Maneet Chauhan
Credit: Brandon Benson

Celebrity chef Maneet Chauhan is finishing her year on a high note. In addition to regularly appearing as a judge on Food Network’s Chopped, she recently opened her debut restaurant, an Indian gastropub in Nashville’s Gulch district. Now a self-proclaimed “Nash-Yorker,” with a touch of the travel bug, she sat down with T+L to talk TSA agents, Diwali, and and Music City’s new food scene.

Q: Tell me a little about your new restaurant.

A: My new restaurant, Chauhan Ale and Masala House, is an Indian gastropub. The menu has both traditional Indian favorites as well as some signature preparations I’ve been perfecting over the years. And there’s a strong emphasis on beer and craft cocktails, with both utilizing the many flavors that define Indian fare. My husband, Vivek Deora, and I have spent the past year working on incorporating spices in the brewing of beers, and these beers—like our saffron cardamom IPA or Chai Porter—are the cornerstone of this concept.

Q: Can you share a few favorite dishes from the menu?

A: Obviously I love everything on the menu—I’ve been dreaming this up for years! However, one highlight is the Garam Masala Pork Belly with apple-frisée salad and tamarind gastrique. We also have our own spin on the popular “meat and three” served in a traditional Indian tiffin.

Q: Why Nashville?

A: Nashville is a very cool, quickly expanding city, and it’s an exciting time to be here as a culinary professional. There are so many restaurants and chefs who offer all kinds of inspiration. Also, as a business decision, it makes sense; the largest convention center in the South recently opened here, so business is booming.

Q: When you’re in Nashville, where do you like to eat?

Q: How would you describe Southern hospitality?

A: The best way I can put it is everyone is so friendly. Even the TSA agents at the airport are sunny!

Q: You just recently got back from India—Tell me about your trip.

A: The reason I visited India was twofold: first being Diwali in Jaipur, and second, a traditional "big, fat" Rajput wedding. Diwali is the Indian new year and the Festival of Lights. It’s India’s equivalent to Christmas, and one of the most fun, and vibrant festivals, ladened with fireworks and the most delicious foods.

Q: Do you have any food-related travel advice you could share with our readers?

A: I think food is one of the most exciting parts of traveling. I strongly suggest trying to find places where the locals eat. They lead you the most amazing, freshest foods out there. Be experimental and look at traveling as a learning experience. Embark on any journey with an open mind.

Caroline Hallemann is an assistant digital editor at Travel + Leisure. You can find her on Twitter at @challemann.