By Francis Lam, via SplendidTable.org

For years, the Indian-born chef Maneet Chauhan ran the kitchen of an absolutely delicious restaurant in New York called Vermilion. It eventually closed, I missed her food, and for years I watched her as a judge on the show Chopped, and I figured she might have left restaurants for a life in media. And then I learned that she’d actually moved to Nashville, and built a whole collection of restaurants there, marrying flavors from India and inspiration from the South and around the world. And I’d heard that she does an amazing Thanksgiving menu at her restaurant, Chauhan Ale and Masala House. We caught up in the studio, and I started by asking her how she got into cooking in the first place.

Maneet Chauhan is the chef-owner of Chauhan Ale and Masala House, Tansuo, and Mockingbird in Nashville. She shared her recipe for Naanzanella , a bread salad made with fried naan, and Lamb Keema Papdi Nachos from the book, A Place at the Table.

Francis Lam: How did you get into cooking?

Maneet Chauhan: Simple. I loved eating – as simple as that. I grew up in this really small town in India called Ranchi, and there were people from all over India in the community that we lived. In India each and every state has a very unique cuisine of its own, so I would finish dinner at home, and then go to my neighbors’ houses and tell them that my parents hadn’t fed me, so can I please eat with you. That was pretty much how my eternal love affair with food started. I would just be that obnoxious kid, sit in the kitchens with these aunties cooking, and asking them why are you heating the oil? Why are you adding mustard seeds?

FL: It’s one thing to love eating, but did you know that you wanted to be a chef? Did you see a career path to being a chef?

MC: It was really interesting because my older sister, when she went to college, I would take food for her. Soon I realized that I was the most popular kid on campus, and I didn’t even go to school there. I think that was my aha moment, because I realized that, hey, this is something I love doing, and people love me for it, so why don’t I think of this as a career? And that was a challenge, because in India at that time the acceptable careers were to be a doctor or an engineer, and if you’re really thinking outside the box, maybe an accountant. But here I want to be a chef. At that time it wasn’t even acceptable for men to be chefs. It wasn’t considered an acceptable career. But my parents were very supportive. The only thing they ever told me was do whatever you want. Just make sure that you’re the best at it, and that’s the mantra that I have kept very close to my […]

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