It's not for nothing that Chef Manu Chandra is one of India’s most successful chefs. His extensive career has seen numerous highlights. However, one can’t disagree that the Bengalurean’s latest project is surely something extra special. In August 2021, when he announced that he’s stepping down from his position at the Olive Group after 17 years, his devoted customers and followers were curious about what he would do next, a number of them even wondered if it was the right move. Being invited to curate and present a Cannes Film Festival dinner hosted by India’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and also being given the chance to helm the kitchen at the festival’s India Pavilion, is no ordinary feat. So now, surely, everyone has their answer. Chef Manu, who also recently launched his catering venture Single Thread Catering in partnership with long-time business associate Chetan Rampal, talks to us from Cannes about his experience so far, his new projects and what we can expect from him in future.
How did Cannes happen?
I was involved with Godawan, the Indian single malt from Diageo. And Diageo had received a request for an Indian chef, because India is the country of honour at the festival this year. So Diageo in turn reached out to me. I was first asked to make the snacks at the India pavilion and then they came back to me and said ‘Hey we also have this dinner we want you to cater.’ Obviously I couldn’t say ‘no’ to either of those requests.
What was your inspiration and what were the influences you kept in mind while designing the menu?
India is the country of honour, so I had to put my best foot forward. I wanted to showcase the flavours and cuisines of India in an interesting way but also pay homage to the host country. Everyone was talking about the snacks that we served at the India Pavilion. Social media went crazy with the images of the vada pavs in brioche buns and paniyaram madeleines. For the dinner, I took inspiration from Rajasthan. It’s the barley grown in the state that goes into the Godawan but it is also apt because it is rich in culture, craft, food and history. I used French techniques but played around with Indian flavours and ingredients. For instance, one of the courses was Laal Maas and Khichdi (slow-cooked lamb shoulder medallion, with laal maas jus, on a wheat berry grain and daal risotto and ker sangri ki sabzi).
What has your experience been so far?
It’s been amazing but also tiring. The first three days, I was here alone and didn’t have anyone from my team with me. I had to really hustle. But it’s been fun walking around town, seeing familiar faces and people all dressed up. When you see Julia Roberts across the hall from you, you can’t help but wonder if all of this is real.
What prompted the decision to step away from a brand you had been synonymous with for close to two decades?
I felt that I had done what I set out to do. I know there’s always room for more, but over the years, there have been many unfulfilled dreams, which I never could pursue because of the demands of my main job. The pandemic made me reconsider my choices and priorities. I felt it was the right time to go after things that I had wanted to do for a long time.
Would you say catering is more challenging than running a restaurant?
Yes for sure, because in a restaurant, you’re in an environment that’s familiar to you. When you’re catering, it’s someone else’s kitchen or backyard or drawing room. It requires greater organisational skills but you end up being a part of extremely memorable experiences and special occasions.
What do you have planned when you return to Bengaluru?
When I get back, I will be busy with Single Thread, but my work in Cannes has generated a lot of curiosity. It is truly so humbling and I am so happy to see India being showcased this way. There’s been no time to soak it all, because I’ve just been so busy.