Chef Manu Chandra is a firm believer in celebrating India’s biodiversity in the culinary domain by championing the use of home-grown ingredients and, in particular, the use of ingredients that have been native to particular regions for many millennia. He counts integrity as being one of the three most important lessons that he learnt in the course of his culinary journey (the other two being patience and education). Chef Chandra believes that integrity is particularly important in the face of the global culinary influences that are pervading the Indian food landscape at the moment. While these influences are good for food lovers, Chef Chandra emphatically says that you can’t just create any hotchpotch in the name of fusion.
Flavours and aromas hold a special meaning for Chef Chandra. He remembers how even today the aroma of Sarson Da Saag triggers a flashback that draws him back in time to the delightful smells wafting from his mother’s kitchen when she used to prepare the same dish. These memories are inextricably interwoven with the gentle warmth and pungency of Mustard Oil. Take away the Mustard Oil and the memories fade away. Only disappointment remains. This is the aspect of “integrity” that Chef Chandra seeks to highlight: the fact that some dishes cannot be prepared without remaining true to their essential ingredients.
The choice of Mustard Oil as an example is bang on. After all, there are certain traditional cuisines from Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Bengal, Bihar, Odisha and Assam where Mustard Oil is an essential part of the recipe. One cannot substitute refined oils or other oils like olive oil for these dishes. Another great example is the famed Wazwan cuisine of Kashmir – a wide-ranging array of unique recipes that are impossible to create without using good quality cold-pressed Mustard Oil.
That is why the aspect of integrity raised by Chef Chandra is a point well taken. Sometimes the pursuit of authenticity and remaining true to traditional recipes is more important than mixing things up in the name of creativity.