09/10/2014 08:32 am ET Updated Nov 10, 2014

Love Letters: Nashville

As co-owner and chef of Nashville's upcoming Chauhan Ale & Masala House, Maneet Chauhan's Indian roots and newfound affections for Southern cuisine have collided. Born and raised in India's Punjab province, Maneet attended culinary school and was soon working in some of India's most luxurious hotel properties. Shortly after relocating to the U.S. and attending CIA Hyde Park, she became the executive chef of Chicago's Vermilion, where she spent eight years. Since then, she's competed on Food Network's "Iron Chef" and "The Next Iron Chef", and is now a full-time judge on the network's hit show "Chopped." Maneet has also written her own cookbook, Flavors of my World, and introduced a signature spice line. Chauhan Ale & Masala House is her first venture in restaurant ownership.

"How would you like to open your first restaurant in Nashville, Maneet?"

STOP. Did I really just hear these words coming from my telephone? I immediately had about 101 questions racing through my mind.

First off, where on earth is Nashville anyway? Tennessee? Do people even eat Indian food there? How will I get ingredients? Where will I find a staff? Will this be a smart and strategic move? Why not Chicago or New York? After a good amount of thought, a bit of trepidation and an excellent portion of hope, I decided to say: "Let's see what you have in store for me, Nashville."

I packed an overnight bag and hopped on a plane. The new, unchartered territory that greeted this nearly jaded New Yorker upon landing is something that has changed my entire life. I have been introduced to a city that completely embodies the concept of southern hospitality. From the bustling honky tonks that sprinkle the streets of downtown to those warm "y'all" greetings -- and let's not forget the highly addictive hot chicken -- I fell head over heals like a smitten schoolgirl. I could easily pen an entire novel on why I love this city, and believe me I am a lifelong advocate of the Big Apple, yet somehow Nashville weaved its magic around me. It completely drew me in. My partners are so proud of their city, it only took one short trip for me to get hooked; since then, I have fallen in love over and over again for the Music City.

I have a few standard staples that I could never miss while in town, like the fresh charcuterie options from East Nashville's Porter Road Butcher, shopping at the Nashville Farmers Market or visiting the Country Music Hall of Fame. I've also developed a slight addiction to Hattie B's Hot Chicken, preferably ordered medium - it's now my first stop off the plane. I could also spend hours walking around the 12South neighborhood with a coffee from Frothy Monkey and, if I'm feeling adventurous, I'll hop in the car for the 20-minute drive to Loveless Café for their incredible biscuits.

The youthful vibe Nashville exudes is intoxicating and contagious, especially amongst the culinary scene, which lures so many great young chefs to places like City House and Rolf and Daughters. There is a camaraderie and deep-rooted sense of community. The local businesses have been so welcoming and so open to working with each other and supporting one another. A prime example of that is our partnership with the team from Cool Springs Brewery in Franklin, who are working tirelessly with us to create a line of beers for Chauhan Ale & Masala House.
The locals are hungry and thirsty for growth and change and it is so refreshing!

Nowadays when people ask me where I call home, I say I am a "Nash-Yorker". After all, home is where the heart is and my heart is now divided. Only one thing is certain, every time I return to New York from Nashville, I walk down the streets with a silly grin, just smiling at everyone I see and more often than not, receiving a suspicious glance in return... but honestly, I wouldn't have it any other way, y'all!