Best known for his signature fusion approach to Indian food, Atul Kochhar has long understood that the UAE’s cosmopolitan mix of residents would offer the perfect showcase for his food.
As far back as 2008, the contemporary chef, one of only two Indian chefs to win a Michelin star (the other being Vineet Bhatia), expressed an interest in bringing his brand of British-Indian food to Dubai. Four years on, his newest culinary venture, Rang Mahal by Atul Kochhar, will open its doors at the new JW Marriott Marquis Dubai on Shaikh Zayed Road.
Rang Mahal, meaning palace of colours, is set to open at the end of this year hot on the heels of Kochhar’s first entry into the Middle East culinary market; consulting on the casual dining Indian eatery Zafran with Foodmark, a division of Landmark Hospitality and Leisure Services. Kochhar owns three fine dining restaurants in the UK and Ireland.
Inspired by India
“The inspiration for this new restaurant is the vibrancy of India, its colours, its flavours,” says Kochhar, talking to GN Focus at the Miele Cookery School during this year’s Taste of Dubai festival.
Refreshingly humble, the master of spice expertly marries traditional and contemporary flavours and techniques.
Kochhar became the first Indian chef to win a Michelin star at the age of 31 and his talent lies in rediscovering the simplest route to achieving maximum flavour, with a focus on sourcing local and sustainable ingredients. It is an approach he intends to apply whenever possible with Rang Mahal. “I will be looking to source produce from local, organic farms here in the UAE,” he says, lamenting the difficulty of sourcing everything locally owing to the adverse climate and growing conditions here in the UAE. However, he is undeterred: “If not from here, then from neighbouring countries — Yemen, perhaps, and it’s a luxury for me, India is so close.”
A dish that may make an appearance on the new menu is Litti Chokha, a dish from the chef’s native state, Bihar. As he vividly explains how the dish is made, it is difficult not to be transported to a roadside in Jamshedpur where an expert hawker softly kneads wholewheat-stuffed dough and slowly roasts it on open coals to impart maximum flavour — this bread is then coated in ghee and served with a luscious potato curry.
Creating imaginative culinary fare is not an area where Kochhar is lacking, although there is a lot to bear in mind when designing the menu for the new restaurant. Rang Mahal will be a fine-dining restaurant like Kochhar’s other offerings, Benares in London and the newly opened Ananda in Dublin, but Kochhar will not be applying a cut and paste philosophy to his new venture. “Indian food in the UAE is very specific to the region. There are a lot of Indian expats but there is also a large Arab population. I have to keep this in mind as I’m creating the new menu,” which he wants to be a balanced experience anyone interested in delighting the palate can enjoy.