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The leader of the pack in what is one of the most crowded categories of W42ST Best of Awards 2022, newcomer Jaz Indian Cuisine shot to stardom out of the gate with their first-year win as Hell’s Kitchen’s Best Place to Eat. W42ST caught up with founder Jaz Rupall to get her secret recipe for cooking up successful Northern Indian fine dining on 9th Avenue.
Born and raised in Hertfordshire, England, Jaz lived in the UK with her husband Tarry until 2006, when a work transfer took the family across the pond to New York, settling in the Upper West Side. “We didn’t really know anybody,” she recalled. The family’s first connection with the community was through her daughter’s time at The Dwight School.
“The same year that we moved, the Dwight School hosted a 9th grade parents’ reception at the Sherry-Netherland, and I said to my husband, ‘I’m going to pick four couples and I’ll host an Indian dinner party,’” Jaz added. “I had always loved cooking, and we hosted a lot of dinner parties back in the UK. So sure enough, I walked around the whole reception and randomly picked four couples to host for my first New York dinner party — and my network of friends grew from there.”
Her parties were a hit, and “people started asking me for my recipes,” said Jaz. “I started handing them out, but then I thought, ‘Well, hold on, why don’t I give some cooking lessons?’” Word of mouth spread, and soon she was regularly instructing would-be chefs out of her Upper West Side brownstone. “The dining room was really beautiful,” and in classic New York form, “the kitchen was really small. We would start the cooking lessons in there — we’d pour a little wine for the people doing the lesson, and instead of going home with what they cooked, they’d end up staying in the apartment to eat. So it was more like a dinner party!” Jaz laughed.
When the parties came to an abrupt halt as the heavy blanket of COVID-19 shutdowns came into focus, Jaz found herself cooking “three times a day, just for the two of us, which is ridiculous,” to pass the time. Working remotely in her full-time job at a law firm, she was missing the chance to host a wider audience and reflected on what to do next.
“I am one of those people that works non-stop,” said Jaz, “I took a step back and thought, ‘What do I really enjoy doing?’ I wasn’t looking for a full-time career change, but something else that could satisfy my passion for cooking.”
She began to explore the rapidly vacating restaurant real estate of the West Side, hoping to find a space of her own. “I focused on finding a space in Hell’s Kitchen, because Tarry and I only live a 10 minute walk away from the area,” said Jaz. She was able to secure the building that once occupied Yuqi’s Thai Cuisine, on a busy section of 9th Avenue.
With commercial properties cropping up all over town, the competition was stiff. “Four other people wanted the space, but they selected us,” she said. “We had to make a very good business plan. We decided to make it a high-end but affordable authentic Northern Indian restaurant. The UK has some of the best Indian restaurants in the world, and we wanted to make something that is the closest, if not better, in Hell’s Kitchen — which has some wonderful restaurants, but there aren’t a lot of tablecloth service places.”
She recruited top-notch chefs like Bachan Rawat (previously of Bukhara Grill) to develop the restaurant’s signature curries and Arif Ahmed (previously of Sapphire and Bombay Palace) to oversee the tandoor oven, while working with the duo to design a curated menu of North Indian favorites like Palak Paneer and Peshawari Naan. She completely renovated the dining room and designed a stylish intimate, L-shaped bar to encourage socializing at daily happy hours. After opening in February 2022, in just seven months word of mouth spread that Jaz was the place to go for high-quality Indian cuisine in an elegant yet friendly setting.
“I hear the same thing day in and day out, which is wonderful,” said Jaz. “People tell us they feel as if they’re sitting in a dining room and not a restaurant – which is exactly the experience I want them to have. I try to go around to all the tables at the end of the meal to formally introduce myself and ask for feedback, and customers really enjoy that.”
Her bar design has created new Hell’s Kitchen friendships as well: “Everyone sitting there starts chatting and exchanging telephone numbers, and they grow their network, which is nice. We now have regulars who turn up almost every day to catch up over a drink!”
“The Hell’s Kitchen community so loyal and friendly,” said Jaz — and the support from her fellow West Side business owners has been encouraging too. “My neighbors are so nice — I’ve met the owners at Medi and El Centro and Norma, and they’re very nice people. It’s really great, because this is my first restaurant and it’s really helpful to talk to them.”
Looking ahead, she hopes to continue evolving the menu at Jaz to include seasonally rotating recipes as well as develop her very own tasting table, where she can once again cook for patrons as if they were guests in her brownstone. “It’s not going to happen overnight, but in due course – I want to take this in baby steps, but it’s something in the back of my mind that I’m working on,” Jaz added.
For now, the allure of the 9th Avenue eatery has already attracted some notable interest: “Queen Latifah popped in yesterday,” said Jaz. “She was very down-to-earth and gracious. She wasn’t able to stay, but she took my business card and said, ‘this is the sort of place I’d like to come back and eat.’” You heard it from the Queen first!