Chef Manish Mehrotra of Indian Accent, who is about to open his third outlet in London after Delhi and New York, tells Ivinder Gill why Indian cuisine deserves to be as respected as French or Japanese and why charging top dollar for Indian food is completely justified. Edited excerpts:
Why open in London and not Mumbai or Dubai?
London is better than Dubai or Mumbai in terms of being a world city. It’s bigger and more of a world platform. It’s also a more evolved Indian market. People know about Indian food, correct or not. There are restaurants in London where the food goes beyond butter chicken. Gymkhana, Jamavar, Chutney Mary, etc. I have been to all these places, but my food is different from all others. Our menu structure, tasting menu, menu profile is very different from all these. Really different.
What do you think is the perception of Indian food, in places like New York and London?
It was bad a few years back, but I would say it is improving. London is more evolved, Indian food has more respect there, while in New York, heads are still in a curry bowl. Our food is more than just a slap of spices and chillies. That is my main message, that India is a land of spices and not just chillies. The ultimate aim is for correct Indian food to become famous. We are not just a curry country. Food is integral to all our customs, it’s tradition, it’s our culture. We have steamed, baked, fermented, all sorts of food. We eat veg, non-veg, shoots, insects, game. The best pancake in the world is dosa. We have that. We have food for every palate. People like Gaggan Anand, myself, Atul Kochhar, Vineet Bhatia, Cardoz Floyd are changing perceptions about Indian food for the better. We are working in our own styles, but the goal is one. Get Indian food more respect, and get Indian food onto the world platform.
How much do you think you have achieved?
We are working very hard on this and we are getting noticed all over the world. Be it the US or elsewhere, people are becoming more aware of Indian food. People are realising what is real Indian food. They know what India is. People now know that Indians don’t eat chicken tikka masala in their homes everyday. People have woken up to the flavours and nuances of regional cuisine. They know how things should taste and expect that from a fine dining restaurant.
Indian Accent is labeled as very expensive in NYC. What about London prices?
It is going to be expensive. But the real question is not the expense. The mindset of people is that how do I pay $50 for a bowl of curry. It is that mindset that we have to change. The amount of work gone into an Indian dish is equal or more than what a sushi chef puts in to roll the perfect sushi, a French chef to prepare a degustation menu or an Italian chef to make handmade pasta. We don’t just dump things in a bowl, add warm water and chillies and masala and make a curry. My cuisine also has research, historical background, innovation. So why do you treat my cuisine as a cheap cuisine. Food cost is also higher, as premium ingredients are used. I source 500 gms of Amul butter in New York for$ 10, for which I could buy two kg of French butter. But I still insist on Amul butter for my dal because my recipe demands that. I don’t compromise with my ingredients.
How will you manage three restaurants?
But how will I grow, how will I take my art forward if I don’t go places? The key word is training. I train my staff extensively to deliver that perfect experience. What after London? (Folds his hands) No plans as of now to open more Indian Accents.