When ones steps into the kitchen and moves beyond ingredients one gets to know the man behind each dish being laid on the table. Enter the magical world of chef Manish Mehrotra. Manish is revered as the face behind Indian Accent restaurant at the Manor, New Delhi where he experiments with and churns out fusion food. He added wings to his stardom when he participated in and subsequently won the Foodistan show (an Indo-Pak competition) after enticing the taste buds of judges from three different countries: India, Pakistan and England.
Making your target customer like fusion food is an extremely daunting task. One is serving the customer with food that retains its originality with a dash, and at times more, of a twist. It is not as simple as introducing a new cuisine to the target customer’s taste buds. It is about familiarising the already habitual taste buds of a Gujarati khandvi eater to an Italian ravioli dish made in the same way as khandvi but with the twist of a pumpkin filling. Ordinary elements and tastes are combined to make extraordinary dishes. Manish’s magic lies in the simplicity of his thinking pattern as is evident from his own words, “When I work on a dish, I do not compromise with the integrity or authenticity of the dish, while I have fun being creative around it. I do not and can not make a Chettinad kasundi masala dish with varied flavours representing different regions of India. That will not do justice to any region. Likewise a paneer chettinad is totally unacceptable.”
While fusion food in itself might sound complicated Manish keeps the nomenclature of the dishes simple so that people can identify with what is on the menu, “While working on the menu in describing the dish I do not believe in using too many culinary jargons. I like to keep it as simple as I can. Neither do I describe any heavy duty cooking techniques (even though they might have been applied) so as to sell the dish. The dish will be liked, loved and devoured if it tastes good and if the person eating can relate to it. I want to treat my patrons and not trick them or scare them. That is not me.”
For Manish, who is an alumni of the prestigious IHM Bombay, choosing the kitchen counter was a conscious career decision. When he was a trainee he chose a field where he did not have to follow a system. The kitchen was a slate upon which he could scribble as per his creativity. And that reflects till date in his cooking. “I feel lucky to have bagged my first job with Thai Pavilion at the Taj Bombay. But my real exposure came when I moved to London to work with Old World Hospitality. In London many cuisines exist harmoniously. And it was in London where the food trials for Indian Accent were held and I presented my creations and was packed off to Delhi,” says Manish.
And how do his customers react to his tryst with twisting food? “I feel that the palates of people have begun to grow slightly adventurous. But a customer who spends his money to enjoy the meal should be convinced. He should enjoy the meal and should be happy with what is on his plate. When am able to do that, the dish is a success. If I am the only one who can understand what I have made, then the dish has failed. In my khandvi ravioli I like to believe that I did justice to the region it belongs to, by not adding onion, garlic and root vegetables to the dish. My formula is to take a classical dish and twist it the way I feel people will enjoy it. If am using an Indian dish I tweak it to Western style. Or I use a Western dish and add an Indian twist to it.”
On a personal note, Manish who hails from Bihar is married to a Tamilian and enjoys home cooked meals. He misses chicken roll from Patna, gratifies himself with the neighbourhood Chinese van food once in a while, and loves to convert a stubborn patron into a fusion lover.