rowing up in Louisville, Kentucky on his mother’s native Indian meals, Akhtar Nawab understood that cooking played an important role in upholding his family’s heritage. Rolling out homemade bread was a kitchen chore he considers an inspiration for a career in the culinary world. Akhtar now pays homage to his upbringing and his experience in top New York kitchens with the opening of his restaurant, Elettaria, in Manhattan’s West Village neighborhood.
Akhtar’s introduction to the restaurant business began when he took a job at Ditto’s Bar & Grill while attending the University of Louisville. He accepted a position at the kitchen’s pantry station and learned everything he could about running the restaurant. After several years, he knew he had discovered his calling.
To pursue his passion, he moved to San Francisco to attend the California Culinary Academy, graduating in 1996. His first job out of school was at San Francisco restaurant Bizou, working under Chef Loretta Keller, whom he respects greatly for teaching him that he still had much to learn. He later pursued further training at Jardinière and La Folie, also in San Francisco.
In 1998, Akhtar moved to New York to work for Tom Colicchio at Gramercy Tavern. Over the course of four years, he spent time at all of the kitchen’s stations. In 2001, he joined Colicchio to open Craft as its sous chef. The restaurant went on to be selected “Best New Restaurant” by the James Beard Foundation in 2002 and received three stars from the New York Times in 2001. One year later, he went to Craftbar where he was chef de cuisine and later executive chef. His menu for Craft’s casual sibling earned the restaurant and Akhtar a strong local following.
Seeking a change, Akhtar accepted the position of executive chef at The E.U., a then-struggling gastropub in the East Village. He helped bring renewed attention and acclaim to the restaurant with his original menu of modern pub fare that combined European tradition with an American sensibility. Frank Bruni of The New York Times recognized Akhtar’s “frequently clever touches,” and New York magazine named his duck egg one of the top ten best egg dishes in the city. In 2007, while at The E.U., he was chosen as one of StarChef.com’s Rising Star Chefs.
In February 2008, Akhtar opens Elettaria, achieving his ultimate goal – owning a restaurant where the menu is a true extension of himself. For Akhtar, this means a foundation of seasonal American ingredients prepared with Indian spices and combinations of flavors he grew up with. Elettaria, the Latin word for green cardamom, offers a nod to his heritage, while staying true to his “less-is-more” style of cooking. Along with partner Noel Cruz, whom he worked with at Craftbar, Akhtar has created a restaurant that offers an honest reflection of his interpretation of American food, and the inherent diversity of that term.