Chefs on the Grill with Michael Nagrant - Maneet Chauhan

This month, Nagrant chats with Maneet Chauhan, a chef trained at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) whose unlikely Latino-Indian fare continues to defy the odds at Vermilion (10 W. Hubbard St.; 312-527-4060)


Maneet Chauhan


PODCAST: To hear more from Nagrant’s conversation with Maneet click the Podcast above.(00.43:47)


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MN: Vermilion interviewed 40 men before hiring you. Is it still such a male-dominated profession?
MC:
It is. At my first job in India, I was working in a kitchen of 60 to 70, and I would be the only female roaming around. A lot of people would say, “Ah, you’re a girl,” and give me the smallest tasks. For a week all I was doing was cutting onions. I was like, “Fine, give me more onions.”

MN: Is Indian food in America different from Indian food in India?
MC:
The spices are a lot tamed down here. And there is a lot of use of creams here. In India, it’s milk and yogurt. The entire process here involves three base sauces, and if you know them you can make anything. In India there are so many.

MN: Was it culture shock going directly from India to the CIA?
MC:
For the first year I was there, I refused to buy a soda from the vending machine because it was $1. One dollar is 40 rupees, and for 40 rupees I could have three meals in India.

MN: Tell me about Diwali.
MC:
It is the festival of lights celebrating the Indian new year. We will celebrate it for one whole week here (Oct. 16th-21st), and we’re going to serve goat biryani. You steam cook it on low flame for five hours.

MN: What Indian restaurants do you like in Chicago?
MC:
A place on Devon called Sabri Nehari has got amazing biryanis. There is also a small place on Orleans–Kababish–that’s got amazing biryanis.

MN: One of the knocks on Indian cooking is that it’s tough to pair wine with.
MC:
The traditional pairing is, “Oh, Indian food? Give them a riesling.” But with a riesling, you are using something sweet to drown all the spices. Our servers recommend a bold red with our seafood stew. It opens up the flavor of the wines, and the spices as well.

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