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The chef who extracts flavours and food memories from charcoal cooking

Chef Amninder Sandhu dives deep into childhood and travels for her new restaurant Bawri in Goa

Chef Amninder Sandhu (left); and a selection of food and drinks from Bawri.
Chef Amninder Sandhu (left); and a selection of food and drinks from Bawri.

Childhood memories and food are intertwined. Which one of us doesn’t have fond memories of eating a simple khichdi while sick, or stealthily plucking fruits from a tree? 

“For me, my childhood is a huge part of my inspiration for cooking. From the first decade of your life, you have a very strong memory of food and you don’t ever forget it. That’s the story I want to tell through my menus,” says chef Amninder Sandhu. She grew up in Assam, and polished her culinary chops in Mumbai.

Last week, the Pune-based chef opened a restaurant in Assagao in Goa by partnering with restaurateur Sahil Sambhi, co-founder of the Gurugram-based hospitality company House of Yuvi. The restaurant, named Bawri, features dishes from Sandhu’s childhood as well as regional specialities she discovered while travelling. Sandhu, who became a hotel management trainee at 17, has worked at the Taj Lands End in Mumbai, and started her own restaurants and cloud kitchens like Nora and Ammu in Pune.     

In 2017, Sandhu became the head chef at the now shuttered Arth in Mumbai. The restaurant was one of its kind, being the only gas-less kitchen in the city at the time, she says. Instead of electric stoves, natural sources of fuel were used, often utilizing wood, charcoal, and chulha.   

Her interest in this type of cooking came from the time she worked as the head chef of the restaurant Masala Bay at Taj Lands End, Mumbai before she joined Arth. For one of the menus, she collaborated with the granddaughter of Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala, who shared her family heirloom recipes with Sandhu.  

“Those recipes had never been shared with anybody outside the family before and they were all handwritten. They had instructions like, ‘You must use the chulha.’ When I read something like that, which is so old and precious, it moved something in me, and I decided that in my restaurant, I would not use an electric stove,” she says. 

The philosophy that gas-less cooking makes food taste better and perhaps more authentic also finds its way into Sandhu’s new venture, Bawri. The restaurant promises open fire cooking and dishes from different corners of India like Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Manipur, and Karnataka.  

Sandhu chose Goa because she felt there was a gap in the market for a chef-driven Indian restaurant. This meant that along with the team, she could curate not just the menu, but also the décor and ambience of the restaurant and add her own touch to it.  

She faced a unique challenge when opening in Goa, while making billai gilori, a popular dessert in Lucknow. The dessert relies on malai, or milk skin, that forms specifically on buffalo milk. The malai is dried out and then stuffed and folded like a paan.  

“I struggled with sourcing milk for the longest time. The milk that I was getting didn’t create the right thickness of the malai as it was not pure buffalo milk. It’s honestly a simple recipe if you have the correct ingredients, but it took me months to get right,” she explained.  

The kitchen at Bawri is the first time Sandhu has used an iron tandoor. She explains that this is because the bread that drips with ghee cannot be cooked on a normal tandoor as it tends to fall off. Charcoal-fired ovens are also used which lend smoky flavours to the different meats, like mutton chops, achaari chicken tikka, and mutton seekh kebabs.   

Sandhu has always been vocal about preserving local dishes. “For this restaurant, I travelled the coastline around India to find more recipes. I also went to Alleppey, Trivandrum, Coimbatore, and Coorg. The wild mango curry, which is on the menu, is something that I learnt from a home chef in Coorg and has been my favourite thing to cook recently.”  

Along with the wild mango curry with noolputtu, a steamed rice batter dish, Sandhu also recommends the kakori kebabs with chutney made the traditional way – with a sil batta (mortar and pestle). The raan biryani with Kashmiri saffron, with slow-cooked mutton, is another favourite.   

The menu features dishes from Sandhu’s own childhood like hay smoked chicken. Sandhu explains that the stuffed chicken dish was a favourite of her family based in Assam and was always cooked in an earthen pot. At Bawri, this memory translates into the dish, jungli murgi with bhavnagri chillies, a variety of chillies exclusive to Gujarat.  

Another recipe inspired by her childhood spent in Assam, with family excursions to Arunachal Pradesh, is the Naga crispy pork salad with pomelo. “We had a pomelo tree growing up, and this was how we ate it,” Sandhu reminisces. She puts her own spin on the dish by adding macadamia nuts.  

For dessert, diners can tuck into a serradura ice cream sandwich, which has been inspired by the Goan layered pudding of sweetened whipped cream and biscuits.   

Black and white gajar halwa also features on the menu, with raw wild honey and nolen gur ice cream. Sandhu explains that she first stumbled across white gajar halwa in Delhi and wanted to put her own twist by adding black carrots.    

The cocktail menu draws inspiration from regional flavours too. For example, the tanka tequila cocktail is inspired by Odisha’s tanka torani, a fermented rice beverage infused with curd. Sandhu especially recommends the Leni Deni, which brings together gin, coconut, and oxidized kokum port, as a perfect accompaniment for the meal.  

“At the end of the day, I’m a cook and I must do so sincerely with lots of love. It’s about cooking, above all the fluff and limelight,” Sandhu says.

Dishes start at  350 onwards with cocktails from  675  
Where: House No. 3, Survey no.161/11, Saunta Vaddo, Assagao, Goa – 403507  For reservations, contact: 92050 56766.  

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