August (1) Five in San Francisco embodies the spirit of India in food, culture and warmth and is for many a little India. With Executive Chef Manish Tyagi at its heart, it embodies all that is great about post-Independence India – rooted, unafraid and quintessentially desi.
Into its fourth year, August (1) Five is named after the day India got independence and its chef has broken several culinary shackles along the way. Says Manish about his creativity, at one of Bay Area’s most popular Indian restaurants: "The starting point of my conceptualization for food at August (1) Five is always rooted in our traditional Indian recipes. We pick dishes that we will have broader appeal for both Indians and non-Indians. We look at each dish through a modern cooking lens (foams, gels, dehydration techniques etc.) plus a California lens to incorporate non-traditional ingredients. We then go through several rounds of recipe trial/iterations plus presentation techniques to showcase our POV and to create dishes that ‘WOW’ our diners.”
So how did he come up with the name and is that something that should bother us that we are still colonised by the British definitions of Indian cuisine? “Our owner Hetal Shah came up with the name August (1) Five as we were looking to steer away from a traditional Indian dining menu plus setting for our modern Indian restaurant. We also wanted to focus on India as a whole versus a specific region to showcase hidden recipes found in homes, on streets and smaller dining establishments across India which are not ‘curry’ based. The date does depict the Independence day from British but it ties in well with the concept as we are showcasing more than our ‘curry’ dishes commercialized by the British,” says Manish.
Manish says that growing up in Dehradun, helping his mother in the kitchen along with cooking for the family in her absence was how his journey as a Chef began. A graduate of Physics and Maths, Manish switched career midway.
Of professional food training in India, Manish says “In Indian hotel management schools, there is a lot of focus on global cuisine versus pan-Indian food. Most of the chefs that are focusing on pan-Indian food with a global twist have limited traditional Indian food training pedigree versus primary exposure of growing up in India with home-cooked recipes and food available on the streets.” Something that Manish’s recipes abound in.
In 2013 Washington Post critic Tom Sietsema had rated Rasika Westend “the best Indian restaurant in the country” and had given its West End sequel, where Manish was working at that time, a rave review. Manish soon moved from Washington to California, from Rasika West End to Amber India.
And with the move, his approach changed too. “My approach to food changed when I moved to California to incorporate more locally sourced organic and sustainable ingredients on the west coast. As a Chef, I now have access to more interesting ingredients to use in my traditional cooking.”
Manish has made a name for himself for offering California an authentic Indian home food experience rather than an Indian restaurant experience. Asked if that is a change that is happening across the industry, he says “The modernisation of Indian home-cooked food is definitely a trend across the globe and mostly seen in countries like UK, UAE, U.S and Australia outside of India. At our restaurant, you can see the modernization of home-cooked recipes in our palak chaat, arancini, dahi poori, paneer kebab, spinach/saag-paneer, and bison keema.”
Aroma, texture, and color are an integral part of our Indian cuisine and culture. Manish says that for him personally, “it's all three characteristics combined that make food both taste and appear appealing to our diner base.”
Located in the heart of San Francisco’s Civic Center neighbourhood, the restaurant’s Peacock logo and name are distinct. The 4,000-square-foot restaurant boasts about 90 to 100 seats at the bar, communal tables, and booths. The design came from owner Hetal Shah, a former Google employee, and designer Craige Walters, using lots of peacock-inspired colors, as well as images of the bird itself. An article in the Eater San Francisco describes it as: “Leather stools with brass accents, booths covered in teal velvet, and design elements like a lattice entryway connect the environment to the cuisine, topped off with an enormous photo of a Maharaja who was known for a love of food and drinks.”Manish says the logo and name appeal to non-Indians as there's a story behind each branding element and an “opportunity to educate our diners” about India. “We are an Indian restaurant that is rooted in micro-stories with our branding elements, interiors, food, and cocktail offerings.”
CSP's Hari Kiran Vadlamani (right) with Manish Tyagi at August (1) Five
Indian food abroad often merges with those of her Asian neighbours. Yet, “Indian food has very distinct characteristics/flavors and is easily identifiable from other Asian cuisines as overall awareness for Indian ingredients, spices and dishes is reaching the mainstream through Indian origin food writers and restaurant critics,” says Manish.
Chefs worldwide are collaborating and coming up with new ideas and recipes. A couple of years ago, Manish collaborated with chef Julio Aquilera of ElDestiado in Oaxaca for a Mexican-Indian dinner with cocktails to match, like Goa to Oaxaca (mezca, mango, banana, feni, lime, tamarind, tajin) on the occasion of Mexican Independence Day.
“Our cuisine is very old, versatile, and has a lot of potential to excel. I have seen foreign chefs intrigued by Indian spices, flavors and cooking techniques. I have also had the opportunity to highlight these in my cooking demonstrations to culinary students at SF cooking school as a guest teacher,” says Manish.Once the current crisis ends, Manish as an innovator and sharp thinker, is confident that people will be ready for dining adventures plus socializing, as “Food is an integral part of our life and chefs are instrumental in enhancing the food experience.”