Manish Mehrotra is the toast of the Indian culinary scene, with his restaurant voted the best in the country. Now, the chef has his eyes set on New York. And he’s out with a book containing his prized recipes.
If there’s one ingredient chef Manish Mehrotra can’t do without, it is Amul butter. “New York offers the best French butter and a lot of good local butter. But Amul butter has this unique flavour that goes well with Indian cuisine,” says Mehrotra. He’s the man who helms the kitchen at Indian Accent, voted as India’s best restaurant for two years in a row by Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants. Opened only eight years ago, it beat legendary dining spaces like Wasabi by Morimoto in Mumbai and Bukhara in Delhi.
Now, Mehrotra is set to open the second outpost in New York, where the chef has been living and working since last December. In a city where food from every nationality has found representation (high-end and low-end), Mehrotra is keen to introduce flavours from India, in a modern avatar. And going by the buzz, diners in New York cannot wait to dig into his signature dishes like potato sphere chaat, white peas mash and dal moradabadi with chur chur parantha. “Here, we can use beef and foie gras, so we have those on the menu. But for the first menu in NY, we wanted to give people a sense of what Indian Accent is all about. So there are a lot of dishes from the Delhi menu,” says Mehrotra, over the phone from New York.
Booked and hooked
About 74 dishes from his repertoire have now made it to a cookbook called The Indian Accent Restaurant Cookbook, launched last month. It chronicles the journey of the restaurant: from a time when people didn’t understand its food and would often walk out, to now when almost every new Indian restaurant wants to replicate its success. “Writing a book is a hundred times harder than cooking,” confesses the 42-year-old chef. “As chefs, we take a lot of things for granted. We know a certain step follows the next. But a cookbook needs to tell its readers exactly what to do,” he adds.
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Alongside recipes are images that have been beautifully styled (by Mehrotra) and shot (by Rohit Chawla) to draw one in. Almost two-and-a-half years in the making, the book, Mehrotra says, should be seen as an inspiration. “I don’t want people to follow the recipes like the Bible, but rather look at them as reference points.”
Mumbai, Delhi, New York
After graduating from the Institute of Hotel Management in Mumbai, Mehrotra trained under Ananda Solomon at Thai Pavilion before joining Old World Hospitality (that runs Indian Accent) in 2000. “Apart from culinary knowledge, I learnt about guest experience from him,” he says. Slowly, but steadily, Indian Accent rose to fame and was recognised by critics across the world. Noted food writer Vir Sanghvi once said, “Manish Mehrotra is the most exciting modern Indian chef in the world today. He cooks for the toughest audience of all — Indians who understand Indian food — and he never fails to wow us, time after time, meal after meal…” Similarly, critics and food enthusiasts from New York’s vast food scene are already lining up West 56th Street to get a taste of Mehrotra’s creations. Even amidst the excitement and pressure of a new opening, Mehrotra sent his staff for a meal at Eleven Madison Park (EMP), ranked fifth on the world’s best restaurants list. “When they return, I will ask them about their experience, and it will be undoubtedly good,” he adds.
And like his favourite restaurants in the city such as EMP, NoMad and Per Se, Mehrotra is keen on providing the whole package — food, ambience and décor. “Right from the way food is served to the environment it is created in, it is all part of the experience. And if a restaurant can bring together all these different elements, it cannot fail,” he says.
Though all of us have grown up eating Indian food, Mehrotra’s version offers a modern take on it. Think dishes like mishti doi cannoli, amaranth laddoos, and wasabi and cucumber raita. “Indian food pleases every palate in the world. Right from oily, heavy food to super-healthy to spicy and sour, Indian food is so diverse that its repertoire can never end,” he concludes.
Favourite bar: Leopold Café, Colaba
Favourite restaurant: Swati Snacks, Grant Road
Favourite street-side eats: Bademiyan, Colaba (of those days) and Pav Bhaji at Cannon, CST
Turn the Page
What: The Indian Accent Restaurant Cookbook
Price: Rs 3,499
Where: Available across major bookstores