Celebrity Chef Maneet Chauhan on Tour: Graces Indian-Owned Menara Moroccan Restaurant

The huge, green rock star bus in which Maneet Chauhan and her entourage are touring the country to promote their new book. (Ramesh Murarka photo) Read more at http://www.indiawest.com/news/10885-celebrity-chef-maneet-chauhan-on-tour-graces-indian-owned-menara-moroccan-restaurant.html#C5V0SRQhS1Ud8lAm.99

The huge, green rock star bus in which Maneet Chauhan and her entourage are touring the country to promote their new book. (Ramesh Murarka photo)

By Ramesh P. Murarka, India west

SAN JOSE, Calif., United States: Last weekend, 32-year-old Anand Shah, co-owner of the Menara Moroccan restaurant here, scored a coup. To this young restaurateur, it was an event that he will forever be proud of, and will not soon forget.

Shah managed to get celebrity chef Maneet Chauhan to spend an entire evening at his restaurant May 4, where she not only coordinated the special dinner menu, but also graced the evening with her warm and unassuming presence, completely belying her celebrity status.

Chauhan chatted happily with the dinner guests, graciously posed for photographs, and also handed each one a signed copy of her new book, “Flavors of My World: A Culinary Tour through 25 Countries,” which she has co-authored with Doug Singer.

How this entire event came about is an intriguing story in itself.flavour3

According to Shah, Chauhan and Singer are currently on a 21-city whirlwind tour to promote their new book. What gives Chauhan her celebrity chef status is the fact that she is currently a judge on Food Network’s TV show called “Chopped,” she has competed on “Iron Chef,” and she is a recipient of the James Beard Award for Excellence.

So does this give her rock star status? Whether or not it does, Chauhan is traveling across the country in a huge bus (generally called a rock star tour bus) along with her entourage.

The bus is hard to miss because of the huge portrait of her face emblazoned on all three sides of the bus along with colorful wording and graphics.

Anand Shah’s friend Henal Shah, who lives in Little Rock, Arkansas, saw the bus in his town and did a double-take. He noted down her name and details and promptly called Anand with the suggestion that they should somehow work on getting her to come to Menara.

Anand called Chauhan’s agent and received a negative response. The young Indian American businessman, however, persisted. He called again and spoke directly to Chauhan, explaining the uniqueness of his restaurant, which was being run by Gujaratis from India and yet had made a mark on the French Moroccan culinary scene in the San Francisco Bay area.

Chauhan was intrigued. She spoke to Singer and eventually agreed to do it, even forgoing a visit to Napa Valley. That was exactly 12 days prior to the event. The contract arrived, it was hastily signed, and now Shah had exactly 10 days to pull it all together.

Shah pulled out all the stops to put the evening together, eventually filling up his restaurant for a very intimate evening with Chauhan.

Guests were first treated to a signature cocktail (comprising Four Roses bourbon, chilled mint tea, with a dash of fresh mint, lemon, honey and cayenne pepper), followed by a three-course dinner.

Shah collaborated with Chauhan in designing the menu. The first course was a special Moroccan salad, followed by the main course of Chana Masala Cornish Hen Tagine served over spiced Khus Khus, and rounded out by the final course, two different kinds of baklava — traditional honey and chocolate.

As guests sat comfortably on lush pillows enjoying two different belly dance performances, Chauhan walked around the room greeting each one and presenting her book.

Birth of Menara

How the Menara Moroccan Restaurant came about is another intriguing story. According to Anand, his father Arvind had come to the U.S. to study mechanical engineering.

While he was a student, he took up a part-time job as a dishwasher at the hugely popular Marrekesh restaurant in San Francisco. Arvind slowly worked his way up to bus boy, then to waiter, then to maitre d’. Finally, one of the chefs at the restaurant decided to take him under his tutelage and teach him how to cook Moroccan dishes with a French flair.

In 1977 Arvind had a realization that no such restaurant existed in the South Bay. He took a leap of faith, acquired a building, and built Menara from scratch, paying attention to every little arch, cushion, wallpaper, stained glass lamps, and created an ambiance that was completely new to San Jose diners.

Arvind then threw in some belly dancers, and, of course, the highlight was the excellent dishes that he had learnt how to prepare from the grand master.

Menara has been around for 35 years — just three years more than Anand has been around. “I was literally raised in this restaurant,” Anand told India-West, “which is why I am so passionate about it.”

Menara is located at 41 East Gish Road in San Jose. Tel: 408-453-1983.

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