Junoon, NYC

Monday, July 30, 2012

Food …..is the craft of eye that fills the appetite of stomach. With its aroma it attracts millions of people from all over the world to its enigmatic premise for a meal. It is indeed an arena of creativity which though we can see it but unlike buildings cannot retain it. Hospitality industry has been one of the most vital industries. Food earlier was only meant to fill your appetite but crafting a creative perfection to enhance its vision has also become a very important aspect these days. When we talk about the plate’s appearance how can the ambience of the place be neglected? More than the food, the restaurant has to speak about itself, with its interiors and its specialty.

With all these criteria’s in mind, New York based Restaurateur Rajesh Bhardwaj, Founder & Ceo, of Junoon, always wanted to uplift the prima fascia of Indian food on a global platform. With this emerged Junoon, a restaurant for exclusive Indian food, with ambiance that entices the diners and makes them feel in India, even at NYC. Rajesh made an effort to showcase Indian restaurant n cuisine as modern, eclectic n compatible in international dining destination.

After finishing his management training at ITDC, Rajesh completed his Masters in hospitality Management at Scuola International di Scienze Turistiche Rome, Italy. On returning to India, he joined the Taj Group at Delhi and after some years he left for NYC. After spending sometime over there he realized that the food sector, worldwide, lacked knowledge of Indian cuisines, even after the Richness of its spices and authenticity, globally its existence did not have the kind of awareness as it should. Somewhere in his subconscious mind this thought pertained to develop a platform on a Global level to create the identity of Indian food in one of the most authentic restaurants that would speak through its architecture the essence of the Nation. With further inspiration from family and friends finally in the year 2009, Rajesh decided to proceed with his dream project.

With the mission statement that “It should be seen as a restaurant which serves Indian food and not an Indian restaurant.”The parameters of this project began with search for a property which he coincidently found on the main business hub in Manhattan’s, Chelsea neighborhood. With lease of the place automatically he crafted the elements and demarcated the zones in his mind. All he needed was an architect for execution. Most architects he met had some patient and signature elements in their style which unfortunately was not intersecting with the picture he had already visualized in his mind. Finally through common friends he was introduced to Tarik Currimbhoy.  Tarik, is an  US based Indian Architect, whose roots are connected from the city of Mumbai. His 3 dimensional interests took him to the Pratt Institute in the States where he completed his studies and established his firm in 1983.

When Rajesh explained what he had in mind, it hardly took Tarik to get at the nerve of it. Very soon the design concept got ready and the execution of the work got started. Tarik started by combining the Old World Indian artistry and modern elegance, which was what exactly Rajesh had in his mind. This included the undulated basket woven front façade in black limestone which adds a silky texture and a tinge of regality to the front façade of the restaurant. Crafted with art of delicacy, the 100 feet long silky black wall breaches its monotony with a glazed surface that allows a glimpse of the lounge area within. The artistic idea of the limestone, quarried from India, is actually its hand woven art that consumes 6 hours to get one block chiseled. These blocks of basket weave are hand-chiseled into horizontal ribbons of concave and convex expressions, and are laid together to create the illusion of a weave, that starts off by being opaque, and moves into a vertical open screen and creates a noticeable look from any viewer. The facade continues through the parchment of the entrance door into the vestibule keeping the flow in sync in accordance with its ambiance. The vestibule has a water body located at the centre - 6 ft square and made of Corten steel with a patina finish. It was done by a sculptor Michael Tong). Even with usage of stone the acoustic of the area is balanced well with a wooden false ceiling which enhances the warmth of this area with Boci lights hanging over the water body which are known as The Rain Drops. On the right is the changing area with lockers for the staff.

The vestibule leads you to a 13 feet wide corridor in front with a reception desk in the front and centre being aligned with 8 pieces of free standing sand stone carved blocks termed as 'Tree of Life'.
The tree of life, symbolic in eastern cultures of the cycle of birth death and rebirth, is a subordinate theme throughout the restaurant. It is expressed repeatedly in art and in sculpture to take one through the various destinations of the 16,000 square-foot space. These blocks are rested on a watered enclosure that acts as cooling element below and simultaneously lit by Boci’s Rain drops lights, that provides warmth to the corridor and enhances the carving on each block at the same time. The water body is designed Corten steel that acts as a reflecting pool crafted by the sculptor Michael Tong. The flooring chosen for the corridor was that of hand chiseled Cuddapa stone tiles. This Corridor is the main attraction of the restaurant which segregates the dining areas into open and private one on its either sides. This is mainly called - The Junoon walk, which is a 50 feet long walk. This walk is actually the cynosure of the restaurant. The passage ends at a huge Venetian mirror that creates an infinite appearance of the passage and extends the Junoon walk to infinity. On either sides of the Junoon Walk are the dining areas. The basket weave sculptures in the entrance, as well as the sequence of eight-foot tree of life pyramid sculptures are designed by Tarik Currimbhoy, and created by Sana Stone.

On the entrance to the Junoon Walk at the left is the Lounge, whose interiors are visible from the approach at the front facade of the restaurant. The lounge area has been interestingly planned with blend of contemporary and antique furnishing elements. With an evenly distributed seating zone on one end and the bar on the other, the lounge area gets well defined in accordance to the mood of the room with usage of elements like: cork flooring, cross-cut wooden walls, the tree of life and also the mirror panels. The most striking feature in this area is the hand crafted jhoolas (swings) in burma teak wood. The grandeur of the space gets magnified with the typical antique pattern design of the jhoolas that successfully draws all the attention of its guests and the uniquely placed candles in the centre adds a tinge of equanimity in the space. Another striking element used in the lounge is an abstract painting of ‘the tree of life’ by Dolly Unithan. The flow of the theme swiftly moves in this area and harmoniously blends its beauty with the steam bent furnitures used in the space. The lounge provides a space for 50 guests and the privacy of every table is well planned while designing.

Walking back to the 50 ft long Junoon walk, as mentioned above are the dining area on either side. The experience of dining has been portrayed in a very different manner in both the dining areas. The smaller dining area on the right is the private dining section which is popularly termed as the Jaipur Room. The room drew its name from the heritage style of the arcaded entrance in Teak wood. The ornamentation of this wood reminds of the rich Art inheritance from the pages of historic carvings. A series of 5 arches welcomes its guests in a splendid Indian style that makes one feel back at home.

Walking past this 110 year old wooden framework one reaches to a 45 seated eloquent dining hall, with simplistic interiors crafted in a cozy ambience for comfort and muted with serenity. Framed in tranquility, stands the mirror, on the front wall adding to the glitterati to this serene zone.

On the other side of the Junoon walk is the main dining area. A brobdingnagian space defined with seating space for 100 guests, demarcates the most unique idea in its distribution of space which is the – Open Kitchen. From the dining room, guests have a clear view of the chef and staff in the 
restaurant’s open kitchen, where they craft dishes spanning India’s many renowned culinary regions. Junoon features all the five elements of cooking: Handi (pot cooking), Sigri (open fire pit), Pathar (stone), Tawa (griddle) and Tandoor (clay oven). The most interesting part of this dining hall is its sync with the kitchen where diners can view their orders getting cooked. Rajesh while he was planning the construction of this restaurant was also formulating his team simultaneously. Through a cookery show - Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Night mares, his younger son Akshay, spotted their Executive Chef. Akshay was only 13yrs old at that time asked Rajesh was aware of Vikas or not. Through a another common friend Vipul Mallick who happened to know Vikas set a meeting between them  – Vikas Khanna, who happened to be the crowning jewel behind every culinary item in the Restaurant.

Walking back to the Junoon Walk one can see a staircase leading them to the basement area. The most vibrant part of the restaurant, which inactively activates life in all cuisines, is its spice room. The basement lobby leads one to this spice room on one side and the washrooms for guests on the other. The spices collected and stored over here are chosen from all over the world. An array of fresh spices is carefully measured, roasted and ground daily and made into a unique blend to be used in the marinades and sauces for each day before the process begins again the next morning. Temperature-controlled and glass-encased, the spice room ensures that Junoon’s dishes are seasoned with the brightest and boldest flavors. 

The other entrance to the basement is through its kitchen side which is also a parallel/ service entrance. The spice room is connected by various rooms in the basement. The other most interesting room is the Yoga room out there, where all the chefs/ staffs practice yoga to compose themselves. The thoughtful approaches towards its employees really creates an enigmatic ambience for serving the food lovers from throughout the world in this vivaciously  planned yet compact and cozy looking restaurant. 

The 145-seat restaurant features five techniques of Indian cooking, gleaned from Khanna's culinary-researched jaunts. Designed with passion and serving with love and perfect blend of Indian and Contemporary elements is 
what exactly Rajesh had on his mind and with help of Tarik Currimbhoy and Vikas Khanna, he made this place to stand out as one of the most unique and styled eatery of the States. With a warm touch of Indian hospitality, Junoon is a successful evaluation as a distinct place of celebration; it is one of its kind and a perfect place to unwind through its exotic interiors and of course mouthwatering yet heart touching dishes.

Text – Pamelyi Kapoor

Design Details :
Design team –Tarik Currimbhoy and team with Rajesh Bhardwaj
Year of Completion – 2009
Cost of the Project –Approx 5 million US Dollars
MEP Consultant – RIP Consultants
Area of the restaurant – 16000 sq ft

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