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    Chalk and cheese. That’s chef Manu Chandra and Chetan Rampal, partners who form the backbone of India’s most innovative food spots including Monkey Bar and The Fatty Bao. Or as Chandra describes the partnership: as yin and yang. If Chandra, articulate, sharp and brilliant has established himself as one of India’s youngest celebrity chefs, few know much about Rampal, the quiet back-end specialist. Or know that the partnership is now 10 years strong, forged during early days at Olive Beach Bangalore. During the early Monkey days, it wasn’t unusual to see Rampal behind the bar, quietly helping out making drinks and serving customers. Few recognised him as Monkey’s boss, though they would react to his wide crinkly-eyed smile.
    Little has changed since. Chandra is a media and society darling, often seen speed-typing on multiple devices or multitasking while burning the candles at both ends. Rampal is the busier
    traveller of the duo, often whisking around 20 days a month to their outlets across India. He’s lucky, he says, that his wife is from a similar F&B background and understands the crazy hours.
    It’s the differences that make the ‘organically formed’ partnership work. Says Chandra, “I’m more of a gut person, I decide a space works or not with one cursory glance. It’s up to Chetan and the other senior people to work out costs and structure.” Rampal agrees and says, “I check if it’s cost effective, will it work? My role is that of a devil’s advocate.” Pioneers of the Indian gastropub concept, they’ve madetheir culinary dream into the perfect fit for Indian diners, making quirky the new ‘it’ word. It was an experiment that worked, says Chandra. “We couldn’t do a cookie cutter thing from the UK.”
    The two often slip into the good cop / bad cop routine by instinct at work with Chandra the self-confessed bad cop. “I have strong opinions about things, can be an aggressive boss and rile people,” he admits, adding, “I’m persistent about doing things a certain way. Chetan can soft pedal and soothe. I’m gruff at times but not by any mala fide intention. I believe in leading by example.” But what when mistakes happen, as they surely must in a space as volatile as the F&B industry? “If I make a mistake on my menus, I’m the first to scratch it off. I taste my food 10 times over, go into nitty-gritties. I also check every napkin fold, every tiny crack for possible dust,” notes Chandra. Rampal, on the other hand, hardly ever loses his cool. I ask him what he thinks of the chef’s occasional temper tantrums. He laughs. “Manu plays the creative role, but one must be practical too. In the end, what we want is similar, and if we are working on a problem, one manages to convince the other,” he says. The bonds have been forged over years of slogging long hours and countering numerous catastrophes. Rampal always stays over at Chandra’s place when in town, bunking in with him and his lab, Rocco. They talk business into the wee hours of the morning. Or watch a movie, the chef’s favourite form of after-hours relaxation, Chandra with his Old Monk in hand and Rampal the teetotaller, with his Red Bull.
    m firstimpressionbangalore@gmail.com

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