What are these Indian chefs doing at the Cannes Film Festival?

Serving up paniyaram madeleines > Serving up looks.

Harper's Bazaar India

Think Cannes Film Festival and you’re likely to imagine sweeping-the-floor kind of gowns, an impressionable wave and a star-studded red carpet. But there’s a lot more to this film rendezvous than what meets the eye. Amidst the movie premiers, yacht parties, statement outfits and champagne fountains, lie the all-too-important galas and dinners. Hosted by the crème de la crème of the world such as heads of states, political leaders and more, there’s a lot that goes into making these galas a night to remember—an exquisite guest list, chic décor and one of the most significant aspects of it all—the food. These Indian Chefs have been taking centre-stage when it comes to this. 

As India entered its 75th year of independence last year, so did the Cannes Film Festival, celebrating both these milestones with a gala dinner hosted by the Minister of Information and Broadcasting, Anurag Singh Thakur, catered by Indian Chef Manu Chandra, founder of Bangalore-based restaurant Lupa and catering company, Single Thread. Looking back, he says, "Last year was special in many ways because it was a landmark festival—it was the 75th anniversary of the festival and India’s independence and of India-France relations, plus most importantly, it was the country of honour. So, what I really wanted to do was to be able to showcase the confluence of India, Cannes and France and that’s what we did with the menu. We were inspired by French ingredients and Indian techniques and Indian flavours in French popular dishes—that’s just how we built the menu." 

The India Pavilion saw an incredible amalgamation of two cuisines in the form of Vada Pav in Brioche Buns and Paniyaram Madeleines. The Gala Dinner on the other hand exuded certain grandeur in all its Indianness. The menu included, but was hardly limited to Pyaaz ki Kachori en Croute with chutney, Laal Maas and Khichdi, and Gatte and Morel Pulao. “The dinner was in collaborationwith Godawan, the homegrown single malt brand—it’s a large part of the reason why we were there at the Gala dinner and that’s also why a Rajasthan-inspired dinner made a lot of sense. From the food to the décor, to the table-setting everything was contemporary in its aesthetic and yet Indian at the heart of it all. So I think the idea really was to focus on both styles—it was really about harmony and about two countries coming together to celebrate.” The dinner was attended by India's best such as A.R. Rehman, R Madhavan and Prasoon Joshi among others. 

Speaking about the challenges, Chandra says “I guess when you work in this field, you’re used to adversity. Unfortunately my teams’ visa did not come through in time. I had mine so I was there ahead of time and I had to prep for the gala dinner alone. The team arrived one hour before the party, and by that time most of the work was done. Besides that, a lot of people were under the impression that we’d just be making lots of curry—stereotypical to India.” 

Akin to Chandra, who seemed keen on changing the perception about India, Chef Prateek Sadhu (former executive chef and co-founder of Mumbai-based restaurant, Masque) aspires to do the same. “The idea is to showcase India in 2023 not 1980, and to change the conversation around Indian food,” he says. Chef Sadhu has been invited to this year’s Cannes Film Festival to lead the catering at the inaugural dinner hosted by the Minister of Information and Broadcasting. “I think the entire endeavour is to showcase India. The menu has six to seven courses and the idea is to touch upon every region, which have been inspired by my travels across India, dishes that I have seen being cooked in people’s houses. I’ve actually flown down with 80 kilos of Indian spices and pickles.” Enough said, really.  

Speaking about the prep and menu curation, he says, “One of the dishes that we’ve included is from Meghalaya and typical to the Khasi community of the region. It’s called Tungrymbai which is made out of smoked and fermented soya beans and then cooked. This will be paired with a traditional bread from the region, known as Putharo along with a smoked tomato chutney. We have a pepper-fry from Tamil Nadu. Since this is the year of millets we’re doing a Millet Thoran (a Kerala-based dish) as well as a millet pulao with a Malvani style Sole Fish (a French delicacy) and Potato Koshimbir (a Marathi salad). We’re doing lots of sweets and mithais from the Bengali Sandesh, Maharashtrian Chikki, and Mysore Pak which will be served with Kashmiri Kahwa and homegrown coffee from Karnataka.” 

For Chef Sadhu, who took out a few minutes amidst a preparation frenzy, he ends the conversation by saying, “I think I’m really excited to be repping India and for me it’s a very proud moment. It's also been great to collaborate with Diageo and Godawan to create this immersive experience. I’m looking forward to meeting lots of people. It’s my first time at Cannes and I’m looking forward to eating and drinking some really good wines.” 

What this brings us to is how multicultural and a multifaceted the Cannes Film Festival truly is and how it provides a space for not only a confluence of cultures but also innovation and exchange of creativity and new ideas.