Meet the Chefs Who Are Changing the Definition of Indian Cuisine

Meet the Chefs Who Are Changing the Definition of Indian Cuisine

Indian food has always been hot, burning tongues the world over but this hot is something else! Anil Sadarangani profiles the super chefs
Meet the Chefs Who Are Changing the Definition of Indian Cuisine

Over the few years, a handful of visionaries have been attempting to take Indian fine dine cuisine to new heights on the world stage. As leading food critic Rashmi Uday Singh says, “Each time I would travel around the world, I would be asked ‘Is Indian food evolving?’ and I would give a despondent ‘No’. I’m happy to say that’s changing thanks to some enterprising rule-breakers.”

These torch-bearers are blazing a new path with roots sowed deep in Indian culture and the traditional preparation of food, taking the cuisine out of the curry stereotype to ‘progressive’, ‘contemporary’, ‘modern’. The results have been astonishing. Purists may accuse them of pandering to the Western palette but truly, even the Indian palette is loving this new romance with its beloved spices and ingredients. Presenting some of these game-changers....

Gaggan Anand

This Kolkata-born, Ferran Adria-trained, three-time consecutive winner of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants Award admits he is obsessed with dreaming up new concoctions. Yet, his traditional preparations equally command the spotlight. Visitors still swear by his Charcoal Prawn Amritsari, Chicken Tikka Masala and his very famous Yogurt Amuse Bouche. With his ever-evolving menu, you may not find any of these on the menu when you finally get in, but be on your best behaviour. He does not like patrons asking for condiments at the table to douse their food with. You will be asked to leave. Considering the wait to get a table is a minimum three months, don’t say we didn’t warn you!

Psst: The press has gone gaga since Gaggan officially announced the opening of the world’s ‘most inaccessible restaurant’ in Japan in 2021. Chef? More like marketing genius! In the words of Singh, “Gaggan leads the pack!”

Manish Mehrotra

Chef Manish Mehrotra did not win the ‘S. Pellegrino Best Restaurant in India’ by Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2016 for nothing. After all, he is known to read his customers’ minds. So while his Delhi menu features items like Ghee Roast Mutton Boti, Shredded Kolhapuri Chicken Salad and Pork Belly Pickle, his New York menu has fare for a more local palette — consider dishes like Tuna and Salmon Bhel, Butter-Pepper-Garlic Crab Claws and Beef Tenderloin in Black Pepper Kurma.

Trained under the renowned Ananda Solomon, he travelled across Asia for nine years studying Pan-Asian cuisine before setting up Indian Accent in New Delhi. If his Pan Asian training gave him new ideas to prepare Indian food, it is his childhood memories, growing up in Patna in a vegetarian home where every ingredient was fresh and every food item homemade, that is at the heart of his vision. “I find that chef Mehrotra coaxes the most amazing flavours out of vegetables, cooks meats unerringly, pairs them with intuitive brilliance and serves them with flair,” says Singh.

Ajay Walia

If two-time (2016 and 2017) Michelin starred Rasa’s intense, flavourful South Indian fare is not enough to make you want to return  to the restaurant for more (and it is!), its owner Ajay Walia’s magnetic, disarming charm surely will. Anyone who has visited Rasa – what San Francisco Chronicle’s famous unforgiving restaurant critic Michael Bauer called the ‘Bay Area’s best Indian restaurant’ – avows that part of the experience of dining there, is befriending and interacting with  Walia, who is invariably bustling about his restaurant.

 As a young man growing up in New Delhi, the Taj Mahal hotel was his favourite place to dine. It was here that he fell in love with the fine dining experience, a similar relationship he hopes his patrons have, with Rasa. His perfect collaboration with chef Vijay Kumar seems to be working for his contemporary yet authentically Indian cuisine. Be sure to try the Rasam, Crispy Idli Chaat, Bombay Sliders, Malabar Shrimp Masala and Wild Mushroom Uthappam. We warned you, you will fall in love.

Zorawar Kalra

Restaurateur and food entrepreneur Zorawar Kalra is on a mission – to make Indian food rule the planet. The son of the famed chef Jiggs Kalra believes that if food earns a restaurant its reputation, only a clear business vision can make a brand global. This is why he is unapologetic about the table theatrics you see accompanying his progressive Indian cuisine at Farzi Cafe. It was in 2006 that he experienced molecular gastronomy at El Bulli that got him hooked on the scientific principles in food preparation and presentation. He knew right then he wanted to recreate this for his patrons. We recommend Keema Baguette, Pulled Coconut Lamb, Butter Chicken Slider and the Nitrogen Gulab Jamun.

Atul Kochhar

Long before he became the first Indian chef to earn a Michelin star 16 years ago (for the restaurant Tamarind), Atul Kochhar has been turning Indian food on its head. And he is far from done. With a gastronomic footprint spanning the globe (Dubai, London, Ireland, India, Mauritius, two cruise ships), his genius is recognising the  similarities of foods, preparation styles and ingredients from other cultures and countries with Indian food to create a unique blend of both.

You will find this at his recently opened modern Indian restaurant Not Really Indian (NRI) in Mumbai with dishes such as the Malay-Indian Curried Noodle Soup, Chicken Liver Masala (Tanzanian spiced liver) and Vilayati Chicken. Dubai’s Rang Mahal is special too. Consider the Meen Moilley, pan-seared sea bass which has a distinct continental touch. Or the Limbu Rubiyan that sees gulf shrimps marinated in fresh Indian herbs.    And if you’re lucky, you could feast your eyes on the Jamshedpur-born, London-based Kochhar, should he be on one of his trips to the restaurant.

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