Delhi’s food scene recently saw a new entrant – a top name in fine dining. Le Cirque is run by the Maccioni family, which owns a restaurant empire spanning New York,
Las Vegas and Mexico City. The new venture here is located at The Leela Palace, Chanakyapuri. Mauro Maccioni, one of the heirs, came for the launch and talked about the India connection.
Your earliest kitchen memory is...
My brothers and I virtually grew up in our father’s restaurant. As a kid, I spent a lot of time in the kitchen helping my mother, who is an excellent chef. I was seven, and I remember my father dressing me in a bow tie and having me serve champagne to the diners at Le Cirque.
Do you enjoy cooking?
Yes, cooking is my passion. At a young age, I told my father that I wanted to travel and work in kitchens around Europe. So in my early 20s, I started at Les Crayères, a three-star Michelin restaurant in Reims, France. I worked in the dining room there, but also in the kitchen for our good friends Gerard and Elyane Boyer. Seeing the discipline in their kitchen was incredible. I also worked in Arzak under Juan Mari Arzak in San Sebastian, Spain. He was really the father of avant garde Spanish cooking. I also worked in several places in Italy, including Enoteca Pinchiorri, also a three-star Michelin restaurant near Florence, where our family is from. Being an Italian-American, I have a lot of reverence for Italian food, of course!
Are you fond of Indian food?
Indian food has always been one my favourite cuisines. In fact, chicken curry salad has been on Le Cirque’s menu since 1975. Prepared with golden raisins, créme fraîche and mango chutney, it’s a big hit on our lunch menu. I tried the raan (lamb leg) at the Jamavar (at the Leela), and it’s absolutely delectable.
Have you ever experimented with Indian cooking?
I usually enjoy making chicken curry. I’d like to explore more Indian cooking and hope to take some lessons too.
Your favourite spice...
Peperoncino. It’s a spicy chilli that gives a kick to simple preparations of pasta, vegetables and fish. Often used in the rustic cooking of southern Italy.
What inspired you to get Le Cirque to India?
India is globally one of the most important business and leisure destinations. Discerning Indian travellers are ready to experience Le Cirque for what it is – a fine-dining brand celebrated among connoisseurs. Moreover, we have been friends with the Nair family (owners of the Leela), who have frequently dined at Le Cirque, New York. We discovered we had much in common, though we lived at opposite ends of the globe.
Will there be an Indian twist to your menu, to cater to our tastebuds?
Le Cirque’s cuisine is predominantly French. To suit the Indian palate, we’ve designed a menu that is an eclectic mix of contemporary Italian and French. Thirty per cent of our menu is vegetarian; some dishes are cooked even without onion and garlic. But we’re careful to offer the real essence of Le Cirque, and the menu is divided into two – Le Cirque classics, and the chef’s creations inspired by local ingredients. For example, the chef-de-cuisine is now adding morel mushrooms from Kashmir, as much an epicurean delight as truffles!