After five successful years here in New York City, Michelin-starred Indian favorite Junoon is opening its first restaurant in Dubai, to be followed by another, different Indian restaurant in Orlando, Florida. We caught up with the mastermind behind it all, founder Rajesh Bhardwaj, to learn more about what we can expect from this trio of restaurants in 2015.
Will there be different menu items at the Dubai outpost? If so, what are they, and how did you make those decisions?
While the majority of the menu is from Junoon New York, we did come up with new dishes reflecting the taste and preferences of the local population. For example, the Junoon Spice naan now is made with za’atar, a spice that is extremely popular in the region. The first thing we did was explore the local spice souks and markets in Dubai to unearth some key flavors and ingredients. The goat here is dynamite, so we knew that would enhance our menu, along with some of the fantastic seafood available and, of course, the spices and unique Middle Eastern flavors based on ingredients like roses and dates.
You’ve also got an upcoming "Indian Concept" restaurant that's set to open in Orlando. What should we expect?
The restaurant is called American Gymkhana. The Gymkhana was a place of assembly for the elite during the British Raj in India. These establishments were the precursor to the advent of the country club, where British aristocrats mingled with Indian Royalty to celebrate special events and watch sports matches, such as polo and cricket, then enjoy drinks and dinner. The food is inspired by the popular dishes of that era.
Bringing it back home to New York, how have you seen the Indian food scene change here in the city?
A lot of new places have opened and Indian food’s appeal has grown, but much of the food remains static. Unfortunately, the approach has been "play it safe." In order to be creative and to evolve the cuisine, take the next level, there has to be some risk-taking ability.
Tell me about the new menu items and the tasting menu at Junoon New York this winter. Which dishes felt like a bit of a "risk" and how have those been received?
Tandoori trumpet royale mushroom, foie gras terrine, and scallop chaat are some of the items we introduced. Whenever we introduce new, out-of-the-box, modern items, presentation and taste are a risk, but we have also seen that ours guests have come to expect new approaches and techniques from our chefs; hence, most of the time whatever is new on the menu is well received.
Where do you see the growing Indian food movement heading in 2015?
There’s an awareness and acceptability of Indian food that has grown a lot over the years. Fine dining to quick service and regional restaurants have all contributed to the growing the movement. I expect that more new concepts will open in 2015.