India Modern: ‘No right answer to what can define modern Indian cuisine,’ says Chef Manish Mehrotra of Indian Accent

This story was originally published in TravelDine India by Vernika Awal.

In an interview with TravelDine, Chef Manish Mehrotra talks about how cooking is as much an art as teaching, and how there are no set boundaries that define what modern Indian cuisine really is.

It’s a day like any other in Delhi, amid a phase of lull when the city awaits its gorgeous winter to arrive. Inside Indian Accent, the indomitable bastion of gastronomy that showcased the pinnacle of a modern India to the world of food just as the previous recession was drawing to a close, the staff are prepping for evening service. It is afternoon, and this midday lull gives Chef Manish Mehrotra, an icon of his profession and a venerable figure for the face of modernisation of Indian food, an epiphany.

“Even I’m looking for the right answer to what really defines modern Indian cuisine,” he says.

While this could seem to be a perfectly fine interjection, what’s amusing is that it comes from him. Over 13 years ago, the ace chef opened Indian Accent as a vessel to imagine the best possible modern-day rendition of the food that is close to all our hearts. This came at a time when the economy was just about to flourish as the recession receded, and Indian Accent, much like a number of other things, opened floodgates of joy.

Chef manish mehrotra
Chef Manish Mehrotra of Indian Accent.

Since then, the restaurant has become a benchmark for modern Indian food — chefs and other food ventures either look up to it, or draw parallels and inspiration from it, or even use it as a point of reference to claim that they, too, were pioneers of modern Indian food. Yet, ask anyone about an aspirational Indian restaurant to eat at, and you know the answer.

While there are innumerable more options available today, Indian Accent is still an institution in itself when it comes to ‘modern’ Indian cuisine.

Mehrotra, the man behind this success, is surprisingly not open-minded about the interpretation.

It is perhaps this humility and the strongly-rooted beliefs that has helped Mehrotra remain among the top chefs of the country. Not just so, Mehrotra is also known in the industry to be one of the best mentors a young chef can have. In fact, a recent awards ceremony saw most of the young awardees invariably being mentees of Mehrotra.

Aloo chaat, indian accent
Aloo chaat at Indian Accent, New Delhi. Image: Courtesy Indian Accent.

As a result, Mehrotra makes for a figure who does not hold back his cards when it comes to honing the next generation of skill and talent in the kitchen. “You see, it’s not a document or formula, it’s your thinking that needs to be passed on. This is what I keep telling the younger chefs in my kitchen — the day they can replicate my thinking behind a dish, they wouldn’t need me, or my notes, to make it big,” he says.

It is this soul-searching answer that defines the journey that Indian Accent and Mehrotra have had. Going by the trajectory of their progress, they’re not halting any time soon, either.

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