Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Tournament Of Champions Winner Maneet Chauhan Talks Chefs Making Waves, Heartwarming Travel Stories And More

Maneet Chauhan is a force of nature with her competitive spirit and cooking skills in any competition. It’s hard to believe one of the sweetest people we have ever met can be such a fierce competitor. If you’ve been watching season five of Tournament of Champions, you’ll definitely know Maneet Chauhan, an amazing Indian chef and television personality who has made her name through her rich dishes and ultimately won the latest version of the competition becoming the first two-time winner. Growing up in India, Maneet indulged in her culture’s essential foods, and now incorporates them into her own culinary dishes. 

In 2014, Maneet opened her first restaurant, Chauhan Ale and Masala House, in Nashville, Tennessee where she combines globally influenced Indian cuisine with aspects of Southern food. She has also been on multiple Food Network shows like Iron ChefGuy’s Grocery Games, including being a permanent judge on Chopped and Tournament of Champions

In December of 2023, Maneet’s new restaurant, eet, opened in the Marketplace section of Disney Springs, Disney World’s shopping district in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. The restaurant offers a comfortable dining experience that introduces guests to Indian fusion foods. 

We met with Maneet Chauhan before her debut dinner on the Chefs Making Waves cruise, a food, wine and spirits festival at sea. We chatted about her specially curated menu items, what TV show she’s currently binge watching, and a heartwarming travel experience she had in Peru. 

Maneet Chauhan Talks Chefs Making Waves
Photo Credit: Amy Harris/The Travel Addict

Have you been on a cruise before?

Never. This is my first cruise ever. It’s kind of surreal because we are sitting right over here, next to this big window while we’ve started sailing. It’s like, ‘wow.’ I’m very excited about it. 

So, you’re excited and not scared at all? 

Not scared. What’s there to be scared about?

You’re doing a dinner on the boat tonight. Are you actually cooking for all these people? 

We’re cooking for all of these people. In the kitchen. That’s the first thing that we did as soon as we checked in; went into the kitchen. We’ve been communicating with the chefs in terms of ordering the food. It’s really interesting because as chefs on land, it’s a completely different way of how you prepare food. It’s a fascinating process. The kitchens over here are called galleys, and they are beautiful and pristine. It’s very exciting to see the underbelly. 

I think that’s my favorite part of what I do. We worked on recipes and sent the recipes across to the NCL chefs. The chefs and the team have been working on it. My chef who’s here with me, that’s what we did. We went into the kitchen, figured out what needed to be done and got started working. That’s what it’s all about.

What are you serving?

There is going to be a Naanzanella Salad, which is Indian flatbreads, or naans, with chickpeas, a blood orange yogurt sauce, and a cilantro mint chutney. It’s almost a panzanella, but an Indian version of it. Then we have crab cakes, Malabar crab cakes. These are South Indian crab cakes with coconut in them, Indian spices, served with mango curry leaf slaw and a tomato five spice chutney.

Maneet Chauhan Talks Chefs Making Waves
Photo Credit: Amy Harris/The Travel Addict

I can’t wait to try it all. What is your perfect family vacation? I saw you have your family here.

Yes, the family is with me. Anytime we are together is a perfect family vacation for me. The kids grow up so fast and each and every moment that you can grab, you can celebrate with them. That’s why Vivek and I try to get the kids on as many of these work trips as possible because we do what we do because of the kids.

What have the highlights of Tournament of Champions been so far this season? 

The episode that I did where I competed against Eric (Adjepong), I was very, very proud of what I did. It was so funny when we were walking around for lunch recently and there was this lady who came up to me and she’s like, ‘I have a question for you.’ I’m like, ‘yeah?’ She’s like, ‘How does one make a turkey leg lollipop in 30 minutes?’ I’m like, ‘I have no idea.’ So even the fact that I managed to do that in 30 minutes, which was my first round, I’m actually really, really proud of. 

When we last talked, eet hadn’t opened at Disney. It’s open now. You’re doing meet and greets at the restaurant. How’s it going?

It is going fantastic. I mean, there’s always that conversation about how people are going to accept Indian food and spices in a mass market. The fact that it has been accepted and welcomed with open arms is really, really inspiring. 

It looks like you’re having fun when you’re meeting people at the restaurant.

It’s so fun. When you get to meet the people one on one, you can translate. I think it’s fantastic. 

I know you like to binge watch TV. What are you binge watching right now? 

I think I’m watching God’s Favorite Idiot. It’s a new thing. I mean, I was just scrolling, and I saw that, and it’s really funny. I just finished watching Resident Alien. It’s so funny. It gives a very interesting view on the human race and the things that we take for granted. Initially when I saw it, I thought, ‘oh, Resident Alien, this is going to be about immigration, that kind of stuff,’ but this is an actual alien who has landed on Earth and he is trying to assimilate to how human beings live. It’s just really funny.

Photo Credit: Amy Harris/The Travel Addict

I know you love all your jewelry. Tell me about your accessory line. 

Oh my God yeah. I was doing something which is called Maneet Curated. It’s literally things that I like. That’s basically because people are constantly asking me where my shoes are from, where the earrings are from, where this is from, where’s that from? That’s basically what it is. It’s more of a hobby. 

You take your fashion seriously. 

Very.

Any new restaurants in 2024?

No plans at the present moment. I think the entire idea is to really go ahead and just enjoy what we have, really build on it, make sure that it’s strong.

What’s your craziest travel story?

I think one of my favorite travel stories is when I went to Peru. We were going to see Machu Picchu, so we went to Cusco. From Cusco, we went to Urubamba, and everybody went and they were like, ‘Oh, we want to go to sleep after a long day of travel, right?’ I’m like, ‘No, we are in a foreign country.’ So I walked to the local market and there was an old Peruvian lady selling these potato croquettes. So literally Vivek found me an hour later making these croquettes and selling these croquettes with her. The fun part was that I don’t know Spanish and she didn’t know English, but that’s how powerful food is, so I love it. 

Maneet Chauhan Talks Chefs Making Waves
Photo Credit: Amy Harris/The Travel Addict

I’ve been wondering about this for a long time because you have so much energy. How do you relax?

Drink Prosecco. On Sundays, Vivek and I, we make it a point that I have a bath and I wear my pajamas again, and we just sit in front of the TV and see some old Hindi movies or the latest Bollywood movies and just kind of chill. 

What’s your perfect bite?

My perfect bite would probably be rice with a little bit of chicken curry that Vivek makes, and potato fenugreek vegetables that mom makes. A combination of those three would be a perfect bite for me.

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Amy Harris
Amy Harris is a writer and photographer who has been traveling for 20 years and flown over 2 million miles to visit over 80 countries on 6 continents. She is a freelance photographer for Invision by Associated Press, AP Images and Rex/Shutterstock. Her work can be seen in various publications and websites including: Rolling Stone, AP Images, National Geographic Books, Fodor’s Travel Guides, Forbes.com, Lonely Planet Travel Guides, JetStar magazine, and Delta Sky Magazine.

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