Chef Manu Chandra: These are a few of my favourite things

As Covid’s second wave takes down businesses, Chef Chandra writes on the heartbreak and the attempt to soldier on while dealing with anger and fear, and the pressing need to launch a home delivery model, a format he wasn’t particularly upbeat about. ‘These are a few of my favourite things’ spans old-fashion delicious food cooked by the chef himself and his team. 
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It’s difficult for me to write this, but I do, for I must. The daily news updates, the sheer desperation of many, the untold number of deaths shake your belief in almost everything. There is anger, resentment and fear that wells up inside from the moment one wakes to the time one falls asleep, earlier now, with a belated curfew in place in Bengaluru. 

It’s unfathomable how so many fundamental failures were allowed to come to pass, to bring us to this place where we are. But here we are, and hope hangs on gossamer threads of faith, whilst reality screams in our ear, saying something entirely different. 

Several of my people too were infected. They were healthy, young, but ultimately vulnerable in the face of an unstoppable strain, left to face it without the comfort of vaccination despite being frontline workers. Messages to check on them brought daily stories of tremendous suffering, pain and helplessness. It was heartbreaking to hear, but they were the lucky ones. They lived. 

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They’re not the only ones in this lonely and dire predicament. Its all-too-common occurrence is a yardstick of how woefully unprepared we always were—and how adept we became at paying lip service to illusionary success and sense of normalcy when there was none to be had. 

We were instead just marking days until the ‘next time’, a time we foolishly believed would never come. Heaving nightclubs, crowded beaches, election rallies and Kumbh Melas of biblical proportions, markets and festivals, each exploded like it is 2019. And now we pay the price and the piper. 

Someone posted on a group this morning about the recovered, the silver lining that we who obsess about death and fear ignore. “Share happiness, not fear,” the message said. But the toll of war is never counted by its survivors. Nor should it be for it would require sidelining the dead.

But the stoves need to stay on, with the handful of people left to man them. And once again, here I am in an empty restaurant with no saying when the sound of cutlery and chatter will be heard again. 

My first instinct was to close shop entirely. There is surely zero economic sense in trying to run a business that has never relied on delivery, steering clear of ludicrous aggregator-driven price wars and the inevitable sprint toward mediocrity. 

But seeing the forlorn faces of employees already devastated by last year’s lockdowns, it is cruel to not maintain some vestige of gainful employment. 

Alas, if only other partners in this industry played along, namely the landlords, the agencies who extracted every last penny last year, and vendors, all of whom know their survival too is at stake. Surely, sharing the pain is the only possible win.

If I am then going to step into this breach, take a willful step in the name of madness or principle, or both, I will begin by throwing the rule book to the flames. 

I offer then ‘These are a few of my favourite things’— a menu that I love to cook and eat. It’s cuisine-agnostic, limited, and yet offers unstinting comfort, perhaps when most needed. This isn’t about showcasing culinary prowess or clever creativity. I offer old-fashioned tasty food that you can eat from the comfort of your home, relishing the integrity and top-notch ingredient in every morsel. 

I am not going to Swiggy or Zomato or anything else. This is food prepared by me, directly for you. These dishes are also a tribute to those who have taught me, who have loved me, who have made me who I am. Just Whatsapp, pay and Dunzo the food, else follow the link in my profile. Quantities are limited as it is with any bespoke, curated menu. Reach out and also spread the word.

Someone said sorrow is food swallowed too quickly, caught in the throat, making it nearly impossible to breathe. So be sure to savour every bite. Bon appetit, Bengaluru. Stay safe, be happy.

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