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India’s most promising young chef – Manu Chandra

Chef Manu Chandra, Executive Chef, Olive, Bangalore, Mumbai

Manu ChandraUnlike a decade or two ago, when being a chef was no career option for a young man, it is today seen as a glamorous profession with even popular film stars like Saif Ali Khan playing cool-dude chefs in films. The result is a new generation of professionals, who are better-educated, better travelled and come with better exposure-levels. Olive Beach’s “cool” executive chef Manu Chandra is a case in point.

Born on 1st October 1980, Manu Chandra grew up in a household where cultural amalgamation was not only the convention, but food in itself always transcended mere sustenance. It was only natural then, that at a very young age he developed a keen interest in the kitchen. Also being raised by grand parents who hailed from regions rich in culinary traditions he imbibed the respect for ingredients and techniques, which would lay the groundwork for his future endeavors.

After completing his schooling from a unique educational institute called ‘Mirambika’ (based on the teaching of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo of Pondicherry) he learnt to see things from a completely original perspective, where innovation and freshness was encouraged and rewarded with each one’s individuality highlighted. He moved on to complete his schooling at Mothers International School where the early grounding showed results in terms of performance in areas as diverse as academics, sports, drama and leadership traits.

At St Stephens he opted for the Honours Course in History and maintained his interest in drama. In his spare time he wrote, designed, cooked and helped photograph a book of fusion cuisine. On Saturday afternoons Café Turtle used to feature Manu’s Special. These excursions into the food world helped cement his desire for further study in this field which decided his entry into Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park, New York, an outstanding institution for training Chefs. Manu graduated with top honours from there also winning the 2002 Sea Food Masters Award for the National Recipe Competition. This award entitled him to travel to Norway and work with a Michelin starred Chef Eyvind Hellstrom at Bagatelle.

While pursuing his studies, Manu had a chance to apprentice in some of the top kitchens in New York as a stagier, which included places like Restaurant Daniel, Le Bearnardin, Gramercy Tavern, Café Centro, Jean Georges and Town among others. He also worked in an up market brasserie in the heart of mid town Manhattan. Manu later became part of the opening team of perhaps one of the most challenging hotel openings that Manhattan has seen in recent years; that was the Mandarin Oriental at Columbus Circle which is part of the now famous Time Warner Centre complex, with some of the most established chefs with world class restaurants. During that time he interacted with chefs like Thomas Kellar, Charlie Trotter, Gray Kunz and Masa Takayama.

In late 2004 Manu returned to India and joined Olive Bar and Kitchen as the Chef De Cuisine for Olive Beach Bangalore. He first spent a few months in Olive Bar and Kitchen Mumbai, helping with the creation of new concepts, menus and kitchen design etc and then moved to Bangalore as a part of the start up team for Olive Beach Bangalore, where he is currently based. Chef Manu Chandra is currently Chef De Cuisine at Olive Beach.

Much before Delhi-boy and St Stephen’s alumnus Chandra started training at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America, he was already learning the basics of a professional kitchen, as a 16-year-old, at Chef Madhu Krishnan’s West View at the ITC Maurya. “I was really passionate about cooking and would do birthday cakes and parties for friends ever since I was 12-years-old,” says Chandra. Post CIA, (including internships at Michelin-starred places like Daniel’s in New York), Chandra sought to go back to the ITC for his first job. He was asked to do the standard thing: Take a trade test. He refused. Luckily, AD Singh was opening Olive in Bangalore (in 2004) and took him on. In under a year, Chandra was elevated to the top job. At 28, he is one of the youngest executive chefs and has, this year, taken charge of the standalone’s Mumbai operations too.

There is no dearth of talented young chefs in the country today, experimenting with newer concepts. Take Old World Hospitality’s Manish Mehrotra, for instance. He grew up in Bihar, but through sheer talent and grit made it to the top, opening first the Oriental Octopus chain, then the much-talked about Tamrai in London, and, this year, Indian Accent in New Delhi. But Chandra leads the pack as much for his skills as for redefining the image of a chef.

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