A candid chat with Fatty Bao's chef and partner Manu Chandra
As the gastro bar Fatty Bao, makes its foray into Lower Parel, chef-partner Manu Chandra talks innovation, the art of imitation, being unfazed by criticism and his dislike for catchphrases
Manu Chandra. Pics/SAYYED SAMEER ABEDI
"Look at the space between the tables," says Manu Chandra pointing to the gap between two tables. "You can sleep there if you want. It's a double bed by Bombay standards!"
We are at The Fatty Bao's second outlet in the city, set to open next week. Chef and partner Chandra is walking us through the difference between the two spaces, from the interiors, menu design, the menu itself to even the crockery.
"When you have a fresh space, you can imagine it from scratch. I wanted it to be a little sexier, a little more feminine. There's a softness that is endearing," says Chandra. We spot the details — wall art by Delhi artists, brass and distressed metal lighting, embroidered lampshades, handmade floor tiles, and woven cotton upholstery. It's all custom-made, we're told.
Bao to a trend
The Fatty Bao debuts in Kamala Mills Compound, and is part of an expansion plan that will also see branches in Powai and Andheri soon. "This is a happy product. We are here to feed people, give them a good experience and win their loyalty," says Chandra. Nearly 40 per cent of the menu is new, and includes sushi, nigiri, dimsums, ramen, rice and noodles; there's even a Jain section. And, of course, the dish that they're known for: the bao.
"Now it's everywhere; it's the new pizza," says Chandra, as a plate of Steak Bulgogi Bao (Rs 360) — tender buffalo meat with karashi mayo, cabbage slaw and onion jam — comes to the table. As we bite into the pillowy soft bao, Chandra looks over and says, "You have to always eat a bao from the top. Most take a bite from the edges." It wouldn't be far-fetched to say that The Fatty Bao gave rise to the city's sudden love for baos. Does that flatter him? "Imitation may be flattery but you have to do it well. What bugs me is when you take somebody's well thought-out hard work and transform it into utter garbage. It reflects poorly on that person's work. You should give credit where credit is due," says Chandra.
As we speak, food keeps appearing at the table. There's a plate of Wasabi Prawns (Rs 495) — golden, crispy prawn tempura with wasabi mayo and crispy gari arranged in the shape of a halo; a fresh and light Nigiri Tuna with Tosazu Sauce (Rs 340); Edamame Dim Sums (Rs 330); and a Melon Salad (Rs 245) with watermelon and honey dew, a chilli lime dressing and toasted rice krispies, which accompanies our conversation on the city's sudden weather change. Our favourite, what Candra calls comfort food, is the Chinese Roast Pork Puffs (Rs 325), stuffed with minced pork and a bacon crumble on top.
Whether on Twitter or in person, Chandra doesn't hold back from speaking his mind, and criticism doesn't faze him. He has no desire to appear on television or write a book. "These are very expected trajectories for chefs. Why do I have to give in to what's trending? Why can't I do my own thing, and make that trend?" He points to the bao. "That, for me, is trending."
- Reality food shows: I did a guest episode for a reality cooking show and was told not to critique the food, as people don't like it. How is it a competition then? If you're patting everyone on the back, it should be a 'special education' show.
- Social life: I have one, at my restaurant. If my friends have to celebrate or party, I tell them to do it at my place…it kills two birds with one stone.
- Celebrity culture: There are many chefs smitten by this. It's not about being complacent or humble but why go over the top every time you win an accolade?
- Catchphrases: They are lovely things we catch on to. For instance: farm to fork — where else does food come from, a satellite?
- Social media: I won't touch Snapchat but am often on Twitter.
Opens: on February 27
At: 2A, Trade View Building, Kamala Mills Compound, Lower Parel.