When hip Indian restaurant Babu Ji opened, Eater critic Ryan Sutton named its Colonel Tso’s cauliflower — a take on gobi Manchurian — one of his top dishes of 2015. A lot has happened since then, between two wage theft lawsuits and the closing of the restaurant.
But with an April 20 opening of Badshah, a new Indian restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen, that same Colonel Tso’s cauliflower shows up on the menu in what appears to be a hat tip to Babu Ji. Yet it’s not so much a tribute as a claiming of the dish.
A former cook at Babu Ji, now the head chef at Badshah, Charlie Mani claims he created the dish when he was at Babu Ji, yet Jessi Singh of Babu Ji says it’s not true.
Recipe plagiarism is nothing new and claiming ownership of a dish is a variation. Back in 2012, Momofuku founder David Chang weighed in on the topic, telling Eater, “a lot of people spend a lot of time developing new, really cool stuff — often not operating at a profit — and then get their new ideas swiped by someone else without attribution. We’re all guilty of not giving enough credit, but there are some cases that are too obvious.”
Whether Badshah created the dish is in dispute for the moment. The question is, why make the claim?
“When I worked at Babu Ji, that was my recipe. I introduced that dish,” Mani says. “I’m so happy it’s become such a successful dish, even though my name didn’t come out. To me, my dish is more important than my name, and now I can do something even better than that version.”
Babu Ji owner Jessi Singh denies Mani’s version of events. “Yes, Charlie did work at Babu Ji, although not for many months before Babu Ji’s closing. He did not create that dish,” he wrote in an email. “I slightly adapted the [popular Indian dish gobi Manuchrian] and wanted to put it on the Babu Ji menu, specifically because my family and I love eating that dish together in our local restaurant in India. For the Babu Ji menu, Jennifer and I thought of a name that we thought would be really fun for the dish, calling it Colonel Tso’s Cauliflower. That is the history of the dish at Babu Ji.”
Regardless of whether Mani created the dish or not, Babu Ji remains an influence for the chef and owner of Badshah, Abishek Sharma. “I was inspired by Babu Ji,” he says. Sharma also owns Surya and Swagat. “His [Babu Ji owner Jessi Singh] concept and this concept is a little different. We are doing a chef tasting menu, like what they used to do over there because we want people to try all our ingredients and dishes, and we want to do a lot of wine and beer pairing and cocktails.”
That sounds pretty close to what Babu Ji offered, but Mani described his menu as plays on street food in a sit-down space. There are also some healthier takes on Indian food, like incorporating quinoa onto the menu, which you can see in full below.
Badshah opens tomorrow, and will be open daily from 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., with lunch or brunch to start next month.