Five minutes with: Manish Mehrotra

Corporate chef at Indian Accent London, New York and New Delhi on his love for coconut and why Ratatouille is the ultimate food film

Food and Drink 27 Sep 2019

Chef Manish Mehrotra
Indian Accent, London
Meetha aachar spare ribs with sun-dried mango and toasted onion Seeds at Indian Accent
Soy keema with quail egg and lime leaf butter pao

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

You’re entering into an industry where when everyone else is enjoying themselves, that’s your busiest day. It was given to me by one of the chefs I worked with in the early days and it’s something I pass on to other chefs I work with. You have to sacrifice a bit of your social life for this job – holidays, Saturday and Friday nights, these are the busiest times for restaurants and bars all over the world. If people are going out, then you’re going to be busy.

 Who is your role model?

I don’t have a role model as such, there are different people you get inspiration from. For example, Gandhi said you have to treat everyone equally. In my kitchen the most important person is the kitchen porter and he is equal to my head chef – you have to treat everybody in the same way. The kitchen is like a machine where everyone has their own place and if all the pieces work together then the machine will work properly.

 What ingredient can you not live without?

Coconut – I love coconut and I find it one of the most versatile ingredients in Indian cuisine. You can make everything from an appetiser to the main course and dessert from coconut. It’s a universally liked ingredient and it’s used across the world in all kinds of cuisines. I don’t have a favourite coconut dish per se, but I think the southern Indian coastal curry from Kerala is very special and it’s something I serve a version of in my restaurants.

 What do you always take with you when you travel?

I always carry one of my knives with me. It’s very important to me, whether I use it or not. It’s an all-purpose Japanese cooking knife that I take in my luggage.

What is your favourite restaurant in London?

I have many! I like Palomar in Soho and I really like Bar Shu in Soho, the Sichuan restaurant. We have a lot of Chinese restaurants in India, but they serve an Indian version of the cuisine and the food at Bar Shu is very authentic. I ate at Kiln recently too, the Thai restaurant where they cook on clay pots over fires and I really like it there too.

What do you like to do on a day off?

I am so busy that on a day off I just want to wrap myself in a duvet and stay in bed to watch movies and TV. I love films and I also really like watching the cricket on TV.

What are your biggest passions outside of food?

I really like movies. My favourite food movie is Ratatouille, I don’t think there’s a better representation of how a professional French kitchen works in film. Although obviously we would never have a rat cooking in a normal restaurant kitchen! It also does a really good job of portraying flavour and taste in a visual medium. It’s a great message too – that not everyone can cook, but a great cook can learn from anywhere. I also love cookbooks and collect them, I’m always learning but prefer to do it offline. Larousse Gastronomique is my favourite and it’s the one book I tell all the junior chefs I work with to read – there’s no better reference for learning what ingredients and flavours go with what. It’s the biggest question for any chef, whether you’re a home cook or professional – what goes well with what.

If you could choose anyone from today or history, who would be your ideal dinner party guest and why?

I can’t pick one, but I would choose a group of Bollywood and Hollywood actors, so I could talk to them about film. I’d cook them some of our signature dishes from the restaurant, including the blue cheese naan, the amuse bouche we start each meal with and the meetha achaar pork ribs.

Is there a difference between your customers in London, New York and New Delhi?

Our menu is pretty consistent across the world although we do have more elaborate, banquet-style dining in New Delhi. However, our customers are different in all three cities and a lot of it is to do with familiarity with Indian cuisine – obviously in New Delhi it’s the food our customers have grown up with and they know more about regional differences. In London, customers are very familiar with Indian cuisine and so tend to compare the food at Indian Accent to dishes they have elsewhere. In New York our customers are less familiar with the cuisine, but they are very experimental and adventurous, they like to try new things.

Indian Accent, 16 Albemarle St, Mayfair, London W1S 4HW,