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Q & A With Akhtar Nawab

Elettaria,

one of the more recent editions to the West Village dining scene,
serves an American menu with a spicy Indian twist, courtesy of
chef/co-owner Akhtar Nawab’s upbringing.  Born in Louisville, Kentucky,
but raised on a myriad of authentic Indian dishes, Akhtar brings his
knowledge of both worlds to the table; an impressive list of culinary
experiences (most recently the European Union) contributes as well.
Beginning his career at San Francisco’s Bizou, Akhtar continued to work
on the West Coast before coming to New York’s Gramercy Tavern, where a growing partnership with owner Tom Colicchio led to the opening of Craft and Craftbar,
for which he was the chef de cuisine. With such a wealth of American
and European cooking under his belt, chef Akhtar has created a menu
with interesting takes on such classics like chicken with asparagus and
mushrooms, and seasoning it with the Indian spice fenugreek, while a
chocolate peanut butter financier is given a kick with the assistance
of curry powder.

Single/Married/Divorced?
Married

What did you want to be when you grew up?
Musician

What was your first job in food?
Dishwasher

You
grew up on your moms’ native Indian foods.  Do any of the foods from
your childhood show up on Elettaria’s menu in one form or another?

Sure, the keema of duck, the korma of pork. Never pork when I was a kid though.

Did
working for Tom Colicchio at Gramercy Tavern, Craft and Craftbar
prepare you for what it would be like to run your own restaurant?  Ever
wish you could go back to not being the boss?

In some ways yes and in many no.  There is no substitute for experience.  Sometimes I guess, not often.

What
does spice-driven mean to you exactly?  What are your favorite Indian
spices to weave into dishes (other than the obvious cardamom)?

Spice
driven is an application for us. We use spices to try to tie together
American ingredients with an Indian mindset.  Szechuan and long
peppers, saffron, sun dried lime powder, turmeric. 

With
your background being Indian and your partner (Noel Cruz) being from
the Philippines, what made you specialize in seasonal American
ingredients when opening a restaurant?

We are just trying to use the great ingredients that surround us and include our upbringing in the process.

Cocktails also play in an important part of Elettaria.  Give us some tips on what to pair with which dishes.
Duck
with Keema and Stinging Nettles paired with 8th Wonder.  Triggerfish
with fried rice and poppy seeds paired with Ginger Rogers.

Were you able to take anything you learned from cooking at The E.U. gastropub and use it at Elettaria?
I
think Elettaria is a very different place than The EU but yes.  Some of
the things we were doing there we continued to work on here, the
malfatti for the paneer, or the doughnuts we did there we also do here,
rethought with an Indian sensibility.

Can we expect to find any of the homemade breads you rolled out in your mother’s kitchen at Elettaria one day?
One day, we are working on it.

What’s your reaction to the recent battery of Elettaria reviews?
We feel great and very thankful.

What’s your favorite dish on the current summer menu?  Why?

The
smoked duck salad with market strawberries and fennel.  I like the way
the sweet strawberries work with the vinegar and very aromatic long
pepper.  The rich, smoked duck is enhanced by the anise and sweet and
sour vinaigrette.

What’s your least favorite dish (and yes, you must pick one)?
Maybe the green salad, but people like it.

What is your junk food of choice?

Captain crunch with crunchberries.

Other than your own, what’s your favorite restaurant in NYC?
Lupa.

What culinary trend do you most embrace?
Good, soulful cooking.

What trend do you wish would die already?
Frozen yogurt chains.

What’s next on the horizon for you?  Any new restaurants or ventures in the works?  Spill the beans.
Hopefully a lot for us. No, just focusing on Elettaria.

Phone:(212)677-3833
Address: 33 West 8th St., nr MacDougal St.

Until we eat again,
Restaurant Girl
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