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Manu Chandra – The Coming of Age of A Chef

From the beginning of his love affair with food to the next leap for Lupa, and everything in between.
Manu chandra

For Chef Manu Chandra, the love affair with food wasn’t born in Michelin-starred kitchens or fostered by celebrity chefs. It began at an intimate table, nestled between the vibrant households of his two grandmothers in Delhi. Imagine Sunday mornings thick with the fragrant aroma of freshly ground mulga podi (spice powder) wafting from your nani’s kitchen, promising fluffy dosas dipped in tangy Tamilian sambar. Just a few blocks away, the scent of summer’s bounty fills the air – sun-ripened parwal, tinda, or lauki simmering in your dadi’s skilled hands.

These weren’t elaborate feasts, but a symphony of seasonal ingredients; each meal a bootcamp for resourcefulness. “We were a middle-class family,” Chef Chandra reflects, “so innovation was key.” Scraps were transformed – lauki’s discarded skin becoming a whole new dish, the forgotten seeds of melons reborn as a sweet kulfi.

The kitchens hummed with the rhythm of slow, meticulous processes. Young Chandra witnessed a daily culinary ballet – his nani pickling vegetables, his dadi’s hand rolling out perfect strands of sevai. “There was science, there was alchemy,” he muses, a hint of reverence in his voice. This childhood, a vibrant tapestry woven from diverse flavours and age-old techniques, is where his culinary journey began. It was the effective magic of transforming simple ingredients into something extraordinary. A blueprint that, as Chandra ventures into uncharted culinary territories, continues to guide him to this day.

The philosophy percolates into Lupa, Chetan Rampal and Chandra’s restaurant which turned a year old in February 2024. He describes this year as his coming of age as a chef.

From hierarchy to hands-on: Chef Manu Chandra on charting his own course

Manu Chandra

Photos: Chef Manu Chandra

There’s a glint of amusement in Chandra’s voice when he reflects on his transition from working within large establishments to running his own restaurant. “Perhaps I’ve become even more assertive than I was then,” he admits.

Previously, navigating the complexities of a large company meant “being dependent largely on a hierarchy. There were lots of heads involved.”

While he assures you he’s “certainly not a dictator,” there’s liberation in the new role. “Being completely in charge does empower me.” This newfound autonomy translates onto the plate. The ability to make swift decisions and nimbly course-correct is a stark contrast to his past experiences.

The one thing that remains consistent though is Chef Chandra’s infamous temper. “I have a short temper, I will not deny it,” he admits. He attributes it to how unforgiving the profession is – “No matter how much experience you’ve gotten under your belt, how many awards you’ve won, how celebrated you’ve been. It all comes down to the last dish you’ve plated.”

This drives me to probe him further. What is the pressure of that last dish?

Beyond the Rat Race: The Pressure of Perfection

In this high-pressure industry, he’s learned that true success comes from forging your own path. He prioritises substance over spectacle and individuality over fleeting trends. His definition of perfection on a plate has evolved. It’s about creating a dish that leaves a lasting impression, a harmony of simplicity and slick execution. Gone are the pressured days of elaborate deconstructions and excessive plating. “I’m past that phase,” he says firmly. “True perfection lies in masterful execution, not unnecessary flourishes.” Chef Chandra finds himself less tickled by celebrity chef culture. He shares that the insular world of celebrity chefs, and its relentless competition for attention, have a slim hold on him.

Manu Chandra

Photo: Manu Chandra

“It’s sobering to know that some things haven’t changed,” he reflects, “but there’s a new generation coming up.” These young chefs, he believes, represent a turning point for Indian fine dining. They’re moving beyond the self-promotion that has dominated the scene, and instead focusing on creating a more holistic dining experience. “They’re looking beyond that self-obsessed horizon,” he observes with admiration. This shift, he argues, is what will truly propel Indian cuisine forward.

Bengaluru Calling: Why Chef Manu Chandra Chose the Unexpected

This wasn’t a decision made out of naiveté. “I am acutely aware that I work in a city that has not got a huge tourist population flowing through,” he acknowledges. He understands the city’s price consciousness and its past scepticism towards fine dining.

But these very challenges, he argues, helped sharpen his vision. “I’ve worked against a lot of adversity and that helps me be self-assured,” he reflects. This self-assuredness feeds Lupa’s philosophy. “I can be fine dining without being pretentious. Will that make me not as relevant as the dainty 50-course menu? No.”

Bengaluru, with its youthful energy and burgeoning food scene, is the perfect canvas for Chef Chandra’s vision. His team is creating a space that celebrates quality ingredients, masterful execution, and a warm, inviting atmosphere.

I steer the conversation from Chef Chandra’s affinity for less-trodden paths to paths he treads with caution – social media. Chef Chandra seems blissfully unaffected by the endless scroll. Maybe it’s a luxury he can enjoy, but not one ant up-and-coming chef can afford? He agrees, and acknowledges the undeniable impact of social media on the diners’ decision-making process.

The Age of the Insta-Foodie: How Social Media is Reshaping the Indian Dining Landscape

Social media has become a global food court, a place where diners can embark on a culinary safari from their smartphones. “Look around you,” he urges. “Look at Gurgaon, Delhi, Mumbai. Look at what has happened over the last 10 years.”

The change is evident in the explosion of culinary diversity. New cuisines have found demand, while established chefs are branching out, their menus reflecting a newfound freedom of expression. “It’s a little more hatke,” he says with a smile, “a little more in keeping with their own heart.”

“There’s diversity!” Chef Chandra emphasises on the thriving ecosystem. “The more this little ecosystem keeps developing, the better the entire dining ethos will be.” Even established restaurants need to adapt to stay relevant in this dynamic new world. “The big boys and girls will need to pull up their socks,” he predicts.

Social media has democratised the dining experience, and Indian food is poised for a remarkable transformation.

A Never-Ending Pursuit: Lupa’s Evolution and What’s Next


Photos: Lupa

Lupa’s new summer menu is a testament to his relentless pursuit of culinary excellence. “This is a win on sourcing and so many techniques that we were working on,” he proudly shares.

The menu is a playful exploration of tradition and innovation. “Take tacos for instance,” he begins. “Does taco belong in a fine dining restaurant? I say absolutely.” His iteration is a symphony of textures and flavours, each base using a unique flour – purple potato, yellow potato, or a millet and maize blend.

The fillings are inventive. The carne asada is meticulously cured, dry-aged, and then cooked to perfection. The protein is then layered with an array of fresh ingredients. Each bite presents tradition and modern technique. “There’s so much thought gone into each element,” Chef Chandra reflects.

The dedicated sourcing and careful execution extends throughout the menu. Lupa’s new summer menu is more than just a collection of dishes; it’s a celebration of curiosity, a commitment to craft, and a promise of even more exciting things to come. “There’s so much process, thought, and time that goes into this,” he concludes. “And that’s what keeps me going.”

As Lupa continues to evolve, one thing remains constant – Chef Chandra’s dedication to creating an unforgettable dining experience, one that honours the past while eagerly embracing the future.