On the very day Maneet Chauhan opened her first restaurant in Nashville, Chauhan Ale & Masala House, her son Karma was born — three months earlier than expected. “He clearly wanted to make Nashville his home; it was the best decision we could have ever made,” Chauhan said.
Before her son cemented their stay, Chauhan made the decision to head to Nashville when some of her local partners approached her about opening a restaurant in the city.
“We decided to visit the city, and I absolutely fell in love with the culinary scene,” she said. “It’s young, vibrant and thriving, and I really wanted to be a part of the excitement.”
The special part about creating food in Nashville is that “it’s still about the food,” she said. “I think Nashville is a music city because of the audience, and the same thing translates into food. Nashville is becoming a foodie city because of its audience, people appreciate good food with unique twists.”
Chauhan’s restaurants offer just that. Chauhan Ale & Masala House, which opened in late 2014 on 12th Avenue North, serves Indian cuisine with a Southern spin. Every dish on the menu screams comfort food: There’s the tandoori chicken poutine — crispy fries topped with cheese curds, tandoori chicken and makhani sauce; and the tandoori shrimp and grits on the brunch menu — shrimp served over “upma” grits with a poblano corn relish.
Photo courtesy of Tánsuo.
Just about every menu item blends traditional Indian fare with a dish you might find at an everyday Nashville diner. The restaurant also serves Mantra Artisan Ales, a brewery based in Franklin by Derrick Morse, Chad Frost and Chauhan.
“I’ve been surprised at how excited people have been for Indian cuisine, both customers and workers,” said Chauhan, who was born and grew up in India.
Before coming to Nashville, Chauhan was the executive chef at several restaurants in New York and Chicago and built an on-air personality on the Food Network as a judge on Chopped and appearances on various other shows like Iron Chef America, The View and the Today Show on NBC. From a young age, she’s been intensely interested in food.
“I was born with a ladle in my hand,” Chauhan said. “I have loved eating forever, and that just translated into me wanting to cook for people because food made me happy, and I want the people around me to be happy.”
At Tánsuo — Chauhan’s second Nashville endeavor, which opened right next door to her first restaurant in March of this year, eaters can find modernized Chinese and dim sum. One restaurant doesn’t necessarily make up for the dearth of solid Chinese food options in Music City, but it’s the hope that Tánsuo has opened the door for more ventures like it. Chauhan partnered with Morph Hospitality Group and hired chef Chris Cheung to create dishes for the restaurant. You’ll find an entire spectrum of dim sum — traditional dumplings and chicken wings — as well as Americanized Chinese dishes like General Tso’s Chicken. (Although, as you might guess, this version is a bit more nuanced than what you’d find at your local strip mall delivery joint.)
Photo courtesy of Tánsuo.
Chauhan likes the idea of introducing fusion restaurants to the community. Not only does it welcome new food to the city, but a variety of new ideas and perspectives as well.
“I think that exposure to different cultures through food opens the door for exposure to other people’s viewpoints and brings people together to learn about ideas that are different from what they know,” Chauhan said. “I believe you can be transported into another country through food, and that is a really special experience.”
Without feeling overly themed, Tánsuo and Chauhan Ale & Masala House both beautifully play on the cultures where its food is derived. When each first opened, you read and heard as much about how Chauhan’s restaurants looked as what was served in them.
“I am notoriously known as the ‘bling girl,’ because I believe that aesthetics are very, very important,” Chauhan said. “Dining out is an all-inclusive experience — food, drinks, service and of course the ambiance.”
Her latest restaurant venture, The Mockingbird, which will be located in the same building as Tánsu?, is slated to open sometime in the next month.
“We have an amazing couple who has moved down from Chicago — Brian Riggenbach is the chef and Mikey [Corona] is general manager — both are our partners in the restaurant,” Chauhan said. “What they bring to the table is a very unique and creative perspective on comfort food. Think chicken fried steak with chorizo gravy and adult milkshakes. It promises to be a place that will never let me lose weight!”
If it seems like Chauhan is spinning a lot of plates, that’s because she is. She remains involved with the Food Network among other side projects while building her Nashville food empire.
“I have a big problem with saying no, and balance is a myth,” Chauhan said. “But I have a team of absolutely incredible people who support me and advise me on when to say yes and no. At the end of the day, whatever project or situation I find myself in, that gets my full attention. I may not know today what I am doing tomorrow, but I am able to immerse myself in all my projects and give it 100 percent. But I’m constantly in touch with my kids and family, even when I’m not physically there; I’ve made it clear that I’m always there for them.”
Chauhan sees Music City as a prime location to build on her success.
“Nashville is a very exciting, emerging city,” Chauhan said. “It’s created a name for itself on national and international stage and I feel very fortunate to be a part of it. If expansion takes me somewhere, I will go, but Nashville will always be home.”