He is the toast of the urban culinary circuit on home turf. Winter is here and Manu Chandra has begun serving up extra warmth in a bowl for the soul through the One Bowl Winter meals at Monkey Bar across Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru and Kolkata. The hot pan-Indian menu has 12 soul-warming comfort food recipes, ranging from sesame teriyake chicken bowl to prawn pad Thai noodles and seafood linguinesee, for you to relish when the chill fills the air.
On a rapid, pan-India eatery expansion spree, the creative heart behind the trio of superb restaurants—The Fatty Bao, Toast & Tonic and Monkey Bar—Chef Chandra means serious business as he spins out winsome specials from this kitchen in his signature, mince-no-words style.
So with three bustling chains of smashing restobars, is Chandra cracking it cool? “Well, we are making money. But honestly, I do not think I have nailed it per se. In my mind, I have tried to offer the best cuisine at the best price. As chef partner at these restaurants, it is viable for me to serve up great food at nominal prices, without pricing myself out of the market,” he says.
Fair enough, but the triad seems to have got the dynamics right: from the edgy decor to noveau small plates to sassed-up, boozy cocktails. Monkey Bar hits bull’s-eye with the spender shell-out of `700-900 per person, Toast & Tonic with `1,500 per person, with Fatty at around `800 per person. “I always feel price is an instrument of economy. It is tough to run a restaurant without a sizeable quantum flowing in. Everything needs to be taken into account, including the rent and salaries. The plan is to achieve high revenue during the first year, then break even.”
About the new bowl menu, he says, “Bowl meals are my all-time favourite. The one bowl meal finds inspiration from Asian cuisines as the bowl is perfectly suited for dishes like ramens, soups and noodles.”
It ain’t been all easy. With the recently opened Delhi Fatty initially whimpering at the outset, Chandra swung into action with the born effrontery of a seasoned gambler. “As the team leader, I take ownership but the redressal has to be a united and strong effort,” he says.
Is he big on drawing in local produce? “I have been pushing for fresh, local produce since I started out. Quite challenging, with Insta food narratives dominating the foodscape. It isn’t a trend. It is logical. Millets, with their age-old goodness, needed to come back on the plate, to give back to the farmer,” he points out. “My only parameter is goodness. So while I source ingredients locally as much as I can, for instance in Mumbai, I get my fish from Kochi as the varieties in Mumbai simply do not measure up in taste.”
Despite being a highly sought -after chef for 14 years, Chandra is averse to posturing on social media. “I simply loathe the vanity investment,” he says. So while he isn’t really the Twitter king, the economy of tweets appeals to him as he airs his opinions. “I am a chef, fine, but I can have an opinion on political issues as well. I needn’t upload pictures of my personal life and my creations.”
Chandra does his own gardening, washing and cooking. So what’s next? “I don’t have a manifesto. No book, no roles as a judge on the telly (blame his acrid honesty)... I never want to compartmentalise myself professionally. I’d rather do my own thing, like write a novel. I am fascinated by India. I want to give back.” Chandra has a simple anthem for survival: “Learn to depend on your own self. Don’t depend on others. Be hands-on, and work on your shortcomings.”