Indian-born chef Maneet Chauhan, who has appeared on Food Network’s Chopped, Iron Chef Americaand The Next Iron Chef, opened Vermilion in Chicago, earning three stars, before moving to New York to open a Vermilion there to great acclaim. Now in Nashville, she owns highly respected Indian fusion spot Chauhan Ale & Masala House, as well as recently opened Mantra Artisan Alesbrewery and taproom in nearby Franklin, Tenn. We chatted with Chauhan about bourbon cocktails, Nashville’s über-hot dining scene and her go-to drinks for a dinner party.
What do you like to drink when you get off work?
It’s an interesting question: What did I like? [Laughs] Now I go home and have two young kids, so I try to behave myself. [That said] at the present moment, I am really fascinated with bourbon and bourbon drinks. Maybe it’s cliché being in Nashville, but there are some amazing bourbon cocktails out there. It’s my current poison of choice.
Do you usually drink at work or head out when you’re off?
It really depends. More often, I’ll end up at the restaurant since I’m sitting here, and people will offer me a new cocktail. I like all of them. The Ol’ Chauhan is like an Old Fashioned and that’s fantastic. The Best Intentions is a double rye with allspice honey, Amaro di Angostura and mole bitters. It’s amazing. On the complete other side, The Personality Crisis is watermelon, sage, amaro and Buffalo Trace bourbon.
What are some local spots you like to hit for drinks when you’re off work?
I love this new place Bastion. It’s amazing. The Patterson House, of course. Rolf and Daughters has amazing cocktails. And of course, Old Glory. And I’m shameless, but I love drinking beers where we brew beers with spices and seasonal ingredients at Mantra, my place in Franklin. I’m always there “tasting.” Our brewmaster is a mad scientist, and we have 24 beers on tap.
Have you found any cocktails that inspire your cooking?
I definitely find inspiration everywhere. Every time I go to Rolf and Daughters, I have the cocktails, and I always come back and say we need to do this or that. I wonder how things can translate into food.
Any spring ingredients that inspire your cocktailing?
The Peach Truck here has the most amazing peaches ever. So peach and basil—that’s a combination we’ve been working with a lot for cocktails and dessert. You bite into the peaches, and it’s what a peach is supposed to be. It’s absolutely succulent and delicious, with juice dripping down your hands.
What do you drink when traveling?
I like to explore. I get fascinated with different ingredients being used in cocktails. I’ve never been a one-cocktail-go-to kind of girl. I have to try something new and different. A lot of times, it’s not worth trying, but it gets checked off your bucket list.
Moni and the Mule
What do you like to serve at a dinner party to kick things off?
I love starting off with some interesting form of either a punch or Sangria. The Sangrias I’ve made are rose-mango with rose petals, fresh mangoes, rose syrup, white wine and a lot of mint. To me, the first cocktail anyone should get at my dinner party has to be a conversation starter: delicious, amazing and a fun focus. Another is the Monsoon Sangria: blue curaçao so it’s bright blue with blueberries and blackberries and plums. So it’s blue and purple. Anything that can be served in pitchers or in mass quantity is what I like to do.
What’s a go-to spring cocktail?
This season, we have on our menu a drink called the Moni and the Mule, a take on the Moscow Mule. We used Aria Portland dry gin, ginger, lemon, chile, lavender and tamarind soda. It’s sweet, spicy and refreshing; it’s delicious. Moni is one of our partners, Moni Advani.
Any guilty pleasures you like to drink when no one is looking?
You can call it a cocktail. We have a draft beer called Japa, a milk chai stout. I take a pint of that, top if off with vanilla ice cream and make it a float. That’s my guilty pleasure. It has one calorie too many.