After working at Aix, Compass, and Jean Georges, chef Jehangir Mehta opened Graffiti in 2007. He’s one of the few chefs to have worked professionally in both pastry and savory kitchens, and his cooking style features both sweet and savory flavors. It also combines Indian, Southeast Asian, and French techniques in unorthodox combinations.
This fall, Mehta will open Mehtaphor in the Duane Street Hotel. We caught up with the Mumbai-born chef about his memories of Indian food and his plans for the soon-to-open Mehtaphor.
Check back here tomorrow for the second half of the interview.
What’s the one dish you remember most vividly from your childhood in Mumbai?
It’s a red chilli and coconut curry cooked with shrimp and eaten with white rice and a salad made of tomatoes, onions, and coriander. It’s all eaten together with lime squeezed into it.
I read that your family had cooks — a common enough thing in India — but I’m wondering if they taught or showed you anything that you still think of today?
They made and still make the most amazing paper-thin flatbread called roti. I do not make them myself and binge on them whenever I visit India.
Are there particular dishes that you miss from India that you can’t find here?
India is a vast country and each of its states has their own cuisines. Besides that, there are people following different religions and ethnicities, each having their own culture and food speciality. So there are numerous dishes that I cannot find in the U.S. But what I miss the most is fried Bombay duck, which actually is a fish.
What’s the key to combining flavors and techniques from various cultures in a coherent and tasty way?
It is how the ingredients come together with different cooking styles.
Why did you decide to expand with Mehtaphor?
Expansion was always on the cards.
What are some new dishes you’re working on for Mehtaphor?
Smoked brinjal [eggplant] tartar, sautéed turmeric brioche, and masala-fried okra, amongst many more.
How will Mehtaphor differ from Graffiti?
It’s Graffiti plus, plus, plus. … Wait and watch.
Was the name your idea? Does the concept of metaphor relate to the food you’ll be cooking?
Well, like an analogy, my food can be described differently by different people, so it’s a metaphor, with a pun on the word with my last name.