“My food is just me,” says New York Chef Jehangir Mehta.
And once you know some things about Mehta, his simple statement explains much about this gracious chef’s complex cooking style.
Mehta recently opened his second venture, Mehtaphor, in Tribeca’s Duane Street Hotel. Fantastical small-plate creations are his trademark, a style that he perfected at Graffiti, his original East Village restaurant. And the menu features about a dozen Mehta-designed constructions, including cinnamon tomato eggs en cocotte ($17) and poprock oysters, onion confit, and grapefruit granita ($9). (There are more plates if you count dessert, and we will definitely get to dessert.)
Born in Mumbai, Mehta was raised in the Persian religious faith of Zoroastrianism. Always intensely creative, he developed a particular passion for the culinary arts. He studied in Mumbai and New York and landed his first job at L’Absinthe in the mid-1990s. From there he developed a reputation as a star pastry chef. Mehta worked for and with some of the biggest names around — including Jean-Georges Vongerichten and James Chew to name drop a few – before opening Graffiti in 2007.
His culinary style is an amalgamation: “It’s part of my race, my pastry background, and a bit of me being myself. It’s taking the food I like which pleases my palate,” Mehta says.
Mehta’s imprint is up, down, and all around the restaurant’s burn-marked paper menus. (The burns, I learned, are not an affectation, but a green way of covering small stains so Mehta can reuse them.)
Some dishes bring out his inner pastry-dessert chef. His popular truffle goat cheese crab
pizza ($12) sits on a puff pastry base instead of a traditional pizza crust. Beef tartare ($12) is served with a cooling guacamole sorbet, and shaved foie gras ($12) is accompanied by raspberry compote.
“I like to show how I can blend pastry and food with it being flawless,” he says.
My friend Amy, who lives just around the corner from Mehtaphor, shared the savory pizza with me on a dinner outing. And we agreed that the flaky and light puff pastry was, indeed, a nice twist. Lighter than traditional pizza, it left room for more grazing.
Other dishes celebrate Mehta’s dual cultural heritage. Tender spiced lamb shank ($17) with garlic sweet potatoes is a nod, for example, to his Persian roots.
And Indian influences abound. Mehta takes on banana leaf cod ($17), an Indian steamed fish dish that “is always prepared for luck,” he says. “There is not a single [Indian] wedding where this is not served.” Mehta’s preparation includes coriander chutney and onion chickpea fritters, which give the soft dish some extra texture.
Speaking of texture, Mehta loves it and will find places to add a bit of crunch where he can. Orange ginger shrimp ceviche ($9) comes with a black pepper poori crisp. The Mehtaphor sundae ($7), which features a combination of homemade ice creams, may be sprinkled with crispy crepe bits or crushed chocolate malt balls.
“Even as a child I loved crunch,” Mehta says. “I used to eat a lot of shoestring potatoes.”
Eggs are also a staple in Indian kitchens. Mehta presents a traditional preparation of tomatoes topped with soft-cooked eggs and sprinkled with fragrant cinnamon. Eggs and cinnamon, you ask? Trust Amy and me, it works. It really, really works.
Obviously, dessert is a must when it is created by a man who has been called a “pastry provocateur.” In addition to its signature sundae, Mehtaphor offers a handful of pastries ($7 each), including hazelnut soufflé and orange nutmeg madeleines. The restaurant also classifies its four signature cocktails ($7 each) as desserts. Fair enough, I say, since the restaurant uses homemade sherbets, sorbets and granitas in its drinks – from the Prosecco lychee martini to the coconut chili fizz.
And as Chef Mehta notes, “[m]ixologist guys, they make syrups, and that’s what pastry chefs do too.”
130 Duane Street
New York, NY 10013