Indian Chef Executive Take Out fills a gap in Creekwood
The Indian Chef Executive Take Out in Creekwood is busy on a Friday night. The phone is ringing with requests for several orders of Prawn Goan Curry, Palak Mutton and Lamb Vindaloo. Butter Chicken is a favourite, says manager Manu Hallait, while Paneer Lababdar, an Indian cottage cheese in a gravy, is a close second but regardless of their orders, customers often call to compliment the chef.
Meanwhile, customers stand at one corner of the counter where Hallait is serving Pani Puri from what looks like a street cart, just as they would be traditionally sold in India. She delicately pokes a hole in the crispy round crepes before adding a mixture of potato, chickpeas, chaat masala along with a mint and tamarind liquid.
“They’re a summer snack in India,” she explains. “They keep people cool. You just pop it whole in your mouth.” A bite into the crisp fried crepe gives way to a mouthful of intense yet refreshing flavour.
On the other end of the counter is a large display case full of colourful desserts, ranging from those made of pistachio and saffron to Besan Burfi, which is comprised of chickpea flour and ghee. A few customers are enjoying these sweets while awaiting their takeout orders — they’re seated at a few tables that only recently appeared due to customer requests.
Within walking distance of Creekwood, the area’s amenities are grouped together in strip malls with Indian Chef among them on 141 Street SW, including several businesses such as a daycare, a pharmacy and a dry-cleaner. While there are some restaurants including a few pizza places and fast food chains, no other options quite like Indian Chef exist yet.
It’s the main reason that the owners decided to open the restaurant in the neighbourhood. They knew there would be a demand for unique and traditional options. “And the area is really good because there are a lot of communities and people are willing to spend money ongood food,” says Mohit Uppal, co-owner and chef. Creekwood stood out from the beginning as an ideal place to set up shop. With co-owner Rajanpreet Malhi, they hoped the diversity of people would find their food interesting and, so far, they have.
Uppal developed the menu based on food from northern India, where he grew up. There, he was involved in helping his family run businesses, but his passion for food was always a constant. Food in India is a big part of life, especially celebrations, he says. He remembers attending birthday parties at big hotels where platter upon platter of traditional dishes would be served. “I like the style of food over there,” he says. “Food is everything. Life is food.”
After moving to Edmonton 10 years ago, he began pursuing his passion, cooking in various restaurants with the idea that one day he would open his own. At the time, Malhi was a regular at the restaurant where Uppal was a chef, and also wanted to start a business. He was impressed by Uppal’s cooking and his idea for a concept so the two partnered up. They hired Hallait as a manager as she had worked with Uppal before — the three all have Indian backgrounds and a passion for business and food.
Uppal got to work creating a menu that represents some of the interesting options found back home. But he also wanted to ensure that his customers would have options for a variety of palates. “We know that the Canadian person has different taste — some people love spice, and some are very mild. So, I make different types of things to keep in mind the taste of people,” says Uppal who moved to the Creekwood area shortly after opening the restaurant.
Since opening in February, the team has been impressed by the huge amount of support they have received from people in the community, according to Hallait. “We did a bit of advertising on Facebook when we opened. And just stepping into the neighbourhood, people were blowing us up on social media, especially the homeowners page in Chappelle. Every other customer would walk in and say, ‘Hey, everyone is talking about you’,” says Hallait.
Both Uppal and Malhi are incredibly appreciative of that support. So much so, they are always looking for ways to demonstrate that appreciation. Every weekday, they offer specials to their customers, like a complimentary vegetable dish or fried chicken plate if they spend over a certain amount. They have had specials of all kinds in the past — and customers regularly call to ask what deals they are currently featuring.
Hallait feels a lot of satisfaction knowing that many people in the area are fans of their food. One story in particular sticks with her. A regular mentioned that while on a trip to Las Vegas, he could not stop thinking about their food. As soon as he came back, he came into the restaurant. “So, that’s really nice to hear. That he went all the way there, and is still thinking about us,” she says.
By Caroline Barlott
Photography Daniel Wood