You’ve heard of Nashville, Tennessee being the home of American country music. Now you can add another feather to its cap – home of Indian street foods! Yes, Maneet Chauhan, 42, judge on Food Network’s popular show Chopped and celebrity chef, is striking some spicy notes in Nashville with her brand new restaurant Chaatable which brings the delight of Mumbai street food to Nashville.
It is the newest business venture of Morph Hospitality which she owns with her husband and business partner Vivek Deora. They have opened four successful restaurants in as many years in Nashville – Chauhan Ale & Masala House, The Mockingbird, Tansuo, and Chaatable, diversifying the cuisine available in Nashville.
When opening her first restaurant, Chauhan Ale & Masala House, she wanted to introduce Indian cuisine in an approachable way—with a fusion of Indian and American/Southern, from Lamb Keema Papadi Nachos to Hot Chicken Pakoras and Tandoori Shrimp and "Grits”. The Mockingbird is a modern diner with global fare while Tansuo is contemporary Chinese.
Chaatable Bar (Picture: Jessica Sloan)
The path of diverse cuisine was set in her childhood in Ranchi in Eastern India where she grew up in a small steel colony with people from all over the country from Bengal to Kerala. “I was always so fascinated with their food— it was my first love,” she recalled. “I remember as a kid that I would go to neighbors’ houses, after having had a meal at my house, and tell them that my Mom hadn’t fed me—which as you can imagine, mortified my parents! This would assure that my neighbors would quickly whip up some mysterious snack for me. The use of different spices and cooking techniques would always fascinate me.”
Chauhan, who worked in major hotel chains like the Taj, Oberoi and Le Meridian in India, first came to the US to study at the Culinary Institute of America. After being the chef at Vermilion, the acclaimed Indian-Latin fusion restaurants in Chicago and New York for eight years and the first Indian woman to be a competitor on TV cooking shows, The Iron Chef and The Next Iron Chef, she was invited to be a judge on the hugely popular ‘Chopped’ which won the James Beard Award of Excellence. She is currently a star judge on Chopped and travels every few months to New York City to do the taping of the shows. With large followings on social media, Maneet Chauhan is an influencer in the food world.
Maneet Chauhan with celebrity judges on Chopped
She chose Nashville for her first namesake restaurant after being contacted by developer Moni Advani to come down to Music City for a visit. It was during her first trip that she fell in love with the city and its people and decided to stay. Brave about experimentation and innovation, she is a woman who is willing to go out on a limb and try new things. Currently she and Vivek Deora are also nurturing Mantra Artisan Ales with a team of brewers. A key player in the city’s evolving dining scene, Chauhan has moved away from the Big Apple to the hinterland and continues to fill gaps in the city’s culinary landscape.
chaat is new for American consumers, Nashville is home to an immigrant Indian population too who loves their street food. “There is a sizeable Indian population here in Nashville,” says Maneet. “I would say a favorite dish is the Chicken Tikka Masala Poutine. It has the foundation of Indian flavor with an American twist on it.” Pav Bhaji - vegetarian sloppy joe. ( Pic: Daniel Christopher)
Chauhan has made Chaatable very accessible to the mainstream too by giving them a colorful Indian experience. There can’t be any street-side eats but she has made a chaat bar where all the chaats are prepared right in front of the guests. And yes, there is a colorful wall of 20,000 glass bangles which you would probably not find on any Indian street! Says Chauhan, “They have fallen in love with it. It’s gratifying to see that the passion we put into Chaatable is being seen and felt by those who visit.”
Growing up in India, did she ever think Indian food would be so hot in America? She says: “I always hoped it would reach the level it’s reaching right now. I want to continue my mission of spreading the word, beauty and complexity of Indian food and culture—whether it is through books, restaurants or television.”
I asked Chauhan, who has two young children, what suggestions would she had for entrepreneurs embarking on a food business in a new country, especially those trying to juggle families? She says, “My one bit of advice would be to not be afraid. Once you face the situation, you come up with the most amazing solutions. I think the most important factor is to give equal time to all things that are important to you. When you are working, work should have 100 percent of your attention. If you are with your child, they should have 100 percent of your attention.”
Finally, what is the comfort food that can set all things right for her? Chauhan may be in Nashville, TN., but her stomach is where her heart is. She says, “My mother’s
aloo methi with parantha and a big dollop of homemade butter! In fact, her killer stuffed flatbreads have been incorporated into my own menus.”
Asked how Americans are reacting to Indian food, Chauhan says, “I think it is quickly becoming a love relationship now that a new wave of Indian chefs is representing Indian food in all its true glory and not as the ‘$8.95 All You Can Eat Buffet.’ America is finally being exposed and falling in love!”
Maneet Chauhan may have grown up but she continues to get inspiration from back home and her childhood days. She visits India often, trying new and old cuisines in varied cities: “I have a list of favorite restaurants and dishes that I have to have while I visit - so I make a pilgrimage out of eating!”
Lavina Melwani is a New York-based journalist who blogs at
Lassi with Lavina.