Elephant Wings, a Kansas City kitchen fusing Indian flavors, is fueled by a love of... Metallica
Newly opened in Parlor food hall in the Crossroads, Elephant Wings serves up dishes like tikka masala poutine and "Bombay-mi" sandwiches. But chef-owner Ameet Malhotra didn't always have culinary ambitions.
Newly opened this month, two of the restaurant’s popular menu items include Malhotra’s tikka masala poutine and the Bombay-mi — his version of the Canadian and Vietnamese classics — providing a fresh take on classic Indian dishes.
“You don’t see the Indian flavors in a sandwich,” said Malhotra, who also offers a paneer riff and unholy cow sandwich on the menu. “That’s the ‘fusion’ part. I use the word fusion — delivered open ended — selfishly so I can introduce different things.”
His creativity in the kitchen is inspired mainly by his family, noted Malhotra, who launched Elephant Wings in 2016 as a private dining experience offering. But his cuisine also has a dash of influence from his favorite band, Metallica.
The tikka masala poutine notably was inspired by a trip to Montreal in 2014 to see the band, one of 54 shows he’s attended.
“I tried poutine for the first time and I loved it,” he explained. “I had it for four days for every meal, not the healthiest choice. Their poutine is really heavy. I said, ‘I’ve got to do something with this.’ But I never knew what I was going to do.”
Inspiration struck again years later while working in Chef Anourom Thomson’s Anousone kitchen at Strang Hall. Malhotra decided to harmonize the poutine with a tikka masala sauce for one of Anousone’s specials, he said.
“I’d never made it before in my life,” Malhotra continued. “Anourom called me over — he likes to mess with you — and he said, ‘This poutine’ — then there was a long pause that felt like a lifetime — ‘when you open a restaurant, this has to be on the fucking menu.’ And I was just blown away.”
Metallica has been a subtle muse for Malhotra long before his poutine-discovery trip to Montreal. He started listening to them in 1992, he shared, and has also learned to cook like the metal band makes music — true to who they are. He learned this lesson after adjusting the spice level for a dinner party client.
“I just had a terrible experience, personally,” Malhotra explained. “And from that day, I decided I’m going to do things my way. If I’m happy, then everyone’s happy.”
The band also taught him not to give up in his culinary journey, he added.
“Good mood: Metallica,” he continued. “Bad mood: Metallica. Sad mood: Metallica. Celebratory: Metallica. Any mood, they always bring me joy. What I get from them is their tenacity, drive, and resilience.”
Malhotra’s journey didn’t start out with culinary ambitions, he noted. When he moved to the United States in 1999 from his hometown of Mumbai, India, for design school in Atlanta, he didn’t even know how to cook an egg. After gaining 50 pounds in two years from eating processed foods, he realized it was time for a change.
A job with Hallmark brought him to Kansas City in 2001, and it was then that Malhotra decided it was time to learn to cook real food.
“I just had a couple of recipes that my grandma had written down for me before I left to go to design school and I started cooking those,” he explained. “I would have my friends over to eat, and after the fifth time of eating the same thing, they’re like, ‘Dude, this is great, but let’s try something else.’”
So he channeled some of Metallica’s creative energy and started to experiment, Malhotra said. He exchanged ideas and recipes with his dad, and began cooking with him when he traveled to New York, something his dad used to do with his grandfather.
“That was the big push for me,” Malhotra added.
He continued to invite his friends over to try out his new recipes, he noted, leading to three or four dinner parties a month in his 650-square-foot apartment.
“The thing that makes me the happiest is — when I feed people — to see their expression and the joy my food brings to them,” Malhotra shared. “That’s the end goal, I think.”
His love of hosting and feeding people and his friends’ insistence that he should open a restaurant led to him starting his dinner party business. Malhotra wanted something that would allow him to still keep his full-time salary and health insurance and not have the overhead expense of a restaurant, he said.
“So I came up with Elephant Wings, where I go to people’s homes to do private dinners — five to seven courses for between eight and 20 people,” Malhotra continued. “I would do that on the weekends when I didn’t have my son.”
'A different ballgame'
When Malhotra was laid off from Hallmark in February 2020, he decided it might be time to make the full-time leap to the culinary world, he shared. Through a friend, he connected with Thomson and some of the managers with the Strang Chef Collective.
“I was supposed to do a tasting for them the first week in April,” Malhotra said, “but then you know what happened on the 15th of March.”
The pandemic also forced him to pivot his dinner parties, he noted.
Malhotra advertised on social media, offering to-go portions for pick up at his home. Once pandemic restrictions started to let up, he realized that the no-guarantee nature of dinner parties wasn’t financially sustainable.
So he reached out to his Strang Chef Collective contacts again to see if any of the kitchens needed help. That got his foot in the door serving up southeast Asian food — like bahn mi sandwiches — and learning the ropes of working in a restaurant kitchen at Anousone with Thomson, while doing dinner parties on the side.
“I learned a lot from him,” Malhotra explained. “I always say this, I wouldn’t be here without him. And if I was here, it would have taken a little longer.”
After working at Anousone for a couple of years, Malhotra gained the confidence to try Elephant Wings as his own restaurant concept, he continued. In 2023, he was chosen as one of the featured vendors for the season at Iron District, a container park in North Kansas City, which is open from March through November.
“I wouldn’t be here without that experience,” Malhotra noted.
“It’s just a different ballgame,” he added, of the restaurant business versus private dinner parties. “It’s a lot more work, but it’s really exciting.”
After hearing there was a vacancy at Parlor in November — and right before leaving to see a Metallica show with his son in St. Louis — Malhotra called up the general manager, who expressed interest in setting up a meeting, he shared.
“When the time is right, the time is right,” he said.