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Taste of success on culinary trip
- Armed with Indian spices, Ranchi girl cooks up delectable fare in US

Ranchi, April 13: DAV Jawahar Vidya Mandir, Shyamli, is renowned as the alma mater of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Team India's blue-eyed boy.

Not many, however, know that the school has also churned out Maneet Chauhan, an enterprising young lady, who has quietly masterminded a stunning Latin-Indian fusion cuisine in the US and given a new direction to the future of Indian spice dishes.

The dazzling menu she has tossed up as the executive chef of Vermilion ' the upscale Indian restaurant and after-hours lounge in Chicago ' along with owner Rohini Dey has helped her earn countless rave reviews and gain recognition as one the most celebrated Asian chefs today.

But for 27-year-old Maneet Chauhan, getting people abroad to accept Indian cuisine served in a different manner hasn't been easy, especially when there were so few women in the food industry. 'A woman coming from India and trying to become a chef is not very happening. People would come and say I would get married in two years and will never make it. That made me very strong,' recounted the Ranchi girl talking over the phone from Chicago.

A student of Loreto Convent and DAV Jawahar Vidya Mandir, Shaymali ' also the alma mater of the dashing M.S. Dhoni ' Maneet feels Americans had started embracing Indian cuisine with all its favours. 'India is hot now, be it in fashion or movies. People in the US are getting a true picture of what India is all about, the culture and the cuisine,' she explained, a reason probably why the restaurant is named after a shade symbolic of Indian femininity.

This 'Kitchen Goddess', a tribute showered on her and Dey by Fortune Small Business, graduated from Manipal in hotel management and interned at the Taj, Bangalore. In 1999, she decided to pursue her passion for cooking and enrolled herself in the Culinary Institute of America, New York.

Once out of it, she started working as a restaurant manager in a New Jersey eatery before being selected to be a part of Vermilion.

'A group of NRIs had decided to set up a restaurant in Chicago and Rohini Dey saw potential in the proposal. She interviewed 40 chefs before choosing Maneet,' explained mother Hardeep Chauhan, the principal of Gurunanak Higher Secondary School. 'You could say, she was fond of cooking from the day she was born. When I had visited her in Chicago recently she had prepared a lobster Portuguese, which was really yummy,' she says with a proud smile.

And the accolades that Vermilion has picked up justify Hardeep's elation. Vermillion has been selected as 'Chicago's hottest and most stylish restaurant', 'a place for the most exotic fusion cuisine' and has been placed among the top 20 restaurants by US Today in 2004.

Maneet's inspiring approach to fusion cuisine ' which she explains as 'applying techniques of one cuisine to ingredients of another' ' was also covered by talk show goddess Oprah Winfrey's magazine O. She was also one of the four chefs to have featured on the cover page of Khabar ' Envoys of Indian Cuisine, which did a feature on celebrity Indian chefs.

'Indian food is going to be the next biggest thing in a very short time. Just wait and watch,' signed off the Vermilion chef, remembered by her DAV teachers as a 'sweet bubbly girl' who baked 'delicious fruitcakes'.

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