Who is Rohit Khattar 2.0?

2022 is no longer about being an ‘invisible restorer’. With a new company in place, the man behind Indian Accent and Comorin creates multiple brands under different key bosses

2022 is no longer about being an ‘invisible restorer’. With a new company in place, the man behind Indian Accent and Comorin creates multiple brands under different key bosses

At the end of 2019, just before the pandemic irrevocably altered the world and the restaurant world, restaurateur Rohit Khattar, 58, owner of the famous Indian Accent and Comorin, called me one afternoon. He wanted to apologize for not being able to attend an event around Business on a plattermy new book on the restaurant business, in which he is a case study.

To be honest, I didn’t expect him to be on the roundtable (among the top restaurateurs in the country), knowing and having written about his social shyness and reluctance to appear in public. As he signed, he laughed and joked, “You can always put an empty chair with a tag that says ‘invisible restaurateur’!” referring to the nickname I had given him in my book.

Cut to 2022. Khattar seems the opposite of invisible. After an awards ceremony in New Delhi which he is seen attending, he lands not only socializing but inviting winning chefs from different restaurants in Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru to Indian Accent for a sumptuous meal. A few days later, we find him again at another awards ceremony – this time in the world of drinks. Then I met him at Megu (who, by the way, recently made his first appearance on Asia’s Top 50 list), wearing a favorite indigo shirt with a pineapple print. Later, the shirt makes another appearance at Garima Arora’s Gaa in Bangkok, while he dines at durian, Kadhi, condiments with Australian super chef and restaurateur David Thomson. All this in the space of a little over a week.

  Rohit Khattar with Chef David Thomson in Bangkok

Rohit Khattar with Chef David Thomson in Bangkok

“What is happening?” I ask. All of this, then, is out of character for a man who has cultivated an image of elusiveness in the quarter century that I have known him.

“It’s Rohit 2.0,” he laughs.

Grow the brand

Rohit 2.0 is not just an image overhaul. This is a business overhaul. Khattar left his sizable business at the India Habitat Center in Delhi last year, leaving his team of chefs and senior managers, including managing director and school friend Sandeep Tandon, to continue running the first hub – but in part of Habitat and not a company owned by him. Now he is ready to expand his business.

“After the pandemic, I realized that I needed to focus a lot more on my ambition as a restaurateur. And that won’t happen with just one, two or three restaurants, but with multiple brands in multiple cities led by different key chefs” , he tells me. Besides two Indian accents in New Delhi and New York, and Comorin in Gurugram, Khattar owns brands like Chor Bizarre, the All American Diner and Oriental Octopus. The latter two have closed at Habitat but should sprout in other places, as he finds suitable venues.(Khattar also owns Cinestaan ​​Film Company, a boutique studio, with productions such as Mirzya, Kaalakaandi and Bombay Rose to his name.)

However, the big news on the sidelines of the Asia’s Top 50 ceremony in Bangkok is that Khattar is teaming up with famed David Thompson to create a new Thai brand. Khattar, his wife Rashmi (who helps design all of its restaurants) and Shantanu Mehrotra, the executive chef of Indian Accent (chef Manish Mehrotra has been promoted to culinary director for the brand, which is also looking to expand in the future close) had attended Indian Accent’s No. 22 listing.

Khattar’s new company, EHV International, part of its Old World Hospitality parent company, will own and operate the brand. The plan is to have a few outlets in India and also venture internationally. “I’m already looking at locations and we’ve been offered branded ones. David will create the menu as this brand’s culinary director and train the staff,” he says.

Khattar and Thomson in a Bangkok market

Khattar and Thomson in a Bangkok market

Thai with Thompson

Thompson, a world authority on Thai cuisine, actually cooked a private meal for the Khattars in Bangkok, where apparently “every one of the 14 courses was memorable.” He also took them to a wet market to buy ingredients. “David is a good coach, just like Manish is a good coach in addition to being a good chef. Look at all the chefs who are now famous, who worked at Indian Accent. I feel so proud of them, of Himanshu [Saini, of Trèsind Dubai] in Saurabh [Udhinia, of Revolver in Singapore]says Khattar, as he tries to explain why he’s confident of Thompson not just creating a proper menu (“I don’t want the restaurant to be overpriced or gourmet”), but being able to pull it off. manage successfully same as he manages his other international commitments.

“I first ate at Nahm’s [while Thompson was part of it] at the Halkin Hotel in London many years ago, then whenever I visited Bangkok I also ate at the Nahm. I ate at Long Chim Singapore and during the pandemic visited the Thai pavilion at Expo Dubai so I could eat David’s food. Each time, I came out thinking that these flavors would be well appreciated in India,” he explains.

Khattar’s conviction and practice of Thai cuisine as a widely accepted cuisine suitable for India should come as no surprise to those who have followed his career. He was one of the first restaurateurs in the country to curate Thai dishes at his Oriental Octopus restaurant in Delhi at a time when Indian Chinese was all the rage. In fact, Mehrotra was a Thai chef at Oriental Octopus in his previous avatar, and when I first tasted his creations for Indian Accent – at a trial stage, before the restaurant opened – it was this kitchen.

Khattar with restaurateur AD Singh at the recent 30 Best Bars 2021 India Awards

Khattar with restaurateur AD Singh at the recent 30 Best Bars 2021 India Awards

Young, fun, fresh

The Thai brand with Thomson isn’t the only new foray from EVH, which now owns Indian Accent and Comorin. (Chor Bizzare, Oriental Octopus and the others continue to be under Old World Hospitality.) EVH is now said to have more investors outside of industrialist Anand Mahindra, who tweeted in 2014 that he was a “proud investor” in Indian Accent, when the restaurant first made Asia’s Top 50 list (it’s been on the World’s Top 50 list every year since 2015).

On the anvil this year will be a new brand of modern restaurants from South India – which will set up shop in Goa first and then move on to other cities across the country. A “young and bright” South Indian chef, whom Khattar urges me not to name (“you know, I always give credit to my chefs, and I’d like to present it properly”), is to lead this brand with foods that go beyond stereotypes. “We plan to open a fun and casual restaurant, and what better location than Goa since we plan to focus heavily on fresh seafood,” he says.

The trials have already started. As we end this conversation it is with the promise to sit on one of these, as I had done many years ago when Mehrotra first brought out his chops from tamarind-glazed lamb and rice-crusted red snapper. moist. This dish had been an instant winner and continued to be for years.

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