Indian American chef Akhtar Nawab has a passion for making Mexican food and wants other Indian Americans as well as Indians in India to take up the Mexican flavor too.
Graduating from the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, Nawab has been cooking up meals for 25 years now with the desire to cook since he was a kid when he used to watch his mother make Indian meals.
“I was always a creative person. I have been a musician and a photographer. Even in college, I never did so well in my academic courses,” Nawab told News India Times in an interview, adding that he “knew how important cooking was in the Indian heritage,” which is what intrigued him to become a chef in the first place.
Originally from Louisville, Kentucky, Nawab moved to New York City after attending culinary school in California and eventually started an Italian restaurant in 2008 called Elettaria, adding an Indian twist to the cuisine, which he had to close down the year after due to the economic recession.
“I ended up taking a break after that so I could try to find my identity. I wanted to do something intriguing and soulful to try to find my comfort level,” Nawab said, who had worked at various resturants before opening up his own.
According to his biography on dartagnan.com, Nawab was an Executive Chef at La Esquina, a Mexican restaurant in New York City as well as The E.U., a gastropub in the East Village.
He was the restaurant’s Chef de Cuisine at Craftbar and a sous chef at Craft, both restaurants which he had opened at the recommendation of Tom Colicchio, who he had worked under for four years at Gramercy Tavern.
His restaurant Craft received a three-star rating in 2001 from the New York Times and was named the “Best New Restaurant” in 2002 by the James Beard Foundation.
While still in California after the completion of his culinary studies, Nawab worked at Bizou under Chef Loretta Keller and Jardinière and La Folie, all French restaurants.
Nawab now has a new Mexican restaurant called ALTA CALIDAD in Brooklyn, which “opened seven months ago.”
While working at all of these restaurants, Nawab received much recognition in the culinary industry including the 2007 StarChefs.com NYC Rising Star Chef award.
He was also named as one of the top 10 emerging chef talents in the U.S. by Marion Batali in Coco as well as 10 of the World’s Greatest Chefs and 100 Emerging Culinary Stars by Phaidon in 2009.
He also appeared on Food Network’s famous show, “Iron Chef America” in 2009.
Being an Indian American inspired by Indian food, having worked with European cuisine and owning a Mexican restaurant, News India Times asked Nawab if he would ever consider fusing the cuisines, creating a fusion, to which he simply said “fusion is forced together” instead he likes using the term “Indian influenced,” hoping that Indians and Indian Americans will embrace the Mexican cuisine with that Indian twist.