The Story of Godawan by Manu Chandra – The Hindu

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The chef checks out Diageo India’s new single malt whisky, while planning his next chapter now that he’s hung up his apron at Olive Group

The chef checks out Diageo India’s new single malt whisky, while planning his next chapter now that he’s hung up his apron at Olive Group

As a child, growing up with his grandparents in the lush complex of Delhi’s Asian Games Village, chef Manu Chandra recalls a game he used to play with their pahadi to cook.

Every day, when he came home from school, he tried to guess what had been prepared for lunch – hours earlier – by smelling the aromas in the air. Much to the cook’s surprise, and often to his own surprise, he always got it right. “This supernatural ability has been a practical asset in my career,” says Manu, the name behind popular brands such as Toast & Tonic (Bengaluru) and Monkey Bar (Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru), which last year s walked away from the Olive Group of Restaurants as a co-partner after 17 years.

His nose continues to guide him as he explores other passions outside of cooking, one of which has seen him join the team behind Godawan, Diageo India’s new artisanal single malt whisky, made in Rajasthan. As a consultant, on board “to lead this new artisanal movement in a more meaningful way”, Manu’s enthusiasm shines through in the way he describes the notes of this distilled desert spirit – a feeling of warm sunshine on the nose, dried candied Seville oranges, buttered with a freshly baked baklava.

He calls it an unlikely product because “using six-row barley from the hot, arid climate of Rajasthan and the arduous process of malting and maturing at temperatures above mid-30° Celsius, it could not producing an early set of notes that could rival the tried and tested, cool, damp grain distillates of the Scottish highlands.But in a way, it does.

Godawan Whiskey

Godawan Whiskey

A desert land

Godawan, named after the great Indian bustard, evolved within the challenges of its ecosystem. It is sustainable because not only does the six-row barley use less water, but also the slow distillation process. The Alwar distillery is indeed accredited by the Alliance for Water Stewardship.

The bosses go on strike

As an entrepreneur, Manu Chandra says he is happy with the trend for chefs to start their own business, a bit like him. “It’s also craftsmanship in a way. With the limelight on chefs now, they are seen as credible individuals who have the ability to create big brands and incubate existing products that may, in some ways, require this culinary intervention. On a personal level, he is exploring several ideas, including a mentorship program. “I’m also excited about the food media space, especially with the rise of social media. Being able to capture its essence and drive it more responsibly is something I want to try. I have a vague idea, but I’m in no rush to do it,” he says.

“The high, dry heat helps the ripening process, pushing it a bit faster [the angel’s share is higher than the average, which gives a creamy finish to the whisky]Chandra says. “The terroir is beneficial; the mouthfeel, the richness, the complexity can all be attributed to these desert conditions. One of the interventions they have made, however, concerns the seasoning of the barrels – they are coated with ratna and jatamansi, two herbs widely used in Ayurveda, “which impart a very unique flavor profile” to the product.

“We have been accustomed to a region, a terroir [when it comes to Scotch], so it has become a truism for everyone that good malt can only come from Scotland. But this is not true. One of the first countries to prove this was Japan, when it started producing its craft spirits like Hibiki. Japanese malts are among the most sought after today.

The right pairing

Manu Chandra will contribute to an F&B strategy for Godawan. “It’s important because it becomes the first point of contact for many consumers who are new to the product. It’s also something I’ve been doing for many years and I understand the space very well. Toast and Tonic is an example classic, where we made gin the champion, and the spirit suddenly became quite a trend across the country – served a certain way, flavored a certain way.

Conscious of craftsmanship

The timing is right, as the craftsmanship movement is gaining momentum in the country. “Given that it is still nascent, we are already seeing some high quality spirits coming out, which is extremely promising. The stories of Greater Than, Hapusa and Stranger and Sons are well known, but we’re also seeing a variety of bold new initiatives – DesmondJi has a new mahua spirit on the shelves, Radico Khaitan has launched an excellent gin called Jaisalmer, which I’ll anchor against some of the best internationals I’ve tasted,” he says.

Goa was at the forefront because it is easier, from an excise point of view, to distill from there. But it is no longer limited to this region. “You just know that in the next couple of years we’re going to be pushing spirits even more and better. The market is going to shift towards craftsmanship in a massive way, and that will create a new layer in the spirits market,” he concludes.

Part of the proceeds from the sale will go towards protecting the bird, which is on the verge of extinction

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