Chef Manu Chandra talks about his meritorious journey and love for plant-based meat cooking
Chef Manu Chandra is no less than a legend. This charming man has come a long way, from being a passionate lad cooking fantastic meals, then studying at the Culinary Institute of America, New York, followed by embarking on a thriving culinary career in India, to his latest feat at Cannes. He was invited to curate the inaugural dinner menu at the 75th Festival de Cannes in 2022 and won hearts by serving the humble khichdi along with many other authentic Indian dishes. In May 2022, he co-founded "Single Thread Catering" with Chetan Rampal, a seasoned hotel industry veteran and longtime business partner.
The young chef is passionate about being abreast with latest trends in the industry and the world around him. In recent years, when the plant-based meat or smart meat has been all over the culinary space, Chef Manu has ventured into it and giving it a shot. When asked what made him enter this genre, he replies, "While initially, I was sceptical of the entire movement, the advent of technological developments around plant-based proteins brought a new paradigm in texture and flavour. Such innovations have made them versatile in usage from a culinary standpoint."
We also got to know how he perceives his incredible journey and what keeps his passion for cooking burning!
Chef Manu at work
Q. For how long have you been working as a chef? What inspired you to get into this field?
It's been 15 years in this industry. From a very young age, I delved deep into history and culture. That interest, combined with an innate love for food, nudged me further to continue researching different cuisines' legacies and origins. To my surprise, I cracked an interview about food, purely based on this acquired knowledge. I then attended the Culinary Institute of America, cementing my passion and drive to do what I understood best.
Q. What were the significant milestones in your career?
Apart from building meaningful relationships with patrons for as long as I can remember, I have had a few other proud moments. The list includes constantly creating brands and experiences ahead of time and consistently doing it. And such things have been of great value. Another simple way to describe a few remarkable high points was being one of the youngest Executive Chefs representing the country. Likewise, being entrepreneurial was never scarce simply because all these facets of life played their part while I did mine.
Q. How has the journey been so far?
After almost 20 years, the journey has been a rather gratifying one. The ups and downs that came along only taught me to navigate through what I had signed up for. They have also helped me create value in products enjoyed by guests, churned out tirelessly by a generation of chefs.
Q. Now, let's talk about plant-based meat. Do you find it challenging while cook them - in terms of taste, flavour, texture and presentation?
No! Because plant-based proteins have reached a level where they are mimicking meat so successfully that even the most seasoned nonvegetarian eater can't differentiate. It effectively paves the way for chefs and food businesses to create an exciting array of offerings, both good for the system and the planet.
Q. What is the response from the consumers?
The consumer response has been overwhelmingly positive, and much the way the improvement in texture and flavour has pleasantly surprised chefs like me; it has the customer as well.
Q. Which is that one plant-based meat recipe you love cooking and why?
I particularly like the Shaka Harry Sheek Kebab. The reason: Not only because it is indistinguishable from the real deal. It lends itself to fabulous applications, much like a real one would.
Plant-based mutton sheek kebab, Image Source: shakaharry.com
Q. Any lost meat-based recipe you wish to recreate with plant-based meat?
There aren't any recipes lost per se. But the fact that we are able to recreate cherished recipes such as Kormas and Butter Chicken while being entirely plant-based is, in itself, fascinating.
Q. How do you see the future of smart-meat industry?
It is poised to grow bigger and faster than it is already growing at. In some sense, it does represent a sustainable future for all mankind.
Q. If you have to surprise someone with a plant-based meat dish, which one will you prepare and watch their shocking expression?
It will be plant-based sausages. In my opinion, they are the most convincing and often leave a crowd in awe. Their ability to replace real sausages in various recipes makes the job all the easier.
Q. A pro tip for cooking with plant-based meat?
You don't have to try too hard. Plant-based meat cooks faster than real one, saving time and energy. There also isn't a concern about food safety or worries about undercooking it.