In India we have two kinds of food: One is restaurant food and the other is regional home food. When I opened my first restaurant eight years ago in New Delhi, the idea was to do Indian food like the things people make in their homes. Not restaurant food, which was always like Chicken Tikka Masala that people never make in their homes.
What I do first is use ingredients that are not traditional—like meat that’s not traditional—like scallop, which goes very well with Indian flavors. So we do scallop with authentic Indian spices or masalas, and it doesn’t overpower the delicateness of scallop, but you are eating scallop with India in your mind. Now we are doing scallop with cauliflower and saffron soup, which is very popular in the northern part of India.
And when you come to a place like New York where you have an abundance of ingredients and you get so many ingredients in different seasons, it really excites you to create new things with an Indian background, because in India we sometimes struggle for good ingredients.
Especially in New Delhi, we struggle for quality seafood. When the soft shell crab came into season here, we did a popular dish from the western part of India where they fry soft shell crab crispy and dust it with a spice mix and serve it with a dried shrimp rice.
And this year, for the first time, I tasted ramps—so I used ramps in one of our dishes. In India we make our own cottage cheese called Paneer. We did Paneer with crispy quinoa and sautéed ramps. Next year I’m planning to do bread, like a naan bread, and it will be stuffed with caramelized ramps.
Recently, we changed our menu and added a lot of winter stuff used in India, including khichdi, which is like an Indian rice or porridge. It is the most famous comfort food of India, but you would never find it in restaurants because people make it in their homes.
I am very confident in my restaurant team in New York. They are all from India and have been working with me for a number of years. They are very excited to play with new ingredients. It is a lot of learning for all of us, including me.