With its, fresh, locally sourced ingredients, simple, design-friendly setting and constantly evolving New York taqueria-style menu, Chinita is one of the most exciting restauraunts to come out of Bangalore in a while. I chatted to co-founder Candice Lock Mirchandani, who comes to Bangalore via New York and Kuala Lumpur, about her favourite chefs and and how Tex-Mex is not quite the same as Mexican food.
What’s your morning and nightly beauty regime like?
I don’t wash my face in the morning because I have very dry skin, so it’s just Weleda’sPomegranate Firming Face Serum and Fragonard’s Royal Jelly Face Cream. In the evening, I use Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cleanser, Midnight Recovery Concentrate and Rosa Arctica Eye Balm, followed by Fragonard’s Royal Jelly Face Cream.
How did Chinita come about?
I’ve always loved to cook for people, and when I moved to India from New York six years ago my boyfriend and his brother, who is now my partner at Chinita, would always ask me to make them Mexican because they missed the taqueria-style Mexican food you get in America. I’d have to make everything from scratch, and so to create that Mexican meal was a very long, ongoing process; once everything was perfected, I started making it for our friends, who kind of pushed me to start this restaurant. Chinita is actually Spanish slang for little Chinese girl!
What’s the difference between Mexican food and Tex-Mex?
Tex-Mex is Mexican food that’s been Americanised by the southern American states, and it’s a great cuisine by itself. It features a lot more cheese and sour cream and various sauces; there’s a lot more deep frying going on.
Mexican food is simpler; it's very home-style, very wholesome and quite healthy, just because it’s the kind of food people in Mexico eat everyday. There’s a big focus on things that are home made. There's not a lot of cheese; it’s not very common in Mexico to put cheese on your food.
What are the food trends you’re most excited about, and which ones are you tired of?
You’re going to laugh, but the one trend that got me really excited when it took off was tacos. You can put pretty much anything in a taco! It’s like the low carb version of a sandwich – so you can do a Korean taco with your kimchi or jjigae or a Malaysian style one with some satay; the possibilities are endless. I’m kind of sick of the word foodie, and of people calling themselves foodies. We need to stop!
Who is your favourite chef, and why?
Alice Waters. She’s the pioneer of modern American food. Her whole philosophy is doing things that are very simple, like apple pie or roast chicken, but so well that it's considered fine dining, and using ingredients that are locally sourced. It inspires a lot of what we do at Chinita. I’d say that 90% of our ingredients are locally sourced – both for sustainability, and also because there are so many similarities between Indian and Mexican food.
What was your favourite food growing up?
I can’t believe you’re asking a Malaysian that! We love food! Although I have to say I was a very bad eater growing up – I just wasn’t that interested in it. That all changed when I moved to Iowa for college, where the staple food was corn and bread. It just sparked something in me, and all of a sudden I started craving flavours.
That’s one of the reasons I moved to New York – you can get pretty much any cuisine in New York, most of it authentic, made by people who come from the country whose food you’re eating. Once I discovered food, it was endless; whatever I could get my hands on became my favourite, everything from oysters to kimchi to ossobuco. But when I’m sick, I always go back to noodle soup. Nothing beats a bowl of silky rice noodles with fish balls in a simple, clear broth.
What’s the quickest meal to make?
Pasta. It’s very versatile, and you can use anything you have. Start with onion and garlic – mash the garlic, chop the onion finely and sauté it over low heat for 5-6 minutes. Then you can put anything you like in. Say you look in your fridge and you have a pumpkin; chop that up, put it in the oven for 30 minutes, scoop it out and put it in your sauté with a bit of water and cream, and you’ve got a great sauce.
The simplest thing is to chop up some tomatoes real fine and throw it into your onion garlic mix and cook it for 20 minutes. You can add sausages, zucchini, anything you like to it, and serve it over some pasta.
What’s your personal style like?
I love dresses, but they’re not practical for a restaurant, so now it’s mainly skinny jeans, tights, leggings and sneakers. You can’t wear anything too loose in a restaurant because it might catch fire.
Have you been anywhere interesting lately?
I went to this underground Japanese restaurant in Bangalore recently. It’s owned by a woman who’s married to an Indian guy and features lots of exotic, authentic Japanese food – think octopus, that sort of thing. You’re only allowed in if a Japanese guest in the know accompanies you. I can’t tell you where it is because they’ll never let me back in!
As told to Jossbox. Candice Lock Mirchandani photographed by Komal Basith.