This chef is redefining the way the world looks at Indian cuisine, one parmesan papad at a time

Manish Mehrotra on taking desi cuisine to new frontiers, food shows he loves and how the dosa breaking new ground

Sonali Shenoy Published :  21st December 2018 06:00 AM   |   Published :   |  21st December 2018 06:00 AM

Manish Mehrotra

Manish Mehrotra had a dream. Back in 2009, Indian Accent opened its doors in New Delhi — and his hope was to serve platters that would give Indian food the respect it deserved on the world stage. Now, nearly a decade later, with outlets in New York and London, introducing patrons to the likes of Baked cod Amritsari, mint boondi and Kashmiri morels with walnut powder paired with parmesan papad — the chef tells us over a stopover for an event in Chennai  — the respect is certainly ours. 


Time of your life

Manish Mehrotra’s latest menu, curated especially for launch party of a new Rado store in Chennai was titled‚ ‘elements of time’. The list included some “timeless classics,” according to the chef, like their Meetha Achar Pork Ribs, which have been on the Indian Accent menu for almost 10 years now, as well as a main course with Indian flavours at its core, but created for modern times. This included a Goat Shank paired with Winter turnips and barley kichidi as well as a Black dairy dal with wasabi cucumber raita and Indian Accent breads.

Apart from cooking for celebrities like Mick Jagger and Halle Berry, as well as close friends George Calombaris and Gary Mehigan of MasterChef Australia fame, the bigger achievement, we’re told, is reflected in the demand for the cuisine in spaces where it might never be even thought of. “Last month, I got a request to curate a 10-course Indian menu paired with French champagne at an art gallery in Madrid,” the 44-year-old shares. Next month, he’s headed to the St Moritz Gourmet Festival in Switzerland as part of a select group of culinary icons, which will be another first. 

Hearing Mehrotra speak of his travels and experiences puts into context the massive strides that Indian cuisine has made on the world stage. It’s no longer limited to stereotypes on the menu like a chicken tikka masala, which the chef surprises us with a little insight: “Most Indians cook it wrong — because it’s actually a British dish — made with coconut cream!”

Why this chef never wants to own a restaurant

As a world-renowned chef, why not start your own restaurant?
I always tell people, the day I start my own business, the last thing I will be thinking of is food.

What’s your go-to meal at the end of a long day in the kitchen?
Maggi (noodles) at 2 am.

Coconut oil or olive oil?
Coconut oil — always!

Food shows on your list.
Chef’s Table, MasterChef Australia and Raja Rasoi Aur Andaaz Anokha

One thing that even a non-chef can do to take Indian cuisine forward.
Everyone has that one dish that is unique in their household — a chutney, a podi, a sauce. With everyone so social media savvy these days, why not share it?


Last month, I got a request to curate a 10-course Indian menu paired with champagne at an art gallery  in Madrid

— Chef Manish Mehrotra

For the South Indian soul, the chef drops this joyful nugget: “The dosa is becoming a dish that most people abroad recognise these days, and that certainly wasn’t the case 10 years ago.” Having recently returned from a trip to Delhi featuring the most ghastly sambhar, it is heartening to hear that the chef’s South Indian palate reference is the next best thing to living in Chennai: “My wife is Tamilian,” he shares with a smile. “So I eat idlis and dosas for breakfast at least twice a week, and our batter is always made fresh at home,” he adds.

Authentic flavours, he tells us repeatedly, are where his heart lies. “A lot of chefs these days get carried away with the presentation. And Indian food is one of the most difficult to plate — curries run!” he remarks. So, while his brand of desi might sometimes look unfamiliar (Asparagus Chettinad, coconut 
chutney & dosa flakes for instance) — he emphasises, the flavours are always relatable. Whether on Lodhi Road in Delhi or London, he says, “When you eat my food, it will taste Indian, not alien.” 

Amen to that. | @brightasunshine