Chef Manish Mehrotra reveals the secret ingredients that go into building a world-class restaurant
In a candid conversation with YS Life, chef Manish Mehrotra of Indian Accent talks about his food preferences, his source of inspiration, and what it takes to build a restaurant that everyone raves about.
One would expect a celebrated chef–whose restaurant has made it to the coveted list of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants for 10 consecutive years–to be idealistic and larger than life.
On the contrary, chef Manish Mehrotra comes across as someone who is quite down to earth and pragmatic, as he shares his views and thoughts in a candid conversation with YS Life.
Mehrotra’s New Delhi-based restaurant, Indian Accent, has not only had urban Indian diners swooning over its eclectic food, but it has also equally impressed international guests at its New York outpost.
At Indian Accent, chef Mehrotra has been curating tasting menus that incorporate the diverse food palate of the Indian subcontinent in small bites, year after year, since its launch in 2009.
The fare at Indian Accent features unconventional and innovative dishes–an amalgamation of traditional Indian cuisine with global ingredients and techniques. It is this approach that catapulted Mehrotra’s restaurant to the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list (an honour it has held since 2015) and Time magazine’s World’s 100 Greatest Places list.
Recently, in an attempt to give Bengaluru’s food enthusiasts a taste of what it feels like to dine at the country’s most-talked-about restaurant, Mehrotra collaborated with JW Marriott Hotel Bengaluru, bringing Indian Accent to the Garden City for the first time ever.
The special pop-up had a curation of a seven-course menu celebrating the flavours of India, featuring some of Mehrotra’s signature dishes–such as Danish blue cheese naan, quinoa dahi vada, pumpkin bitterballen, Kanyakumari crab with sago pongal, meetha achaar pork ribs, gobindobhog, and mushroom payesh.
YS Life caught up with the calm and composed chef for a quick chat before the pop-up.
Edited excerpts from the conversation:
YS Life (YSL): What does it take to build a restaurant that consistently features in Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list?
Manish Mehrotra (MM): Maintaining consistency depends on how well you train your staff. Staff keeps coming and going but you have to train them in systems such that everybody gets trained well and executes your idea on the plate for you.
YSL: India has such an expansive cuisine. How do you ensure that every region is represented well in the Indian Accent menu?
MM: We do try to incorporate all the regions in our menu but it is not possible. So what we do instead is, we curate tasting menus and we keep changing that from time to time, including dishes from different regions.
YSL: Indian Accent New York features dishes that are served at the Delhi restaurant. Do you face challenges sourcing fresh ingredients abroad?
MM: Yes, we do face challenges but the menu in New York is not exactly the same. We have kept our signature dishes, but the rest of the menu depends on the availability (of ingredients) there. Honestly speaking, the Indian ingredients you get in New York are better than the ones you get in Delhi!
YSL: Where do you seek inspiration from?
MM: Inspiration comes from my day-to-day life and travels.
I read a lot and do my research well. But, besides that, whenever I travel, I keep my eyes, ears and nose open. I keep tasting food and smelling the ingredients, because I believe that inspiration can come from anywhere.
When conceptualising a dish, I start working on the idea that I might have gotten from somewhere, tweaking and experimenting with it a bit. (At Indian Accent) We have a very democratic kitchen; I honour everybody’s opinion, although the final decision is obviously always mine. I always respect people’s feedback and opinion about the dish, and then tweak it accordingly.
YSL: What’s that one dish that you had envisioned and continue to be proud of?
MM: There is no one dish that I am proud of. I feel there are many recipes that make for a good combination. These include our pork ribs, doda barfi treacle tart, and tofu medu vadai. I am really proud of these dishes.
YSL: What is your favourite cuisine?
MM: I am more of a craving-centric person rather than a cuisine-centric person.
I love all the cuisines and I eat everything. So what I eat depends on what I am craving that particular day. Sometimes I want to eat at Mexican places, some days I want sushi, and sometimes I crave Indo-Chinese food–the noodles and Manchurian that are sold on vans!
YSL: What is your comfort food?
MM: My go-to dish, if I had to pick one, would be mushroom risotto.
YSL: What is your go-to snack?
MM: Maggi is my go-to snack, specifically at 2 am!
YSL: What next? What are you working on right now?
MM: Indian Accent Bombay is opening this summer and we are working towards that. I am very excited about that!
Edited by Swetha Kannan