Chef Manish Tyagi believes wholesome, sustainable California dairy ingredients make his signature Indian-fusion dish that much more compelling.

Chef Manish Tyagi has always done things his own way. That was never more evident than when, in the midst of the pandemic, he opened his restaurant, Aurum, in Los Altos, California. It was a risky move, coming at a time when more independent full-service restaurants were shuttering rather than opening.

But Aurum has been a smash hit in the Bay Area, thanks in large part to Tyagi’s innovative takes on traditional Indian dishes. Tyagi’s artistry is on full display in Aurum’s best-selling dish: a spinach and paneer pasta dubbed “I’m Not Pasta.” The entreé uses thinly-sliced Real California paneer cheese to mimic lasagne noodles, sandwiched around a filling of brown garlic, fenugreek leaves, and California mozzarella. The lasagne-like creation is cooked and then plated atop a spicy tomato sauce and finished with basil oil and chili threads.

“At any Indian restaurant, you’ll find a paneer dish,” Tyagi says. “But I don’t do any Indian dish the way you’d find it in a traditional Indian restaurant. I add my own style to it. It’s a very old culture and cuisine, but there’s always room to present it as a new version. So when somebody sees ‘I’m Not Pasta’ on the menu, there’s a surprise element to it, but the color, texture, and taste of the dish speak for themselves.”

The REAL Makers video series spotlights chefs using California dairy in new and exciting ways. Tyagi is featured in a recent video, showcasing his dish as a great example of the versatility offered by California’s over 250 varieties and styles of cow’s milk cheese products and how California dairy can drive menu innovation. The video with Tyagi highlights the “chef hack” of substituting pasta in favor of paneer cheese. It also showcases why a chef like Tyagi uses California dairy products. Not only does California produce more dairy than any other state according to the USDA, but the paneer and mozzarella in “I’m Not Pasta” are sustainably sourced.

In an interview with FSR magazine, Tyagi expounded on why he prefers dairy from California farms. For one, he believes it’s a higher quality product than chefs can find elsewhere. He also believes in sustainable practices, and, according to the California Milk Advisory Board, California farmers are more than halfway to a statewide goal of 40 percent less methane emissions by 2030. The California dairy industry’s carbon footprint has shrunk 45 percent over the past 5 decades, and about 40 percent of a California dairy cow’s diet consists of byproducts from food and fiber production—like almond hulls and grape pomace—keeping these byproducts out of landfills and reducing the amount of water needed to grow additional feed by around 1.3 trillion gallons per year.

For these reasons, Tyagi relies on Real California Cheese and trusts that it performs as well or better than anything a restaurant could make in house.

“I like California dairy for both its consistency and taste,” Tyagi says. “And because it’s from here, the taste is California.”

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