A graduate of the California Culinary Academy, Akhtar began his culinary career working in top kitchens through San Francisco, including Bizou, where he worked under Chef Loretta Keller, as well as Jardinière and La Folie. In 1998, Akhtar moved to New York City to work at the renowned Gramercy Tavern under Tom Colicchio. After four years, he was enlisted by Colicchio to open Craft as its sous chef. The restaurant went on to receive three stars from The New York Times in 2001 and was named “Best New Restaurant” by the prestigious James Beard Foundation in 2002. One year later, Colicchio opened Craftbar, with Akhtar helming the kitchen as the restaurant’s Chef de Cuisine. His menu for Craft’s casual sibling earned the restaurant and Akhtar a strong local following.
Seeking a change, Akhtar accepted the position of Executive Chef at The E.U., a then-struggling gastropub in the East Village. Through Akhtar’s guidance and vision, the restaurant received renewed attention and acclaim for his original menu of modern pub fare, combining European tradition with an American sensibility. Frank Bruni of The New York Times recognized Akhtar’s cuisine as having “frequently clever touches,” and New York magazine named his duck egg one of the top ten best egg dishes in the city.
In February 2008, Akhtar opened Elettaria, achieving his ultimate goal – owning a restaurant where the menu is a true extension of himself. For Akhtar, this meant a foundation of seasonal American ingredients prepared with Indian spices and combinations of flavors with which he grew up. Elettaria, the Latin word for green cardamom, offered a nod to his heritage, while staying true to his “less-is-more” style of cooking. The restaurant earned a loyal following.
Akhtar has received various top accolades throughout his tenure in the industry, including the 2007 StarChefs.com NYC Rising Star Chef award as well as being named one of the top ten emerging chef talents in the U.S by Marion Batali in Coco: 10 of the World's Greatest Chefs, 100 Emerging Culinary Stars (Phaidon, 2009). In 2009, Akhtar appeared on the Food Network’s “Iron Chef America”.
A native of Louisville, Kentucky, Akhtar’s interest in the culinary world began at a young age through his mother’s native Indian meals, which taught him that cooking played an important role in upholding his family’s heritage. Rolling out homemade bread was a kitchen chore he considers an inspiration for pursuing a career in the culinary arts.