His friendly face and huge grin was synonymous and a huge part of our visits to Monkey Bar and Fatty Bao. His love for porcine meat had him get a pig tattoo. And now, his love for all things tipples has powered him through to become the first Indian Community Ambassador for Jameson Whiskey. Say hello to Kunal Chandra, the gent who truly believes that “F&B is everyone’s mutual friend and brings the whole world together”. As he champions the cause of bottomless & never-ending pours across the country – a cause his heart & soul is committed to – we get candid with him about his passion for food, living out of a suitcase, and industry insights.
He may have spent 12 years in the industry, but the culinary cupid struck Chandra Junior early on, over the course of evenings spent assisting his mother chop chop, sauté sauté. As his kitchen experiments strengthened his bond with food, he went on to pursue Hotel Management from Christ University, Bengaluru. Hold up, if you weren’t convinced of his love for the world of food and beverage, this plot twist is bound to present a compelling case for his dedication – “It wasn’t easy, my father was adamant that he’d fund my education only if I pursue engineering, otherwise it was on me. So my mother, who worked at a bank, got me a loan, which I paid off myself.” Armed with that zeal, he ventured onto the F&B landscape, conquering its various facets, be it food journalism, photography, communication, and now a Community Ambassador for one of the most renowned alcohol brands across the world. Chandra got his first taste of the beverage milieu whilst still in college, “During my graduation India was undergoing a wine boom of sorts, so I was super passionate about it. This later morphed into cocktails and bartending as I worked at i-bar (The Park, Bengaluru), and realised that though food is a great subject, the world of food and beverage is inseparable, and the latter is an equally prominent member of F&B.” A chance meeting with Chef Manu Chandra blossomed into a friendship, professional & personal, where he worked at crafting brands like Monkey Bar and The Fatty Bao. Known as the friendly gent with the warmest hugs and belly-rupturing anecdotes, it’s impossible you haven’t said hi to this cheery fella on a night out.
Kicking off his next innings, Chandra flipped over to his next chapter with Jameson. “The 30 days I spent at the distillery was one of the best months of my life. Primarily because the Irish experience itself is a unique one, the general courtesy, the warmth, and the fun nature of Irish people, which is also what Jameson represents.” As he excitedly narrates witnessing the expert distillers, master blenders, and master coopers in action, Kunal shares the great sense of community shared by the industry there, “Everyone shares a sense of openness. In fact the new whiskey, Jameson Caskmates, was born out of a collaboration with a microbrewery, it is whiskey aged in beer barrels. So there’s a certain sense of experimentation which is great to see.” Back home, as the Community Ambassador for Jameson, Kunal seeks to bring interactive experiences to the patrons, “The 25 to 35 age group is the generation that craves experiences, good food, great travel, etc. My role is to integrate these preferences with our wonderful product.” Establishing this sense of community isn’t restricted to the industry, Chandra aims to reach out and include people from all arenas – the bartending community, restaurant community, food groups, individuals passionate about food, and even those who are simply looking for new experiences as a whole. As he expands the experiential aspect, driven by conversation, games, pop culture, and more, Chandra hopes to take the Irish whiskey beyond the metros and into diverse markets of India through brand education and training sessions
With whiskey engagement on the rise, we discuss the evolving perception of the spirit in India, “From an older person’s drink and a celebratory drink, it has become the drink of choice of a younger audience – millennials who are constantly dining out, have creative jobs, and are the trendsetters in their field. Apart from that, a lot of women are drinking whiskey as well,” Kunal observes. Not just the demographic, but the drinking preferences are changing as well, as Chandra shares, “People are moving away from the tried and tested single malts, and are exploring new whiskies. Whiskey cocktails are also gaining momentum – a lot of counter cultural movements within whiskey drinking are on the rise.” Speaking of evolution, we ask his take on how the industry has changed over the past decade, “Dining out has gone from an occasional experience to an everyday activity. Several factors have led to this change, people travel a lot more now, ingredients from around the world are easily available. Lastly, social media has helped bring the world together – if a cronut was launched in New York yesterday, chefs in India are already experimenting with it.” He also predicts the onset of regional cuisines, unique cocktail bars, and smaller F&B formats across the country.
Revved up to see the trade through many more exciting decades, Chandra shares how his first has been, “Every single day has been so much fun, and about things I love doing. Honestly, I feel very fortunate that I get paid to do what I love, to experience food and beverage in all its forms and meet F&B professionals. How lucky am I!” As we look forward to him creating new experiences, we sign off with him revealing the multifold secret behind his porcine tattoo, “First off, pork is delicious, that’s why. All of its parts are marked out because typically people eat singular portions, which is a shame to an entire animal being sacrificed. Apart from that, a rib tattoo was a weird, twisted way of reminding myself of the pain that animals go through when meat is procured and to remember to respect them. Lastly, tattoo artists begin practice on pig skins, as theirs is most similar to human skin, so this was a fun way to turn that around.”
As the bohemian child of India’s F&B scene whizzes off to his next adventure, we wish him farewell with the signature DSSC Rapid Fire.
The most intriguing food experience till date?
Anytime I eat something that’s still crawling and moves inside my mouth.
Favourite bar in Delhi?
It’s a tie among Monkey Bar, Perch, and 4S.
Your go-to comfort food?
The best way to drink whiskey is…?
One food trend you think should have ended yesterday?
Three F&B professionals industry who inspire you?
Manu Chandra, Radhika Misra, and Subodh Gupta.