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A tale of two commis

A heritage building in Fontainhas houses a restaurant dedicated to Portuguese culinary fusion and built on the dreams of two innovative chefs

Rashmi Krishnan & Rebecca D'Costa

One crisp fall night in Paris, beneath the golden lights of the Eiffel Tower, two young Indian chefs drunkenly vowed to open a restaurant that would make waves in the culinary world. One year and two phone calls later, Madhav Dayal and Varun Menghani found themselves hanging up their chef’s jackets from the world’s leading kitchens to begin a new chapter as commis (junior chefs) in their own restaurant, Miguel's in Goa’s Latin Quarter of Fontainhas.

Miguel’s is a story of two young, accomplished chefs taking a chance. Images: Rebecca D'Costa

Kitchens, like many workplaces across the world, are built on structures of power and authority. At the bottom rung of the ladder are the commis. They do the grunt work – peeling potatoes, chopping carrots, juicing tomatoes, and such. Line cooks prepare and mid-level chefs plate, while the head chef manages and represents the kitchen. In other words, chefs supervise, while commis prep. Over the years however, executive chefs have grown more and more disconnected with cooking. “They rarely visit their kitchens, maybe once or twice a month,” says Menghani, who has trained in Michelin-starred European kitchens. "And they hardly cook. How can you be a good chef if you don’t cook?” He shakes his head in disapproval. Dayal, meanwhile has trained at the now-shut Gaggan and led the international catering section at Diva by Ritu Dalmia.