Honestly, I am a little upset because of this. But what can you do when a name you thought you had reserved for your own restaurant (someday, maybe… okay, we'll see about that later) gets trademarked by a global icon, Bolly queen turned Holly diva and now, food entrepreneur, Priyanka Chopra Jonas?
PC's latest feather in the cap is her luxe new diner in New York City's tory zip code – Flat Iron district. A global-Indian restaurant named, Sona (which also happens to be my mom's name) is the brainchild of Chopra and her long-time friend, Maneesh Goyal, who has been a veteran in the events' space in NYC. According to an interview in a leading international publication, Goyal and PC forged a friendship during her time shooting Quantico, the American thriller drama television series that helped place Chopra as a bona fide actor and as the first Indian woman to bag a lead role in an international project.
Ever since I saw the first post pushed out through her handle on social media about two weeks ago, I have had my eyes peeled on the developments concerning Sona. It's almost like finding out the guy you had the hots for is engaged, and draining the unintended heartbreak in a shameless stalking spree. And the more I stalk, the more I find myself checking ticket prices for flights from Mumbai to New York, notwithstanding the fact that it's a wholly pointless exercise.
Or perhaps not, because suddenly I know enough to share with equally excited bystanders all that I have learnt from my focused internet tracking. To begin with, what I know for sure is that the food at Sona is much like most refined Indian establishments present in international locations. Think vodka pani puri (which happens to be PC's idea), a buckwheat bhel with a honeycomb papdi lace, crab puri and caviar (another PC favourite). For someone who has been watching international-Indian fine-dines from afar, it's easy to spot the trends – a mix of Indian ingredients elevated through structural remodelling, combining Indian aesthetes with influences from global cuisines and the unfettered use of caviar on chaats.
Helmed by chef Hari Nayak – who launched Alchemy in Bengaluru and JHOL in Bangkok – the food is decidedly 'modern' Indian. But Nayak is not the first one to put caviar in a chaat, or play with molecular gastronomy in Indian food. For the latter, ostensibly, Gaggan Anand did it first, with a litany of chefs following in tow. As for caviar in an Indian dish, there's Atul Kochhar, who did it way before and then his protégé, Sameer Taneja who does a fish chaat at London's freshly Michelin-awarded, Benares.
That the food is still Indian at heart isn't a surprise because multiple food-cum-health and entertainment pieces on international and Indian publications, amply allude to PC's love for Indian food with dishes like dal, naachni roti, bhindi and gobi aloo cropping up in several interviews. Besides, have we forgotten the moment when almost every Indian media house we know began piggy-(pun intended)-backing on PC's picture in front of a bowl of daulat ki chaat for random, 'What the Bollywood Diva Eats to Stay Fit' type of pieces? There's also a little internet fable on PC's nickname – Piggy Chops – having to do something with her intense love for food. In fact, she's gone on record with a piece in The Indian Express saying while it's well deserved, it's something she has tired of.
Sona's menu crafted by Nayak takes this passion for Indian food, adding favourites from hubby Nick Jonas' list, too, with items like gajjar halwa and more. As for Goyal, the partner in crime, there's a small nugget of information (that appeared in Vogue's exclusive piece) that makes his involvement both interesting and obvious. The businessman's father happened to be the guy that started Texas' first desi restaurant, India House back in the '70s. Mumbaikars, on the other hand, might find it serendipitous to learn that Nayak's menu also features a Goan fish curry plucked from Floyd Cardoz's book, with permission from his wife, Barkha. Cardoz was the much-loved chef, under whose auspices, The Bombay Canteen here in Mumbai was built and who we lost last year to Covid. In fact, Sona's opening date – March 26, is a day short of his death anniversary.
But what plagues me more than the miles between me and Sona and the seemingly difficult proposition of getting a table there at the moment, is the story behind the name itself. Turns out it was teen-star Jonas' idea who simply suggested it because of its phonetic ease after picking up on it during their wedding here in India back in 2018. At the cost of indulging in some wishful thinking, can I say that it would have been nice for Jonas to check with me once, given my 'Deeper Love' for the name?
Suman Quazi is a Writer, Host and the Food Editor with India Food Network and Start2Bake. She believes that while food is cultural, societal and intellectual, it is also deeply personal and is keen in contributing towards a dialogue around food in India that's meaningful. Her work has appeared in leading Indian publications like Midday, Living Foodz, Zee Zest, Deccan Chronicle, 101India and DailyO.