Having interviewed chef Manu Chandra earlier, I can vouch for the fact that nothing can prepare you for his unapologetically blunt demeanour–a quality I admire and wish to possess. As I geared up for a Zoom interview with this top chef on a Monday, the familiarity excited me, but the idea of tackling his curveball responses made me equally restless. This was until I took a quick peek at the one-word description of himself on Instagram: restless. I realised we shared a common word to describe ourselves. While this resulted in an instant sense of solace, it also left me further intrigued. What could possibly make a culinary maestro like him ‘restless’? After all, he’s cut his teeth in a competitive industry for nearly two decades. “It defines me,” he satisfies my curiosity. “I’m someone who needs to stay occupied. I need to keep creating. I don’t like resting on my laurels, and I need to keep challenging myself.” And that’s exactly what he’s been doing ever since he stepped onto the Indian culinary scene.
Road To Success
After studying at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) and working with some of the best international chefs and restaurants, Chandra returned to India in 2004 and became part of the Olive group. If you thought Jeremey Allen White’s Carmen–from the critically acclaimed show The Bear–was doing an impressive job as a chef in his late twenties, you’ll be surprised to know that Chandra had unlocked the secret of success in his early twenties. He was the youngest ever head chef to open Olive’s Bangalore outpost, Olive Beach. To have taken up this responsibility at such a young age is daunting, but the chef says it moulded him in many ways. “When you take on the mantle of a large, fancy restaurant in a city that’s not accustomed to it, the pressure is intense. And it’s not whether or not I had the leadership abilities or skills, but I had a lot of common sense which guided me through much of that period… which is strange because most of the employees were older,” he recalls.
“It was very difficult for a lot of them to fathom that they’d have to report to a much younger chef. I was mercurial, and I continue to be, but not as bad as I was back then. In a very large part, that was a self-defence mechanism. To insulate yourself from the amount of friction that you would face on a daily basis, you needed to be a bit of a jerk to get by. But I was also nurturing and always had this little talisman that I gave everybody who joined. I said, ‘I’ve come from the CIA, and it cost an arm and a leg. I’m trying to give you the same education for free. I have no secrets and no recipes, but I’m a block away. We all sit down together and learn them. And that really set the ball rolling,” he shares.
During his tenure at Olive, Chandra introduced many ‘firsts’ in the Indian culinary space. That includes the gastropub scene through Monkey Bar and the kick-starting of the gin revolution with Toast & Tonic. After moving on from the hospitality group in 2021, he went global in his escapades. He partnered up with Chetan Rampal to launch Single Thread Catering, a bespoke catering service. Upon invitation, the team curated and managed the catering for the India Pavilion at the Cannes Film Festival 2022. And this year, it was at the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland, where the chef served hot, modern Indian canapés in minus 18 degrees.
Back With A Bang
2023 marks the year of Chandra’s comeback as he launches Lupa on Bengaluru’s iconic MG Road. And he still is experiencing trepidation, uncertainty and nervousness. “I’m coming back after a hiatus of over a year. I’ve not really been running a restaurant for a while. And people are expecting me to come back with a bang,” he confesses.
The fine-dining restaurant is named in honour of the mythological La Lupa (Italian for ‘the she-wolf’), who raised Romulus and Remus, founders of the modern city of Rome. As I discover, the restaurant unabashedly imbibes La Lupa’s untameable spirit. Blending pre-modern opulence with an old-world charm is the high-ceiling indoor dining area, which can seat 220 guests. Lupa’s highlights, you ask? A swanky bar shares the indoor-outdoor space; an underground wine cellar with nearly 2000 bottles of wine; a private dining area on a mezzanine floor flanked by two grand staircases; and two open pantries with a mini Gelato Lab (going to be my favourite spot), finished with Salumeria cum Small Plates bar.
I’m yet to sample the fare, but here’s what catches my eye – the Burrata, Oxtail Raviolo, Arroz De Pato (a take on Portuguese Duck rice), Pot Au Feu (slow-cooked beef short ribs broth, Chicken Liver Parfait and Baked Salmon.
While Chandra does have a few tricks up his sleeve for this year, I ask him if there’s anything left to achieve. “Nirvana,” he jokes. “I don’t know. I am not driven by the pursuit of wealth. I’m not keen on any Michelin stars. I’ve become jaded by awards and merits. Peace and happiness is a good goal to work towards.” It’s interesting to know that though the chef is forever restless at heart, being at peace is what he strives to achieve.
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