There are two ways to develop the knowledge and skill to become a chef. And both can result in quality culinary artists.

One is by attending a culinary school where through study and training, a professional chef can be produced. The other is trial-by-fire – the jumping into a kitchen and via direct experience and the mentoring of other cooks, a chef can be molded.

Rinzin Wangchuk chose the latter.

Wangchuk – the owner and chef of Tandoor Indian Cuisine – arrived in New York City from Bhutan with his brother some 40 years ago. In 1979, he got a job as a kitchen helper in New York City’s Indian Oven. Wangchuk developed his skills and became a cook at the restaurant. Then in 1984, he arrived at Omaha’s Indian Oven as an established cook.

He returned to New York’s Indian Oven as a chef in 1987, and two years later after the New York restaurant closed, he was once again preparing Indian fare for Omaha diners at the Indian Oven.

In 1990, Wangchuk traveled down Interstate 80 to Lincoln to bring his talents to The Oven’s kitchen. In 1994, he was associated with Taj Mahal preparing dishes for its customers.

For the past 20 years, he has been creating dishes that satisfy his customers’ palates at Tandoor, which opened its doors in August 1999.

Wangchuk said that his customer base essentially consists of regulars – those who became accustomed to his dining creations at previous restaurants and followed him when he opened Tandoor.

“I know lots of people, and my customers have followed me,” he said. “They know me and I know them, and they know what they will get [when they eat at Tandoor]. They like to come because of our friendly atmosphere … they feel comfortable here and know us.”

According to Wangchuk, the restaurant’s lunch demographic is primarily business professionals, with families making up the bulk of the dinner dining crowd. He said that weekends are his busiest times.

Wangchuk said that Tandoor’s menu has had very few changes since the restaurant opened. There have only been one or two times during the two decades when he has had to adjust the menu pricing, but feels that his pricing is very fair.

Wangchuk has several personal dining creations that are standards on the menu such as wangchuk chicken, wangchuk tuna and bhutanese chicken.

“Customers sometimes like something a little different, so I have tried to create some unique dishes for them,” he said.

Wangchuk’s chef specialty dishes are indicated on the menu, along with notations for dishes that are spicy, vegan and dairy-free.

Tandoor’s dinner menu opens with nine appetizers ranging from $2-$10, including Mulligatawny soup, 12 oz./$3 or 16 oz./$4; aloo chaat (potatoes with onions, jalapeños, spices and tasty tamarind juice), $3; and vegetable and meat samosa, $3 and $3.50, respectively. Bread offerings number 13, ranging from $2-$5 and include a variety of naan and paratha choices.

Nine tandoori choices ($12-$25) include a customer favorite: chicken tandoori (chicken on the bone, marinated in yogurt and spices), half $10/full $16; as well as two chef specialties: wangchuk chicken (tender chunks of chicken marinated in a mixture of Asian and Indian spices and roasted in the tandoor – sweet and spicy), $12; and wangchuk tuna (chunks of tuna marinated in a mixture of Asian and Indian spices and roasted in the tandoor – sweet and spicy), $16.

There are 17 different chicken options costing $12-$12.50. These include popular customer requests: chicken tikka korma (boneless chicken cooked in a creamy red sauce, $12; chicken tikka madras (boneless chicken cooked in a mild sauce with tomatoes, potatoes, red pepper and coconut milk and roasted in the tandoor), $12.50; and bhutanese chicken (tender chicken pieces stir-fried with onions, carrots and bell peppers), $12.

If one likes lamb, there are 10 different dishes at $14.50 each. Included are lamb korma and lamb madras, lamb vindaloo (cooked in a highly spiced tangy sauce with potatoes) and lamb akbari (chunks of tender lamb cooked with dates, apricots, prunes and jalapeños and flavored with spices – sweet and spicy hot).

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The restaurant’s three beef dishes are: keema aloo matar (ground beef, potatoes and peas cooked with spices), $13; bohti kebab (juicy strips of steak marinated in Chef Rinzin’s special blend of mouth-watering spices), $15; and seekh kebab (ground beef with onions, cilantro, garlic, ginger and spices, wrapped onto a skewer and roasted in the tandoor), $13.

There are 12 seafood choices on Tandoor’s menu, all at $16 each. Among the options are shrimp curry (cooked in a thick curry sauce); salmon madras (fillets cooked in a mild sauce with tomatoes, red peppers, potatoes and coconut milk); and tuna bhuna (with sauteéd onions, peppers, tomatoes, jalapeños and ginger/garlic paste).

Six rice specialty dishes cost $11-$16. Among the choices are: king shahjahan biryani (boneless chicken cooked in spiced rice with cashews and raisins, and garnished with a sliced egg), $12; mumtaz biryani (rice cooked with chicken, lamb, shrimp, cashews and raisins, and garnished with a sliced egg), $15; or navrattan biryani (a vegetarian delight – rice cooked with mixed vegetables, raisins and cashews), $11.

A wide array of 18 vegetarian dishes at $11 each include: malai kofta (cheese rolls filled with onions, green herbs and cooked in a traditional creamy sauce); rasedar aloo choley (chickpeas and potatoes cooked in gravy with jalapeños and spices); thimphu vegetable (cauliflower, bell peppers, mushrooms, potatoes, tomatoes and jalapeños, cooked in a creamy yellow sauce); mah dal (red kidney beans and black lentils cooked with tomatoes, ginger, spices and garnished with garlic fried in margarine); and saag paneer (mustard greens and homemade cheese, cooked with spices).

“Over the years, our customers have come in with their families … their children. And now those children are coming in with their families and children,” Wangchuk said. “They have known about Tandoor for many, many years and like us.”

Obviously, Wangchuk has a winning recipe for success, as well as for tasty Indian dishes.

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L Magazine editor

Mark Schwaninger is L magazine and Neighborhood Extra editor.

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