Food Network star, “Chopped” judge, and James Beard award-wining chef Maneet Chauhan has opened her first limited-service restaurant with her husband and hospitality partner, Vivek Deora. Eet by Maneet Chauhan opened last month in the Marketplace section of Disney Springs, Disney World’s shopping district in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. The restaurant is Chauhan’s first concept outside Nashville since helmed the kitchen for At Vermilion in New York City.
Eet by Maneet Chauhan focuses on making Indian food approachable to both tourists and locals, with Indian fusion dishes like tandoori chicken poutine and saag paneer naan pizza, alongside some of chef Chauhan’s signature dishes like gulab jamun cheesecake — which is on the menu at her flagship restaurant, Chauan Ale & Masala House — a New York-style cheesecake with gulab jamun (like an Indian doughnut), strawberries, saffron, and cardamom.
For the restaurant’s design, the team leaned into the theme park aesthetic, coming up with a playful elephant logo and a brightly colored red and yellow interior with casual, cafeteria-like seating.
“With a quick-service restaurant, you’re doing substantially more numbers than you are at a sit-down restaurant, so when we developed the menu, we really had to think about mass appeal,” Chauhan said. “[The restaurant] shouldn't only be for people who love Indian food; it should also be for people who've never had Indian food…. Plus, a lot of families with kids are traveling to Disney, and all they want is fresh, quick, and casual, but we didn’t want to dumb down the flavors that we’re known for.”
As a Disney parks fan who visits frequently with her family, Chauhan was drawn to Disney Springs as the location for her latest restaurant. Over the years, Disney Springs has become a hub for celebrity chefs and food personalities to introduce their latest concepts, often in a limited-service format. Other well-known restaurant owners and food personalities like chef Morimoto, Guy Fieri, Wolfgang Puck, and José Andrés have opened both new concepts and outposts of their popular restaurants in Disney Springs. But Chauhan noted that the area does not have too much representation of Indian cuisine.
“I think that guests are looking for new flavors,” Chauhan said. “They’ve traveled to Disney World, and they want to experience something that they haven't tried before. Food is a big part of that experience. [Our food] is something they might not get back at home, and isn’t that the whole point of a vacation? To try something new?”
While the menu development process took some time, Chauhan said she was inspired by what has worked and what has not at her flagship restaurant, Chauan Ale & Masala House, in Nashville. They did a lot of focus groups to focus on how to appeal to a diverse spectrum of guests, including those who have never had Indian food before, and also coordinated menu tastings with Disney cast members before opening to the public. Chauhan said that the one aspect of menu development she did not concern herself with was authenticity. Authenticity, she said, is a loaded word, because authentic Indian cuisine can mean something different to everyone.
“Over the centuries, Indian food has been influenced by different countries, like chicken tikka masala is considered the most Indian dish, but it was born in England,” Chauhan said. “Indian food also has Persian influence, French influence, and Chinese influence. Tomatoes, which are the foundation of Indian food, are not even from India… What was important to me was to not compromise on the flavors, but present the dish in different packaging, like our saag paneer pizza.”
Since limited-service restaurants are easier to scale than full-service restaurants, Chauhan said she hopes they get the opportunity to replicate the Eet by Maneet concept in other cities.
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