A Quick Bite with Manu Chandra
Eloquent yet candid, Manu Chandra, Executive Chef of Olive Beach, Bangalore and Executive Chef and Partner Monkey Bar (Bangalore and now Delhi), talks about evolving from chef to an entrepreneur and his new venture.
Why did you choose to become a chef?
I always wanted to cook; it was just too ingrained in my fabric to consider anything else, seriously at least. I never really thought of ‘hospitality’ per say as a career choice, anything that would have stoked the cook in me was good enough. I started cooking at the age of 12, a lot of my best memories revolve around food and the parties we had at home, and I went with the flow. Kept at it, learning, innovating till it became apparent that food was really what I wanted to be involved with.
Which chef do you look upon as an inspiration?
I don’t believe I idolize anybody, not for reasons of complacency but because there are so many people doing so much good work with food that looking up to just any one would be a gross injustice to the work of many. Though if I had to pick idols, it would be those who toil to ensure that all this fancy stuff that we eat arrives at our table with some degree of respectability; i.e. farmers, fishermen, butchers and a number of the unsung.
Which is your favorite cuisine?
I don’t have a favorite in particular; any cuisine that brings forth vibrant flavors, great textures and brilliant taste becomes a favorite. Is there a cuisine that I always prefer to cook and eat? No.
Which is that one ingredient you cannot do without?
Which is that childhood food memory that has stayed with you?
My paternal grandmother was handed the task of preparing her signature kebabs and pasandas for about 400 people for India Day Celebrations at the German Embassy at Berlin. Every household help, distant relative and really any help that we could find, was pressed into action into preparing this almost industrial scale meal which would then have to be frozen and flown to Germany. I think it was perhaps my first exposure to volume cooking but with a care and affection that only a grandmother could give.
What is your comfort food?
On some nights ramen noodles, on others chips, and sometimes chicken curry and rice. Comfort food has so many definitions for any body really and that could vary on moods, locations, occasions, and seasons. So while Rajma Chawal would be a comfort food when I come home to Delhi and a steaming cup of dense hot chocolate with toasted marshmallows could be my go to comfort food on a freezing New York winter morning.
What is your food philosophy?
Keep it fresh and keep it fun. Taste overrides all other parameters.
Share your thoughts on the journey from being a chef to an entrepreneur.
The journey from being chef to entrepreneur was a natural progression. I had done a stint at Olive Beach, Bangalore and was keen not just for a new challenge but also for a chance to create something new. It was thus that Olive Cafe South Pvt Ltd was founded in 2011. The company has since brought Monkey Bar, India’s first gastro-pub. I am still the executive chef at Olive Beach, Bangalore.
‘Chef entrepreneur’ is a trend that is yet to gain momentum in India, what are the reasons for the slow growth?
A chef is like a micro entrepreneur whose responsibilities often extend beyond just cooking good food. In that respect it’s a great precursor to entrepreneurship. Most chefs are very talented but need to understand the complete business of food not just the creative aspect of the business. Also, we have to understand that there is an initial amount of seed capital required to start any new venture, and most chefs may find it difficult to come up with it. Yet, I think with private equity players being bullish about the hospitality business as a whole; the potential for growth is expanding.
Can you throw light on the concept behind Monkey Bar.? Where do you see it growing in the future?
Olive Cafes South Pvt Ltd is a subsidiary of Olive Bar and Kitchen Pvt. Ltd. Restaurateur AD Singh, in partnership with hospitality operations expert Chetan Rampal and myself set up the company. And Monkey Bar is our first brand launched at Bangalore in April 2012. We’ve opened the second Monkey Bar in Delhi in December 2013 and are in the process of opening another Monkey Bar, in Bangalore, at Indiranagar and we also plan to open Monkey Bar in Mumbai shortly.
Monkey Bar has received tremendous response; it is unique as it offers the essence of a pub, backed by excellent food and service, at accessible prices. We’ve set a benchmark with innovative food and often-irreverent take on the concept of traditional cuisines or a single cuisine driven establishment. As important as food, design and music, the bar at Monkey Bar serves trendy and affordable, yet, fabulous tasting cocktails. We stand out through the constant innovation and experimentation we bring to both the food and beverage menu. Keeping things accessible, fun and high on taste underlie everything we do. With a format like this, which is value for money, and offers quick turnaround and service the potential is tremendous. In a short span of time the brand has been recognized both nationally and globally as a unique F&B destination that is set to revolutionize the concept of dining out in India. The Conde Nast International Gold Standard 2013, Time Out London and Singapore, have listed the brand among the must visit places in the world.
Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
I go with the flow, so not sure where time would take me eventually. My only wish is to innovate, adapt and keep at the forefront of spectacular dining.