In conversation with Chef Manish Mehrotra
Manish Mehrotra is a man who needs no introduction. A multi-awarded and much acclaimed chef who has been in the public eye for more than a decade now, he is often credited with ushering in a new, bold and exciting phase in Indian food the world over, and being the original creator of what we now refer to as Progressive or Modern Indian food.
Chef Mehrotra has been referred to as the ‘most exciting modern Indian chef in the world today’. His illustrious career has had several high points, and one defining moment has been the launch of Indian Accent. The result of an intensive nine year culinary journey, Indian Accent has defined how modern diners see progressive Indian food, and set the wheels moving for this inventive and rather ingenious way of savouring classic Indian food with just that little bit of twist.
We caught up with the man himself and had a warm tête-à-tête on the evolution of progressive Indian food, and what keeps Indian Accent still so buzzing and loved even after 8 years.
Progressive Indian, modern Indian or inventive Indian, call it whatever you please, but the fact is that this new way of savouring traditional favourites has arrived with a bang, and what was earlier thought to be just a passing fad, has withstood the test of time.
As per Chef Malhotra, the roots of the movement started with small steps, with chefs around the world focusing a bit on plating and presentation, and slowly adding exotic ingredients to their dishes. Indian Accent though, when it arrived on the scene announced this trend unapologetically. An ‘Indian’ restaurant that was free from the clichés of dal makhani and butter chicken, it served unusual flavours and varied textures.
Here, the focus was on either showcasing Indian dishes, but with an international twist, or global picks with a very ingenious Indian play. However, a key principle that Chef Mehrotra strongly believed in, and still abides by is the belief that authenticity of recipes is supreme and comes first. So, no toning down of recipes, tweaking them beyond recognition and making fundamental changes to their construct. The idea is to take little leaps, playful moves that are subtle and smooth and slowly discovered, like a well-written book.
The sources of influence and the evolution or progression of this cuisine have been many. Chef Mehrotra gets energized by the rich diversity of the regional food of India, and the painstaking rigour that is apparent in many of these time tested recipes. He also goes back in time to build on home cooked classics and childhood favourites, food and drink that one has grown up with and that brings the added garnish of nostalgia. Finally, he enjoys exploring the highly nuanced tradition of our street food, and uses modern Indian as an opportunity to also redefine this, upgraded and done in a more refined manner.
Of course, his travels, and journeys provide ample fodder for new experiments in the kitchen and he admits that the more he travels, the more inspired he gets.
Interestingly, the evolution of this cuisine has served the interests of two audiences- the international audience that has always been tempted by the lure of Indian flavours but probably a bit wary of savouring in it is absolute form, and the global Indian, well-travelled and exposed, wanting to relish his home food, but with an unusual upgrade that pays homage to their roots.
At the heart of it of course, the food is Indian, and builds its strength on the base of comfort. What it has additionally layered on the familiar is the stripping down of excessive spice and flavour, a break from classic curry centric offerings. This has also enabled this food to talk to newer audiences in erstwhile unchartered territories.
For Food & Wine India
By Manish Mehrotra