To St Albans via the US

Posted on Front of House Jan 2010 - by Tandoori Magazine
To St Albans via the US

St Albans based chef-patron Chad Rahman is a man of vision and passion, who honed his skills in the US and owns and runs Chez Mumtaj, He talks to Tandoori

This coming April, it will be two years since Chez Mumtaj Restaurant and Saffron Lounge Champagne Bar, in St Albans, opened its doors to the public.

Considering we were already in the midst of a crippling economic recession. It’s not exactly the ideal time to open a multi-million pound upmarket establishment, as its chef-patron Chad Rahman readily acknowledges. Then again, Rahman isn’t shy of taking some chances and trying things new and exciting. His menu comprises “Modern French-Indian Dining” and thrown in for good measure are influences from Thailand, China and Malaysia.

Not readily cooking one can prescribe to in almost any Indian restaurant.

In addition, with two years in the making, the lounge and dining areas are opulent to say the least. The former boasts an Asian tapas bar food menu and cocktails, along with décor encompassing solid mahogany paneling, leather banquette seating and in-built booths. The latter has a gentleman’s club look to it with specially commissioned carpeting, crisp white tablecloths and cream leather chairs, all adding to an elevated splendour.

“I project managed every single aspect of this restaurant,” admits Rahman. “With hindsight, I should have brought someone else to do that because the work involved in the conception and execution of Chez Mumtaj has been phenomenal.”

Taking a bold step or two is also quite evident from his career aspirations when he was younger.

With his father owning the renowned Indian Mumtaj – also in St Albans – Rahman wanted to widen his horizons, both in a culinary sense and otherwise, and travel. He also wanted to take up hotel and restaurant management. Only, much to the chagrin of his parents, he didn’t want to do that in the UK.

“I’ve always been one for knowing more about the culture and diversity of other parts of the world,” says Rahman. “So many people don’t have the opportunity to go away so they tend to line in an area for a long time and build a microcosm around themselves which is not a reflection of the world. I wanted to see the macro picture and even though my parents were against it, I persevered.”

Though originally wanting to study in Switzerland, with some friends of his already in the US, he decided in the end to go to the Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management, in Houston, Texas.

“Studying there was a thoroughly memorable and eye-opening experience,” notes Rahman. “What I offer in my menu at Chez Mumtaj is very much a reflection of what I learned on my culinary journey as its very eclectic and draws from different cultures – something that was ingrained in me in the US. I came across so many different nationalities when I was there and you end up getting a glimpse of their culture and what their culinary heritage is about.”

If the US proved to be quite a learning curve for Rahman, what it didn’t do was to entice him enough to launch a restaurant there.

“There are quite a few Indian restaurants over there,” he says, “but somehow owning an Indian restaurant in the UK has a different feel to it. Here, there is an age old link to the days of the Raj and also the high standards of Indian restaurants and what chefs are achieving here hasn’t quite been replicated there. So I felt it was still crucial for me to open a restaurant in the UK.

Even while I was in the US, I made a note of various recipes I had formulated there. They had such a cross-cultural tinge to them because of what I had learnt that I was eager to use them one day and have since implemented them at Chez Mumtaj.”

Since its opening, Chez Mumtaj has slowly but surely been attracting a strong following, as well as gradual critical acclaim – it’s the only standalone restaurant in St Albans with an AA rosette.

“This is very much a destination restaurant where people come to dine at from neighbouring towns and even afar,” states Rahman. “I knew from the beginning that Chez Mumtaj wasn’t going to be an overnight success and that our main form of advertising was going to satisfied customers that will help get the restaurant good word of mouth.

My passion though has always been there and I tend to be very hands on. Even when the restaurant is closed, I’m still here. Everything has to work well. If the cooking for any reason isn’t good enough for my palate, it certainly won’t be good enough for my paying customers either. Chez Mumtaj has to exemplify what is best.”


Sample Menu


Starters

Scallops
Hand dived Pan seared spice crusted Scottish king scallops, sautéed duxelle of wild mushrooms and shallots with a almond, cardamom and saffron cappuccino foam

Seared Foie Gras
Pan seared foie gras glazed in kumquat - vanilla honey compote and schezwan pepper crush with lightly curried confit of cauliflower puree and hazelnut crumb oil

Soft Shell Crab
Wild catch blue swimmer soft shell crab in chilli and garlic tempura batter served with homemade ginger, prune, mango and fig marmalade

Duck Pastilla
Confit of Barbary duck, duxelle of cepes and shallots lightly spiced stuffed in filo pastry served with hoisin sauce and apple rhubarb compote


Mains

Venison
Pan seared spice crusted Scottish wild saddle of venison, masala crushed charlotte potatoes and scallions served with baby root vegetables and chocolate-tamarind veal jus

Black Cod
Wild catch Alaskan black cod in tomato and kaffir-lime curry emulsion served with freshly grated coconut rice and wilted baby leaf spinach and nutmeg

Risotto
Tandoored freshwater king prawns, hand picked Devon crabmeat risotto with braised baby leeks, smoked aubergine caviar, basil and truffle cappuccino foam

Poussin
Franco-Asian style whole steam roasted free range poussin stuffed with minced tikka chicken, rice, cepes, cashew, quail egg and cream of saffron veloute  served with fondant potato and duck rillette


Desserts

Moochii Trio of Ice cream  
Japanese rice dough encased in pandan leaves and green tea, mango and chilli cocoa coated coconut ice cream

Chez Mumtaj Dessert Platter  
Carrot halva samosa, coconut spring roll, pistachio of baklava panna cotta ice cream painted with mango and raspberry coulis


 

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