In matters of cuisine and diamonds
Away from the hustle bustle of Goa’s restaurant life, Shubhra Shankhwalker serves a wholesome meal on her verandah nestled amid a serene farm. The chef is the founder of Goa From Home – a unique initiative that allows culinary enthusiasts to sample the best of Saraswat cuisine, offering century-old recipes that often dissolve into the background of the modern gastronomical scene in India. Eating a meal crafted by Shankhwalker is an undeniably intimate experience, with no menu presented – the dishes are prepared in accordance to local ingredients available at the market, and is freshly cooked a few hours before the arrival of her guests – just as her mother used to.
Tradition and its preservation hold a special place in her heart and not only is it integrated into her work but also the jewellery she chooses to wear. Defying trends, Shankhwalker treasures heirloom diamond pieces that have belonged to special women in her family and gravitates towards designs that have a sense of timelessness. As somebody often on her feet, her choice of natural diamonds act both as embellishment and more importantly are symbolic of the stories they hold. Here, the talented chef unveils more about her humble beginnings into the world of cooking and how diamonds will always be a mainstay in her life.
Unlike the usual path that most chefs follow, Shubhra didn’t hone her skills in the kitchen at a young age. “I hadn’t ever cooked until I got married. My introduction to cooking is a dual experience. My mother, a housewife, began selling pickles that later transformed into catering home-meals which gave me a close glimpse at the workings of a kitchen.” However her true learnings were carved under the watchful mentorship of my mother-in-law, an excellent cook who taught her everything from scratch. “I have comical memories of my amateur days where I didn’t even know how to clean prawns, those simple tasks gradually transformed into more complex processes that I have mastered today,” she reflects.
Shankhwalker belongs to the Goan Saraswat community – steeped in rich cultural history, especially one pertaining to food. Saraswat cuisine dates back 3000 years. There is often a perception that the community is strictly vegetarian, however when they historically made their way from Kashmir to the coastal regions of Karnataka, necessity created invention, which led to their finest experiments with seafood and meat. “In the age of commercial cooking people have a new-found appreciation for home cooked meals – it’s a therapy of sorts. The idea is to tailor-make an experience for a group of friends or family using the freshest, seasonal fare. Fresh fish, rice puris, tender coconut dosas are just some of the dishes belonging to authentic Saraswat cuisine. I want to create a soulful experience for those who visit me,” she shares.
Jewels for Posterity
Timeless Designs and Sentimental Diamonds
“I’m drawn to designs that are classic and old school in nature, I don’t get attracted to the latest trends. Diamonds have this sense of foreverness and a traditional setting is one that will stand the test of time” shares Shankhwalker when asked about an aesthetic that she naturally gravitates towards. This sense of constancy percolates into her choice of everyday diamonds that she wears like a uniform. A pair of studs featuring a cluster of natural diamonds in a floral design traditional to the Goan community and worn by brides is possibly her most prized possession. It was presented to her by her mother on her wedding day and since has reserved a permanent spot on her ears.
Her experience in purchasing diamonds is also bound by memories and never an impulse buy. “Wearing jewellery, for me, is a deeply emotional experience. I’d never buy a diamond off the shelf but on an occasion that will remind me why I bought it.,” she shares. For her daughter’s first birthday Shanhkwalker bought her a diamond – a gift symbolic of the popular line ‘Daddy’s going to buy you a diamond ring.’ from nursery rhyme Hush Little Baby that she and her husband used to serenade their child with during her nascent years. “I want to be able to recreate the same sentimental value when I buy natural diamonds as a present on her 21st birthday. Storytelling is a vital aspect of my work and the same is translated to diamonds.”
Charmed by Tradition
Tradition and Craftsmanship
Shankhwalker isn’t bowled over by the allure of contemporary design , a traditionalist at heart, for her it’s all about longevity in design. “Shortly after I got married my mother-in-law gifted me a pair of gold bangles encrusted with natural diamonds that were gifted to her by her husband. She gave me the choice of exchanging it for a pair that I liked, however I could never part with them – the memories and nostalgia associated with that pair are priceless. The pride and effort that has been applied in creating them is unparalleled and with contemporary designs taking over, this type of craftsmanship is fading and I want to be able to pass these down to posterity with the same values,” she explains.
As urban creatures we often forget about the beauty of slowing down, for Shankhwalker her practice of slowness is reflective in various facets of her life. Cooking lends her a sense of peace and contentment – a process that consumes her, in the best way possible. In the fast-paced world we live in where productivity is measured in time she chooses to cook on alternate days, this allows her to prepare for a meal well in advance so she can give her guests the best. “This unhurried assuredness puts me in a great frame of mind. If I have cooked in a relaxed state I cook with love – that energy is translated into my food. It’s the same case with diamonds, when you’re happy they glimmer differently and highlight your smallest movements or gestures as you radiate positive energy,”
All photographs by Nishi Jaiswal