The rhythmic sound of a knife chopping on a cutting board was clearer than Manu Chandra’s voice. He was speaking to Lounge over phone from a buzzing kitchen at Cannes. The chef was readying mushrooms for paniyaram madeleines to be served at the India Pavilion at the 75th edition of Festival de Cannes 2022.
It has been a busy few weeks for Chandra. In mid-May, he launched his bespoke catering venture SINGLE THREAD. Last month, he was invited by the ministry of information and broadcasting to manage the catering for the India Pavilion, as well serve guests at the inaugural dinner held on May 17, which was day one of the festival. The gala dinner was hosted by Anurag Singh Thakur, the minister of information and broadcasting, and sports and youth affairs. His guest list had top talents of Indian cinema from Nawazuddin Siddiqui to A.R. Rahman. Chandra created a menu to represent diplomatic relations between India and France which translated into dishes such pyaaz ki kachori with chutney and crème fraîche, gatte and morel pulao and almond financier served with kalakand, fresh strawberries and saffron sauce.
After the dinner, Chandra turned his attention to cater food for the India Pavilion. With a small team of three chefs, he prepares food for close to 300 people who visit it everyday. He has been working around the clock with the focus to create dishes that represent the confluence of India and France. For Chandra, there are several factors to consider. “India is the ‘country of honour’ at the festival this year. We are celebrating 75 years of independent India, 75 years of Cannes film festival, and 75 years of diplomatic relations between France and India. It was very important for me to play on this confluence. It’s a landmark in so many ways,” he says. The chef is known for his playful approach to cooking; case in point, paniyaram madeleines accompanied by podi and coconut chutney.
These quirky quick-bite items are served like canapés, and there’s a variety to choose from: French duck confit turned into galoutis, mutton biryani shaped into arancini balls and served with Burani raita, raw jackfruit samosa with chutneys and more. At the India Pavilion, he shares, the Dutch were the first to ‘jump in and start eating’.
To create a menu that encapsulates the melding of two cultures could lead to challenges, such as unavailability of ingredients. For Chandra, it’s not a primary concern. He carried sauces, pastes and even ghee from India, and found ways to incorporate whatever was locally available at Cannes. For instance, there are little vada pavs with brioche buns, since one can’t find pav there.
The chef refuses to believe that foreign ingredients don’t work for cuisines. By that logic, he argues, one must not be making Italian or French food in India using ingredients like, tomatoes, basil or cheese produced here: “It’s not fusion in any way, it’s just infusing local influence. I think little adjustments make for great food.”
Also read | The black fashion party at Cannes