With six restaurants in his pocket the Michelin Star chef is now certainly a restaurant baron. When this man landed in New York 22 years ago with his Indian culinary expertise, he had a tough job ahead – to win over New Yorkers’ hearts with distinctive Indian tastes & flavors, not the typical ones. In a few years he not only achieved that but also became one of USA’s top Tandoor masters and the main inspiration behind the success of some of the city’s top Indian restaurants. And now Hemant Mathur, one of the top five Indian chefs in America (as picked by GQ Magazine), owns six of the top Indian restaurants in New York City. These are – Chola, Chhote Nawab, Dhaba, Haldi, Kokum and Malai Marke. In the menu and offerings of these restaurants he brings 30 years of culinary expertise and professionalism, each specializing in distinctive and Indian regional cuisines.
Mathur’s career began at the Rambagh Palace Taj Hotel in his hometown Jaipur when he was just 17. His next job was at the world renowned Bukhara Restaurant in the Maurya Sheraton Hotel in Delhi where Mathur perfected his tandoor prowess. After this early training, he served as a private chef for British financier Sir James Goldsmith, cricketer Imran Khan’s former father in law, in Mexico, and then returned to India as the opening chef for Sonar Gaon in Calcutta’s Taj Bengal Hotel before he was recruited by a group of German restaurateurs to bring his craft to Berlin’s Seeterrson and Kashmir Palace. In 1994 he landed in America.
During his early years in New York, and before he earned his ‘stars’, he contributed to the success of some of the city’s top Indian restaurants at that time, and in the process laid the groundwork to elevate the popularity and respect of this ancient ethnic cuisine.
Working with the late Raji Jallepali, he created huge buzz behind the line at Tamarind, that he helped open in 2000. In 2002 he served as Executive Chef of Diwan Grill and then moved on to the popular eatery Amma. In 2004, Mathur teamed up with Suvir Saran and started Devi where he helmed the kitchen for six years. In 2007, Devi became the country’s first Michelin-starred Indian restaurant.
In 2010, he launched Tulsi in the upper midtown area. It soon became a hugely popular fine dining destination in the city and earned its Michelin-star rating in just a few months. Connoisseurs and newbies alike loved Tulsi, where Mathur’s specialty lamb chops, amazing starters and the handi biriyani delighted them. And the occasional chat with him as he emerged from the kitchen in his chef’s attire.
At the onset of 2015, upon becoming the executive chef and co-owner of six restaurants that he currently runs, Mathur had to sadly quit Tulsi. “I had no options. After managing six restaurants I had no time for Tusli”, he sighs.
In spite of all these accomplishments and accolades, the Indian restaurant mogul of New York City – Hemant Mathur is still a very down to earth man. He starts his day at “Chola” in Jackson Heights, and then moves to midtown to spend time at “Curry Hill” where he oversees “Chhote Nawab”, “Dhaba”, “Haldi”, and “Kokum”– and finally heads down to “Malai Marke” in East village, always staying close to the kitchen and, most importantly, creating signature eats and dishes inspired by each restaurant’s theme and its regional focus.
He looks after all his guests and diners personally, paying attention to his old friends and newcomers alike. But some of his fans still feel sad as they miss the man in his trademark white chef’s outfit and the mouth watering dishes he used to personally prepare himself. “That’s not a problem at all. Just give me a call before you come to any of my restaurants and tell me what you want to have. I’ll put on my chef’s dress and go to the kitchen to cook. I’ll always be there for you”, assures Mathur who is not only food critics’ darling but loved by all restaurant goers for his warmth and kind gestures.
Recently, we descended on one of his restaurants – Haldi- on Lexington Avenue. We had with us some famous personalities from the music world. And we wanted to treat them to delectable Indian food. MS Cathy Cheongmi Park from South Korea is a world famous pianist. MS Meeryung Hall, also from South Korea, is a famous singer. MS Rajlakshmi Ghosh is a well-known pianist and a fashion designer based in Kolkata. Hemant saw to it that he served them a variety which had them singing praises of the food, and of course, the chef himself. They are the only ones to have admired his culinary expertise. There are so many who carry the nostalgic memories of the tasty bites at the hands of this genius of a chef. At least, we look forward to visiting his restaurants as often as I can.
When do you plan?