Manu Chandra, a panellist at The Hindu Lit for Life conclave in Delhi today, on what it takes to make a great chef.
Good food is both a passion as well as a business for chef Manu Chandra. Starting off at a very young age, Chandra is now an Executive Chef at three restaurants over two cities: Olive Bar and Kitchen, Mumbai, and Olive Beach, Bangalore. Armed with top honours from the Culinary Institute of America and apprenticeships with some of America's most celebrated chefs and kitchens, Chandra has introduced newer concepts, menus and kitchen designs in his restaurants in India. At 28, Chandra is one of the youngest chefs in the country and is constantly moving from strength to strength, as his recipes are tested and loved by everyone who samples them. His restaurants have already gained the reputation of offering a relaxed and comfortable fine dining experience supplemented by sumptuous meals. All set to make his appearance at the Hindu Lit for Life Fest, 2011, Chandra shares a little of what makes him a great chef.
When did you start cooking? Do you remember what dish or experience made you start?
I started cooking when I was about 10 or 12 years old, and probably started with Maggi noodles. However I always had to do something to it to make it taste better. It was making kababs with my Dadi and the painstaking processes involved in its prep that made me fall in love with the technique and nuances of good food.
What were the challenges you faced?
Limited resistance to the idea of taking it up professionally, but that was short lived. On the contrary, almost everyone supported my passion whole heartedly.
What do you enjoy most about cooking?
The high you get from appreciative diners and the creation of new sensory experiences.
Have there been any great and lasting inspirations along the way?
Some kitchens in the west. Focused, professional, diligent and dead serious about what they do. They are, in a large part, responsible for the food ethos of many cities and countries.
What have your years as a chef taught you about the Indian palate? What do people want? Is there room for experiments?
That we are sitting on huge untapped potential; and the leap of faith from the home table to a restaurant is a work in progress. We have an incredible food culture but the restaurant culture is very new. When people start venturing out more often, their closeted palates will change too. There is always room for experimentation; thankfully our strength in numbers supports it.
What, according to you, makes a great chef?
A streak of madness. I could go on about diligence, hard work, sacrifice; but mad captures it better, I feel.
Plans for the future? Anything new and exciting we can expect?
It's a work in progress. Chefs in the west have made giant leaps in becoming very successful business heads and brands unto themselves; that will be the next exciting thing here; and I will hopefully be in the lead with the pack.