Chef Amninder Sandhu On Her New Venture, Indian Cuisine & More
Image Credit: Chef Amninder Sandhu at Bawri, Goa

If you ask Indians about the leading women chefs of India whose contributions are incomparable, Chef Amninder Sandhu’s name is bound to come up pretty quickly and stay right at the top of any conversation. In a career spanning almost two decades now, Sandhu has done some amazing work, right from running kitchens at The Taj to launching India’s first gas-free commercial kitchen in Mumbai. In 2018, she made her way through the Netflix global food competition, The Final Table. During the pandemic, she set up her delivery-only service called Iktara too. 

But if you are wondering what Chef Amninder Sandhu is up to right now, then get ready to go crazy with excitement because her new venture along with Sahil Sambhi, is a stunning Indian restaurant called Bawri in Goa’s Assagao area. Slurrp caught up with the National Award-winning chef in an exclusive interview, and here is everything she had to say about her new restaurant as well as the age-old recipes and cooking techniques she’s bringing into focus through it. 

Setting Up Bawri, An Ode To Indian Regional Cuisines 

“The last restaurant I did was Arth, which was based on absolutely gas-free cooking,” starts Sandhu while explaining the journey behind Bawri. “Right before I started with Arth, I had finally found my rhythm in cooking and everything started making sense to me. The restaurant shut down due to reasons that were not in my control, but it left an unfulfilled desire in my heart to learn from my mistakes and give this another go. After Arth, I was approached by a lot of people to collaborate and start a restaurant. I connected with Sahil Sambhi through a common friend and I found him to be extremely enthusiastic, driven and willing to push boundaries. So, pairing up with him somehow felt right to me.” 

But after working primarily in Mumbai, what inspired Sandhu to shift to a Goa-based restaurant? She says it was Sambhi’s idea and she went ahead with it. “Once I came on board, we created the concept, look and feel of the place,” she explains. “And we finally launched Bawri in Goa. The reason for picking Goa was primarily for the gap we felt that could be filled here by a restaurant like Bawri. I was very pleasantly surprised by Goa and the response we got. I think people coming to Goa are in a holiday mode, so they notice more of the efforts because they can have unhurried meals.” 

We asked Sandhu to describe what Bawri is all about, and here’s what she said: “Bawri is all about regional Indian food, especially elaborate Indian recipes,” she explains. “It is an honest attempt at keeping India and the guest at the centre of a creative culinary experience, make it all about Khana and Khatirdari with humility. I’m trying to source ingredients locally, but I’m also conscious about sourcing ingredients from their places of origin. Like I use Gutti Aloo which comes from the Northeast, I use a Manipuri black rice, but I also use a wild mango which is grown in Goa in our property to make a Wild Mango Curry. There is also a huge emphasis on cooking techniques, utensils and other ingredients. There is no refined oil in my kitchen. I use cold-pressed coconut oil sourced locally, ghee, vinegar, Goan chillies—most of which are locally sourced.”  

A Menu Packed With Regional & Local Ingredients 

Creating a menu is a process, and when it comes to the Bawri menu, it is quite evident that Sandhu dug into her lifelong experiences. "I have age-old recipes like Kakori Kebab, which is a very skill-sensitive recipe and it is hard to get the balance right,” she says. “When you eat a good Kakori Kebab you know it is done by a seasoned chef, and I take pride in getting that right. So, the Kakori Kebab, the Raan, the Biryani, the Gutti Aloo in an almond gravy, Dahi ki Khameeri Roti, Black and White Gajar Halwa are all recipes that I added to the menu because of the value they add.”  

But what have been the major regional influences on the Bawri menu, we asked, and Sandhu explained more about her own origins. “I would say that you can’t put this menu in any particular bracket,” she says. “I’m a Sardarni and I grew up in the Northeast, so my experiences and influences reflect on the menu. I have cherished childhood memories of growing up with unique ingredients from the Northeast, and I have very strong Punjabi roots—both of these show up in the menu. These are dishes I have learnt through my travels, my working in different cities and through meeting people.”  

And yet, at its core, everything at Bawri is about upholding India’s regional culinary heritage and bringing focus back to recipes that are quickly becoming rare. “It’s very important for us as Indians to take pride in our own food and preserve our culinary heritage in whatever way we can,” Sandhu says. “There are so many recipes that are now almost lost, you know? The Wild Mango Curry I make, for example. There are multiple guests who told me after tasting it that I remind them of their grandmother, or say that their mother used to make it like I do—but that person has never tried making the dishes in their own home.” 

Cooking With India’s Heritage Utensils & Cooking Techniques  

A key thing to note here is that at bawri, Sandhu is focusing not only on age-old recipes but also age-old cooking techniques. She explains how she does not use any non-stick and stainless steel utensils in her kitchen, but instead relies on traditional Indian cookware. “We make our chutneys on the Sil-Batta,” she explains. “We do our dry masalas in a mortar and pestle. I cook most of my gravies in a heavy-bottom copper Lagan, and I use iron Kadhai as well. I use a lot of cast-iron cookware. My crockery is all a mix of terracotta, copper and handmade stoneware. The handmade crockery is supplied by Curators of Clay from Pune, a group I have worked with a lot in the past. The terracotta crockery has been picked from Mapusa market in Goa.” 

And of course, Sandhu relies on traditional Indian no-gas cooking techniques too. “I have two Tandoors, one made of clay and another of iron. I also use a Sigri and I have a wood-fired oven which I use to make my large Bawri-special Naans,” she says, while explaining that cooking on the Tandoor may be an old practice, but it is very difficult too. “The origin of Tandoor comes from our first Sikh guru, Guru Nanak Dev. He encouraged women to make their dough at home and then come to a community Tandoor called the Sanjha Chulha to make the rotis and then take them back home. He encouraged the Sanjha Chulha to get rid of the caste system and have people of all religions come and cook together. He envisioned that we would interact and build a community around this Tandoor. So, the Tandoor started out as a very feminine cooking technique, but commercially, over time, it became more masculine.” 

So, how does she, as an inspiring woman chef of India, work on such a challenging equipment every day? It is a tough thing, but Sandhu does it with such dedication that she makes it look easy enough. “It is a tough equipment to work with, it is not user friendly, and it is not meant for the faint-hearted,” she says. “The tandoor is super-hot, you burn your hands, and so, you don’t often see women work on the tandoors in commercial kitchens. The smaller Chulhas worked better for women cooking at home, and the Tandoor was used to for bulk cooking. I think now this is beginning to change and as we learn to take more pride in our own cooking techniques, it is gradually growing among women professionals too. I think people who cook on Tandoors should be just as celebrated as sushi makers in Japan and tortilla makers in Mexico.”