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Chefs who power America’s new Michelin-star Indian restaurants

New York, Nov 10 (IANS) The just-unveiled Michelin Guide for Washington, D.C., New York and Chicago for 2023 has brought Diwali cheer to three Indian restaurants, two of which got their coveted first star from the guide regarded as the final word on gastronomy. Last year, the number was just one.

The restaurants are Semma in New York City, Rania in Washington, D.C., and Indienne in Chicago. They represent three distinctive styles of Progressive Indian Cuisine, their chefs bringing their own unique touches to the table.

Semma’s Vijay Kumar, who grew up in rural Madurai and has worked up the ranks, which included being a line cook on a cruise ship, brings the flavors of his memory to the second-time Michelin star-winning restaurant, which gets its name from the colloquial equivalent of ‘super’ or ‘fantastic’ in Tamil.

Kumar, who was previously with Rasa, San Francisco, has partnered with Roni Mazumdar and Chintan Pandya. Their company is called Unapologetic Foods, which is an appropriate name for a food philosophy to work in the Big Apple, one of the most competitive dining out markets in the world.

The philosophy comes across in Kumar’s elevated rustic cuisine, including his nathai pirattal (peconic snails cooked with ginger and tamarind), which is inspired by what he ate at his grandparents’ home.

To quote from the Guide: “This is authentic Indian cooking that doesn’t pander to American expectations, and if some of the dishes are unfamiliar, lean on the staff who know their stuff and are eager to share. One bite in and you’ll quickly learn that this cooking is all heart.”

In the U.S. capital, Washington, D.C., not far from the White House, local restaurateur Karan Singh tied up with Amit Burman and Rohit Aggarwal’s Lite Bite Foods to open Punjab Grill, but as Aggarwal puts it, the place wasn’t doing well and Covid hit it badly.

So, from a mid-market Punjab Grill, under the flowing salt-and-pepper-maned Chef Chetan Shetty (a long-time Indian Accent hand), the restaurant got a new name, Rania, a menu upgrade and a complete makeover with Ayush Kasliwal shipping the grand ready-to-fit interiors from Jaipur to D.C.

In the words of the Guide: “Dishes like shiso leaf chaat balance a playful spirit with elegant overtones, while ghee-roasted lamb folded inside a delicate lentil cheela has a spicy kick that is tempered with a buttermilk mousse. Finally, a slightly sweet strained yogurt mousse with a hint of pistachio and cardamom is the perfect finale.”

Indienne in Chicago, located in a reconverted 19th-century printing press warehouse, may be a newbie in the Windy City’s dining scene, but the man behind it, Sujan Sarkar, is no stranger to presenting Indian food with French cuisine nouvelle finesse — an art he perfected during his stint at Rooh, also in Chicago, an outlet of which he opened opposite the Qutub Minar in Mehrauli, New Delhi.

Sarkar had a falling out with the promoters of Rooh and he decided to branch out with Sahil Sethi, whom he got to know at Rooh New Delhi. Sethi, incidentally, interned at NOMA in the days when Rene Redzepi’s restaurant was still around and was at the top of Restaurant Magazine’s World’s 50 Best.

Here’s what the Guide says about Sarkar: “In a city where kitchens break moulds and defy expectations, Sujan Sarkar makes a splash of his own on this quiet strip of River North. A la carte is available, but first-timers should start with the tasting menu, where Sarkar delivers an original, modern vision of Indian cuisine. His food may look like pieces of art but taste like familiar favorites pulled from across his vibrant homeland.”

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