combination of ingredients or the unique presentation of the dish, it’s important to bring in innovation.

What’s your pairing and plating principle?

The most important principle is to never compromise on the taste and temperature. If the food looks good but doesn’t taste good, it serves no purpose. We use varied flavours and it’s essential to ensure that they complement each other. Getting the texture right is another important factor.

How do you make street food a part of fine dining?

There are far too many myths regarding Indian food. To me, India is a land of spices, not just chillies. I draw inspiration from the streets of India. They are home to some of the most unique and versatile foods in the world. An aloo tikki chaat or ragda chaat lends itself to diverse culinary treatments that can make it a part of the fine dining experience. You know, our chaats pair very well with champagne.

Does the obsession with calories kill the joy of cooking?

If someone is worried about calories, they shouldn’t be eating out at a place like Indian Accent. I have worked with spa menus in the past. So, I know what it takes to put out a calorie-conscious spread. But that’s not what I do now. To really enjoy your food, you must stop worrying about the calories. In the case of allergies or dietary restrictions (vegan, non-dairy, etc), though, we are happy to make the necessary changes.

What’s more challenging - running a restaurant in Delhi, New York, or London?

Every place has its own challenges as there are different perceptions about Indian cuisine. In London, most people still consider Indian fare to be all about curry, naan and biryani. New York is more experimental. In India, of course, specialising in Indian food has its own issues. But no matter what the location, the biggest challenge for the restaurant is sourcing good quality ingredients. Getting the best vegetables, seafood and meat is our constant endeavour.

Do you have any secret recipes?

No, I am more than happy to share my recipes with whoever asks for it! Even by following the same recipe, no two people can cook the exact same dish. You bring in your own style...

What has changed since Indian Accent made it to Time magazine’s 2018 list of World’s Greatest Places?

With every recognition there comes more responsibility. This one came as a pleasant surprise as we didn’t even know when someone came and judged our restaurant. We offer the same experience to all our guests. If I’m at the restaurant, I make sure that I meet every guest at every table.

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox

Check out all newsletters

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox