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Features

Regional dishes, local produce and better access will revolutionise Indian cuisine, says top chef Manu Chandra

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He marked his place in the global food industry at a young age. Today, chef Manu Chandra is responsible for introducing different cuisines to the Indian audience, each served with a dollop of his various quirky innovations.

A panelist at the recently-concluded Mail Today Food Summit, we caught up with the chef, who’s single-handedly changing the way the country eats. Though he’s the chef partner at many award-winning restaurants, winning awards has never been the aim for him. “My team and I work towards bringing integrity back into the food, using a lot of biodiversity and local produce in ways that are not ubiquitous. They aren’t done the Indian way, which is exciting as it’s opening up a whole new genre of food,” he says. “We also want to ensure that we’re doing it responsibly and making a positive change at a much deeper level. Olive was one of the first quality standalones that broke away from the five star format. It’s been there for 17-18 years, a remarkable feat for a restaurant because many of them don’t stay open for that long or stay relevant,” he says.

He’s the chef partner at Toast & Tonic, Monkey Bar, The Fatty Bao and executive chef, Olive Beach. For chef, South Indian cuisine is going to be the next big thing in India.

“There are so many sub cuisines within South Indian cuisine, which are further subdivided. The rest of the country is finally waking up to all those different flavours. Delhi, Patiala and Kolkata are talking about Andhra food, which never happened before when anything from southern India was called Madrasi.”

And the access and awareness is also helping certain ingredients get discovered.

According to him, people are recognising the beauty of simple flavours, somethign he saw at a North East pop-up he did recently, where the audience enamoured by black sesame – the only ingredient used to make a khasi pork dish. “People are so used to putting masala, chilly and dhania, they couldn’t believe just one ingredient could be so wonderful. Today, there’s enough access and willingness to try new things,” he says.

Chef also spoke about the growing popularity of local produce, something that has been lobbied by chefs for about two years. The idea was to make something a lot more substantial and for beginning to believe that you can have a two-grain diet. You can have your rice and wheat on one side and have millets on the other side. It’s not only healthy, it completely changes the cycle of agriculture,” he says. Reminiscing about his days in culinary school, when he met Indian-American chef Floyd Cardoz who ran Tabla in New York, he concludes that Indians can do much beyond Indian food, “An Indian can open a fantastic French restaurant in Tokyo! It’s possible because it’s all about application and putting yourself out there.”

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