Hari Nayak’s Matt & Meera
Who’s Matt? And who’s Meera? Well, Matt & Meera is the name of chef Hari Nayak’s newest venture, a happening new cafe in the heart of Hoboken, NJ, which is fast coming up as a young, multicultural haven. Nayak saw so many young intercultural couples in this area that he decided to take two typical Indian and American names – Matt and Meera – and combine them for his cafe.
“American food is a combination of so many different cuisines today and I like to give it a flavor punch with ingredients and spices from India and around the world,” says Nayak. “I don’t want to eat heavy Indian food every day but whether it’s a slice of pizza or a bowl of salad, I want to give it an Indian touch.”
Nayak, whose popular cook book ‘Modern Indian’ touched upon this very subject, goes fun and light at Matt & Meera, with American comfort foods to which he has added his own desi twist.
Modern Indian – Burgers, Pizzas, Sandwiches
So whether it’s pizza or burgers, chips or seafood, Nayak says, “We’ve re-imagined all the flavors with tastes from India that are very comforting.” The soft shell crab sandwich is really a crab pakora served as American comfort food and you won’t find it anywhere else, says Nayak. The meatballs are really koftas from India and served in a fun, casual way. The Nanchos are made from naan chips and are very crispy served with original hot sauces which are made by the chef in-house. These include Tomato Chutney, Wasabi Lime, Mango Habanero and Hot Red Chili.
Nayak who has traveled extensively is still most at home in America. “I call America home but again what is America but a place where people are getting mixed up, connected?” He enjoys taking mainstream popular foods and transforming them. Chicken wings are a very popular American food but Nayak cooks them in the tandoor, making them flavorful without being spicy. Just last week, Hoboken 411.com,a popular blog gave its seal of approval to the chicken wings:
“I tried the Grilled Chicken Wings (Fiery red chili wings cooked in a tandoor) and Matt’s Calamari (crispy panko-coated calamari with mustard tomato chutney). The wings were to die for. The 700 degree oven along with the spices made for what are my favorite wings in Hoboken, hands down. The hot sauce was wonderful – but not even necessary, the wings were that amazing. Perfect low carb dish.“
So while the flavor is Indian, the presentation is very Western so Americans recognize the context and the taste. While one can’t eat Indian every day, these easy dishes are comfort foods which are easy on the palette, and the menu is very market driven and based on the daily bounty.
“It’s American cuisine created by a people who found their calling through passion, not ancestry,” he says. ” This new restaurant shares inspiration, ingredients, and attitude.
We serve food the way urban city dwellers like to eat – food full of flavor with a global influence. We use a lot of ingredients and spices sourced from India which gives our food a unique twist. ”
He’s taken old favorites and given them an Indian flavor: the burger patty for instance is made of lamb rather than beef, and also on the upcoming dinner menu will be seafood dishes from the Konkon region of India. Currently it’s all small plates and shared plates with an all-day casual menu so people get to try lots of different tastes. Even the salads are Indianized with Indian dressings and served with mung beans, cilantro, grilled pieces of tofu or chicken, avocado and vinaigrette, with pappadums for added crispness.
Nayak grew up in the town of Uddipi, famous for its South Indian vegetarian cuisine. He however grew up eating a lot of seafood and meat dishes and developed a strong interest in cooking, going in for hotel management. He often cooked for his brothers and sisters, so it was natural that he came to the US to go to the Culinary Institute of America.
“I love to eat cuisines from different parts of the world but I don’t forget my own food and make every dish my own by adding certain touches to it,” he says. ” I feel that ‘s the way the world of the Indian is evolving. I love the best traditional biryani and go out and eat it but if you want to go and experiment and try something new, you’d come to the way I cook. Amongst the diners, 70 percent are non-Indians who love Indian food and the Indians who are coming in are the younger generation who want to eat something local but with their Indian flavors to it.”
Nayak, who is a corporate chef for Café Spice Group and also a consultant chef and creator to several restaurant concepts including Soul & Spice in Kuwait and Orissa in Westchester County, is planning to take the concept of Matt & Meera next to Soho, and then on to Houston and San Francisco.
“If you go to a upscale Indian restaurant, you can’t go there often but here the setting, the feel is more of a casual cafe that you want to hang out at,” he says. “I think there is a market for Matt & Meera in the US today.” Added bonuses are a kid-friendly menu, sweet shots like Caramel Kulfi and Pistachio and Chocolate Crunch, and also a chance to BYOB, be it wine or beer.
Always the traveler, Nayak will be in India later in the year and you can join him too in a food journey starting in Delhi on December 19 and ending on December 29 in Kumarakom, including a Goan Christmas Dinner. Details Here
Meanwhile, you can catch his food closer to home by stopping at Matt & Meera…
Want to try out Chef Hari Nayak’s Recipes at home? Here’ s his Indianized burgers and no-fry chips!
Hari Nayak’s Lamb Burgers & Guilt -Free Masala Chips