IN THIS EDITON
• Indian Cuisine Heats Up, Subway Style
• Paris Restaurant Lets Amateur Cooks Become Chefs for a Night
• Babyccinos: A Trend Grows in Brooklyn
Indian Cuisine Heats Up, Subway Style
A growing number of fast food- and fast casual-style Indian restaurants have taken their cue from Chipotle Grill and Subway sandwich shops and are enjoying mainstream success serving a more accessible version of the classic cuisine of India.
Newer outfits like Bombay Bowl in Denver, Colo., offer an update on the buffet-style Indian restaurants that sprang up in the 70s.
Rather than leaving diners to fend for themselves with a buffet of unfamiliar dishes, sauces and spices, this new generation of Indian eateries uses the assembly-style approach employed by the likes of Subway and Chipotle.
As guests work their way along the counter, the crew at Bombay Bowl offers assistance as they ask customers whether they want a bowl, a plate or a roti roll. Customers are given choices of protein, such as chicken or tofu, and sauce selections like vindaloo or curry. Straightforward questions like “Would you like to spice that up or down?” help diners to make choices appropriate to their taste.
Bombay Bowl is Indian food simplified, offering up a sort of deconstruction of the cuisine.
Another example of this trend can be found at Chutney’s, which has two locations in the Cambridge/Boston, Mass., area. On its website there’s even a customer comment highlighted that says “Chipotle + Indian food = Chutney’s,” and another that proclaims “Chutney’s is the Subway of Indian food, with two perks: the food is a bit better and you can leave without smelling like a bakery.”
Sanjay Kansagra, owner of Chutney’s, admits that Indian food can be intimidating to non-Indian consumers. “So we put them in control of their meal,” he says. Chutney’s menu boards use terminology familiar to Americans (“Make it a value meal!”)
And you gotta love one of the slogans used by Bombay: “All for me, naan for you.”
Another quick-service Indian restaurant making noise is Merzi in Washington DC. “Merzi” (which means “choice” in Hindi, Punjabi and Urdu) has been around for a year or so. Owner Kaz Kazmi created a concept that attempts to bring a comfort level to Indian food for American consumers.
The food at this new generation of Indian restaurants is not always authentic—and doesn’t really claim to be. In the case of Merzi, it’s not meant to be, say Kazmi. It’s not your mother’s chicken makhani, he says. Instead, he adds, the food is more like “Indian-inspired meets health-conscious.”
The food has to taste authentic, says Bombay’s Kansangra, without necessarily having to be authentic.
Customers walking in the door at the new breed of Indian restaurant will find choices they are familiar with—things like flatbreads and curries—as well as those less familiar, such as chutneys, dals, and vindaloo.
At Merzi, the naan or rice serves as a base for meat and/or vegetable toppings, plus sauces. Customers build dishes that may feature “tandisserie chicken,” (tandoori-seasoned chicken cooked rotisserie style). Bombay Bowl serves choices such as curried chickpeas and Panini-pressed chicken sandwiches with vindaloo sauce. Chutney’s serves rice bowls topped with cubes of curried cheese and “nanini” sandwiches stuffed with lamb seekh kebab.
Although most of these Subway/Chipotle-style Indian outfits are small, some have larger ambitions. Chutney’s has plans to build a commissary and hopes to have ten Chutney’s locations in the near future. Kaz Kazmi has an even bigger vision for Merzi. “I want to grow this into something massive,” he says. “I want this to be the next big thing.”
The French—and Parisians in particular—are notorious for taking their cuisine very seriously. So it’s rather surprising that one of Paris’s fine restaurants would invite amateur cooks to come into its kitchen and wear the head toque for an evening.
But that’s exactly what Un Jour, Un Chef is doing. The 50-cover upscale restaurant, located near Bastille Square in the heart of the French capital, allows chef wannabes to apply online for the opportunity to become the eatery’s guest head chef—if only for an evening.
The restaurant has a team of experts on hand to advise the nascent chefs, including concept creator Chef Ludovic Dalavaud, but the amateurs are given creative control over ingredients, menu design and the cooking process.
After some time spent learning in the kitchen with the pros, the Chefs for a Day take over, serving up their culinary creations to friends, family and the general public.
There is no charge for the amateur chef’s crash training course, and participants can get involved as much or as little as they want, depending on their confidence and experience.
For 30 Euros, diners are treated to a three-course meal featuring an appetizer, main course, and dessert, not to mention the chance to experience the first (hopefully) delicious efforts by someone who could be Paris’s newest culinary star in the making. Or not.
While there is certainly a measure of risk here, Un Jour, Un Chef’s objective is to be a place that fosters the future of global cuisine.
Makes you wonder whether this could be a concept that could jump the pond and be tried at restaurants in New York or San Francisco.
Okay, this is kind of a weird one. Have you heard of the latest coffee shop cultural trend that’s going on in Brooklyn, New York? It seems several of the fashionable coffee cafes are now serving something called a “babyccino” to tiny tots.
As reported by The Brooklyn Paper, babes in arms in several of the borough’s neighborhoods are trading in their bottles and juice boxes for mini decaf cappuccinos and frothy cups of steamed milk and foam.
Of course it’s the parents, not the kiddos, who are behind this movement of ordering adult-style beverages for their children who are probably not old enough to pronounce “cappuccino” with the proper inflection.
Gemma Redwood owns two of the coffeehouses serving the baby drinks. She said she thinks the trend of parents ordering these beverages for their babes started with something seen “on a TV show or something.” Redwood admits she finds the baby beverage trend “a little weird—but we make it.”
The typical “babyccino” is described by some of the area baristas as a beverage that features a shot of decaf espresso topped with steamed milk and froth, while others say the babyccino they usually serve is steamed milk with foam on top and a touch of cinnamon. Baristas say they get requests for both versions.
Apparently the trend originated in Australia some years ago and has become so popular that nearly every Aussie coffee café has it on the menu.
The movement then spread to Britain and to the Internet, where YouTube videos showing parents making babyccinos for their tykes have become commonplace.
Babyccinos are certainly one way to attract a new (very new) generation of coffee drinkers, and we guess it’s not necessarily a bad thing as long as the drinks are decaffeinated.
But isn’t the babyccino likely the gateway drink to a lifetime habit of jittery coffee drinking, latte swilling and frappaccino guzzling? Starting out at such a young age?
And it’s just kind of weird, isn’t it? We’ll have to wait and see if this trend travels east of the Hudson River.
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