• 8th August 2012 - By Indian Accent Restaurant

    By Rupali Lamba, Little Black Book, August 6, 2012

    Meeting Chef Manish Mehrotra had me nervous and excited. For starters, this was the first time I was interviewing someone. But also, the someone was a person I happened to be a big fan of! I had watched him win Chef of the year at the HT Crystal Awards, 2010 and then Foodistan on NDTV. And my admiration grew even more after I dined at his multi-award winning restaurant, Indian Accent, earlier this year.

    In spite of all the accolades and recognition Chef Manish has received, he is extremely down to earth. Constantly stimulated and innovating with untainted passion, his references to his university years and past experiences were fresh and vivid. It was a privilege to get a chance to speak to him and learn about the delightful twists and turns that make Manish Mehrotra and Indian Accent the success that they are today.


    Rupali: Did you always want to work in the food industry?

    Chef Manish: Usually when you ask chefs they say – I was inspired to cook by my mother or grandmother but for me it was a conscious career decision. In 1993, I was fortunate to get into IHM Bombay, which was one of the best hotel management schools at the time. Within catering college, the kitchen was the most interesting place for me as there was no script. In other departments there is a process and order but in the kitchen, you are free to create.

    After college, I was fortunate again to get a job at one of the best restaurants in India – Thai Pavilion at the Taj Bombay. The period of 1994-1995 was a very exciting time, exotic produce was very rare and we got fresh herbs in pots all the way from Holland. We got to work with artichokes, white asparagus, fresh lemongrass and galangal, which we treated like treasure.

    In 2000 after working for 8 years I joined Old World Hospitality. With them, I got to work in London that really helped me expand my horizons – “kuyen ka mendak bahar nikal ke aaya” {I was like a frog out of a well}. I saw so many things; I didn’t know what to do with them. London is a place where you get everything from every cuisine, I learned a lot there.

    R: When your passion becomes your job, you find new interests, what is yours?

    M: I love watching films, typically movies with happy endings. I am also a big Amitabh Bachhan fan. At the end of a very very busy day, I go home and turn on these South Indian dubbed movies for half an hour and then go to sleep.

    R: Who cooks at home?

    M: My wife, she was a chef too, we worked together at Konkan Café at the Taj

    R: What was Foodistan about for you?

    M: I wanted to learn about Pakistan’s culture. Despite being so close, both countries consider the other to be bad. The news distorts and doesn’t give the full picture so I wanted to learn about their food and show them about India as well.

    I found that today, Pakistani food is where Indian food was 4-5 few years ago. They still make flowers with tomatoes and cucumbers as garnishes for their dishes. They also function in the navabi manner, where recipes are passed down generation to generation unlike in India where the hotel and restaurant business is a relatively organized sector. Over here, we go to catering college and study management.

    However, like in India – the food scene in Pakistan is changing rapidly. They have restaurants that feature a range of international cuisines like Japanese and Italian. It was a great experience!

    R: What was the idea behind Indian Accent?

    M: We realized that the main thing missing from Indian food was presentation. Indian restaurants until a few years ago were dominated by establishments selling spicy oily khana, which is not made in your or my home on a daily basis. Even then, that is what represents Indian food both globally and locally.We are breaking that image and we keep spice level, oil, freshness etc. ‘normal’ here.

    {adding with a twinkle in his eye} I am not saying that we are competing with butter chicken and all because at the end of the day after I leave the country for a month or so, I love a crisp garlic naan with a nice butter chicken as my back-to-home meal.

    A lot of our concept is also about creating nostalgia. We are constantly updating and upgrading. I serve sorbet in a toy pressure cooker right now. I have bought those old fashioned istris {irons} which usually have coal in them to serve sorbet in the future. It is a play on the hot and cold contrast concept. Every dish has a concept, if I can tell you and convince you why a particular fusion worked – that dish is a success. If it can’t be explained, it has failed. We innovate but you will never find paneer chettinad or idli in a makhni sauce, as I don’t mix two cuisines or ingredients that don’t go together geographically.

    I have a wonderful young team that works with me and helps me ideate and conceptualize. I prefer working with young people, as it is easier to mold and train young people to innovate.

    R: How was restaurant week {RW} at Indian Accent?

    We took part in restaurant week for the first time this year. We don’t cut corners on our RW menu. Our guests are given the whole Indian Accent experience at a nominal price. Despite stating that there will be a 3-course menu, guests are served many surprises in between courses. I treat RW as an advertisement for my restaurant. It is also an opportunity to educate people about this food.

    Indian Accent is popularized through word of mouth – we don’t advertise and do not do too many promotions. Sometimes we have guests who live in the neighborhood but haven’t heard about the restaurant until recently, I like it like that.

    R: How long is your conceptualization process usually?

    M: We create a new menu every season. The day I launch my summer menu – there is a folder on my desktop for the winter menu. If I see something or think of something, it goes straight into that folder. For the past three weeks I have been working on one dessert, which came out very well – it is very tasty but not complete so we are still working on it. We get our regular guests to taste it – get their feedback {Shiv and I sat with bated breath wondering whether to probe and ask about this secret dessert but Chef Manish, tells us himself} – ‘the dessert is a besan ladoo tart – the tart shell is made out of besan ka ladoo and that tart is filled with saffron and cardamom cheesecake {watch out for it readers}. The sandy texture of the ladoo and the creamy texture of the cheesecake work very well but there is still something missing.

    R: Now that you have the winning formula {Indian with a twist}, what is next?

    M: I want to absolutely continue doing this – I want to develop it more. The concept is such that we are always creating something new so it keeps you motivated too. An example of constant innovation is our Navratra thali. The first year, we did a three course Navratra meal, which had a salad for the starter, a thali as the main course followed by a dessert. The second year, we made an American diner inspired platter where we had Kutuu ke atte ka flatbread sandwiches, banana guacamole with arbi french fries, water chestnut {singhada} ceviche and a kulfi sundae. Last year, we did a Navratra bento box with tempura, katsu rolls made with hare matter ki tikki, Sushi rolls with vrat rice and raw banana fritters. This year also we are working on something interesting.

    Every restaurant in Delhi does brunch. Delhi brunches at the moment are more about quantity and less about quality. I have an idea where my London connection comes in – I want to do a Sunday roast. The challenge here will be to do it without a tandoor. It’s a difficult thing to do so let’s see.

    R: What are your favourite places to eat around Delhi?

    M: I go everywhere – all I need is good food. I am not a fan of a particular restaurant. Once in a while I crave gaadi walla noodles and manchurian, I really want to eat that burnt style chowmein with watery black coloured gravy and green chilly sauce. Sometimes I want to eat good South Indian for which I go to Saravana Bhavan, they have the best sambar in Delhi.

    For sushi I like Wasabi but don’t end up going there often because they have a policy where they don’t allow kids and my daughter is 5 years old. For really good Chinese I go to China Kitchen, I really enjoy their fried rice. Mushroom risotto is one of my favorite dishes, so for that – I will go ANYWHERE. Sometimes for convenience I even go to restaurants where the food isn’t that good – because it’s near my house! I am not fussy.

    R: What about your favourite places around Delhi?

    M: Delhi is such a fun place, I like everywhere. I love Khan Market even though it has changed a lot and become some kind of food hub. I like INA market – when I see all those ingredients, I feel happy.

    R: And your favorite Ingredient?

    M: Bacon

    R: What is your favorite at home quick fix?

    M: MAGGI!

    Chef Manish Mehrotra’s restaurant | Indian Accent, The Manor, 77 Friends Colony {West}, New Delhi 110065

    Tel: +91 9871117968, +91-11-4323 5151, 2692 5151, 2692 7510

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