Journey To The Stars: Chef Rahul Rana On His Dubai-Based Restaurant Avatara Receiving Its First Michelin Star


Hailing from Rishikesh, Rahul Rana grew up with the simple and flavourful meals his family prepared. They embraced the local produce and created delicious dishes without onion and garlic. It’s those memories that have shaped his approach to cooking along with a deep passion for flavours, textures, and the art of transforming ingredients into delightful dishes. His decision to move to the UAE was driven by the desire to explore diverse culinary horizons and bring his unique perspective on vegetarian cuisine to the global audience. 

Following his stint at Dubai’s 2-Michelin star restaurant Tresind, where he trained under Chef Himanshu Saini, Chef Rana was intrigued by the challenge of redefining vegetarian cuisine, which often relied on limited ingredients. “I saw an opportunity to create something extraordinary by using unconventional vegetables and avoiding the common crutches like paneer, potatoes, and mushrooms,” he shares. This led to the launch of his own restaurant Avatara. 


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Introducing a vegetarian fine dining restaurant in a competitive food scene like Dubai isn’t easy. It requires a strong concept, dedication, and a commitment to innovation. Chef Rana made sure his restaurant had all three components. With his 16-course degustation menu that sees vegetarian dishes in a new light, Chef Rana has been able to carve a niche for himself with his restaurant. Within a year, Avatara was awarded its first Michelin star at the Michelin Guide held in Dubai in May 2023, a proud moment for the entire team and an inspiration for budding chefs closer home.


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Three months after receiving the Michelin star, Chef Rana and his team flew down to Conrad Pune (thanks to Conosh, a community of food lovers) to offer a slice of Avatara through a 12-course menu. It featured dishes like the much-talked-about Naivedhya (Holy Offering, a dish that is inspired by Lord Krishna’s love for white butter), Sandhita (Broccolini marinated in pickle spice), Grinjanah (Turnip), and Madhuram (Sweet), among others.

Naivedhya (Holy Offering)

Ahead of his service at Zeera in Conrad Pune, ELLE caught up with the chef to know all about his journey to the stars and more.

ELLE: Congratulations on receiving the Michelin Star this year! How does it feel? 

Rahul Rana (RR): Receiving the Michelin Star this year was indeed an incredible and humbling experience. It felt like a validation of our hard work, dedication, and innovative approach to crafting unique vegetarian dishes at Avatara. This recognition motivates our team to continue pushing the boundaries of the vegetarian fine dining experience. 

Panasa (Jackfruit)

ELLE: Now that you have one Michelin star, does it add more pressure or does it motivate you? 

RR: While having a Michelin star does bring added expectations and pressure, it’s also a powerful motivator. It pushes us to continuously strive for excellence, to keep experimenting, and to surprise our guests with inventive dishes that showcase the flavours of Indian vegetables and tell a story through every bite.

ELLE: What has your culinary journey been like before heading to UAE and right after? 

RR: My culinary journey began in the picturesque town of Rishikesh, nestled in the Himalayan foothills. Growing up in a diverse and tourist-oriented environment, I absorbed various cultures and cuisines. My roots in a predominantly vegetarian community sparked my curiosity for innovative culinary possibilities. I’ve always aimed to elicit powerful emotions through each bite. Having honed my skills at esteemed Indian restaurants, my transition to Dubai allowed me to channel my creative flair into Avatara, the city’s first vegetarian fine dining experience. Drawing from my heritage and influenced by my grandfather’s culinary legacy, I view cooking as a form of meditation that can transform perceptions. Through Avatara, I aspire to redefine the way people perceive vegetarian cuisine, believing that taste holds the key to rejuvenation and transformation. 


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ELLE: You worked at Tresind before becoming the Executive Chef at Avatara. What were some of your biggest learnings there and how have you incorporated that into your cooking philosophy?

RR: Working at Tresind with Chef Himanshu Saini was an experience that greatly influenced my culinary journey and philosophy. I gained invaluable insights that I’ve incorporated into my broader cooking approach at Avatara. 

One of the most important lessons I learned was the art of precision and attention to detail. The intricacies of pastry require a meticulous approach, and I’ve brought this exactitude to every aspect of my cooking. From creating complex flavour combinations to presenting dishes with elegance, this emphasis on precision has become a cornerstone of my culinary philosophy. 


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Tresind emphasised innovation and pushing the boundaries of traditional techniques. This spirit of creativity encouraged me to experiment fearlessly and think outside the box, which I carry with me at Avatara. I’ve taken this ethos to heart, using it to explore unconventional ways of utilising vegetarian ingredients and crafting dishes that surprise and delight our guests. 

ELLE: Tell us more about Avatara. Why did you choose to make it into a vegetarian restaurant? 

RR: The menu at Avatara showcases a modern avatar of the techniques, philosophy, and story of soulful Indian food. Indian cuisine was originally predominantly vegetarian. However, the perceptions around vegetarian food have been that of limitations. The idea is to break through these perceptions and curate a unique vegetarian fine dining experience showcasing the endless possibilities vegetarian food can offer.

The essence of the food at Avatara lies in using unconventional and inspired by humble seasonal ingredients, that are pure, clean, natural, and energy-containing. The cuisine uses fresh produce and dairy products from local farms.


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ELLE: Do you think vegetarian food doesn’t get the importance it deserves, or are people’s perceptions changing?

RR: Vegetarian food is definitely gaining more importance and recognition in the culinary world as people are becoming more conscious about their dietary choices and are open to exploring the flavours and creativity that vegetarian cuisine can offer. 

ELLE: What are your upcoming plans? 

RR: I’m excited to share that our journey continues to evolve, and we have some exciting plans on the horizon. One of the most significant steps forward is opening our second Avatara restaurant, this time in Mumbai, later this year. 

- Lifestyle Editor


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