Perched at the right-hand corner of the Royal Heritage Haveli’s driveway is a pair of wooden doors. For the world outside them, these doors seem to be the less-than-odd cousins of the Haveli’s arched frames and windowpanes, only until a turquoise blue signage lying to the right of the entrance catches the visitor’s permitting eye. ‘Café Samsara’, it says, with the least bit of imposition and a cozy deal of warmth. Take a step into this nonchalant wooden doorway and low and behold, you have entered Shambhavi Singh’s curious little world.
Vibrant hues of turquoise, fuchsia, orange and green blend into an uplifting symphony against an abundantly white space with archways and arched bay windows. A predominantly white pavement of marble paves the floor with delicate interruptions of pink. A selection of novels and board games lie stacked in a corner and a door at the diagonal opposite side of the Café opens up to Shambhavi’s very own work space, laboratory and playground, all in one- the kitchen. For its small yet sufficient size, Café Samsara’s kitchen laboriously whips up culinary delights for every season, occasion and mood. Warm, buttery croissants with artisanal coffee. An indulgent array of toasties with wasabi and chicken tikka. Home-made pasta and hand-rolled ravioli. A Kerala-styled stew with steaming appams. A rarely-curated Rajasthani thali. A clarlie-full of decadent brownies and bakes. All this and more, Shambhavi’s take on local and global cuisines has only just started, in much style and charm.
Having had commenced her hospitality journey as a teenager under the guidance of her father, Shambhavi’s evolution as a spirited host is fuelled strongly by her dual and complimentary nature, which is casual, unassuming and easygoing on the one hand and imaginative, inventive and passionate on the other.
In a much-awaited feature, Rajputana Collective takes immense pleasure in featuring the young hotelier and entrepreneur’s newest venture, Café Samsara, a contemporary dine-out experience that celebrates local as well as global cuisines in their truest form and authenticity. In a conversation that spanned two lemonades and a sumptuous Malayali lunch, Shambhavi Singh discusses with Rajputana Collective the story behind Café Samsara, her passion for cooking as well as her dream to harmonise local and global cuisines that can be delivered for the Pink City to savour.
All through her childhood and early adolescence, Shambhavi grew up admiring her maternal grandmother from Khatipura, who honed the skill of extraordinary cooking amongst her various talents. Being the youngest grandchild, Shambhavi would join her grandmother in several cooking sessions and would help her document her various recipes in the form of a cookbook. “Khatipura cooking is a mix of recipes from various provinces such as Sailana, Umarkot and many from Rajasthan. Apart from these, my grandmother learned how to cook from Chefs and khansaamas of the various places that she had travelled to. Since my grandfather loved his food, she would take the pains of sitting in select kitchens for hours on end in order to grasp a certain style of cooking or a recipe. I still remember her telling me that her curiosity to master the Rampuri rann made her spend twelve hours in the kitchen while the khansama prepared it! I admired that she was never shy in approaching people for the recipes that she set her heart upon”, says Shambhavi. One afternoon, in reminiscence of those cooking sessions, Shambhavi cooked the safed chicken that was taught to her by her grandmother, and there was no looking back ever since. Her passion and talent lay in the world of culinary delights and it was time to deliver that to the world.
Taking up her father on his desire to establish a food and beverage outlet in their family-run hotel’s premises, Shambhavi reclaimed a space that had earlier served as the Haveli’s garage and recreated it into Café Samsara. She used the rejected marble from the Haveli’s rooms at the time of construction and also used several arches and wooden fixtures from the older rooms that got renovated. Assuming that antique painting styles would warp the timeline, Shambhavi chose a more jovial and contemporary theme to her upcoming space and found colour schemes and designs that were more conveying of her spirit. “In spaces that have anything to do with working and eating, I prefer the dominance of natural light over artificial. I like for it to have a free-flowing vibe and hence, I chose to keep enormous windows to let the light in against a white backdrop so as not to make the space claustrophobic”, she elaborates.
As we proceeded to discuss her particular culinary concept, I asked Shambhavi- “why the name Samsara?
“Samsara is a Sanskrit word that can be translated into a theme that connotes the inherent cyclicality of all life, matter and existence. In the particular case of Café Samsara, it adheres to the inevitable cyclicality of all seasons and hence adheres to a deliberate preparation of food in accordance to the particular season that reigns. In a modernising world, both, preparers and consumers of food often forget that apart from being the most vital source of life, food is bound to be sustained with a deep respect vis-a-vis the various seasons and hence, is largely dominated by them. This scientific sense behind the consumption of food is duly honoured at Café Samsara and thus, it forms the dominant theme of the place”, she said in an introduction to her dining concept.
To state some practical examples of this logic, Shambhavi mentions the execution of seasonal menus in Café Samsara. “My summer menu mainly comprised of comfort food which was on the lighter side, as well as small tidbits, breads, coffees and desserts. Several visitors complained that it wasn’t substantial, because they missed the point that food wasn’t meant to be heavy in the summer due to the climate that was already warm. Summer meals comprised of light and cooling foods so as to maintain a lower body temperature while being easy to digest and hence, keeping one feeling more energetic. Conversely, winter foods are more heating, satiating and heavy such that they can enhance the body’s endurance to the cold, as well as boost the immune system to fight colds, flus, etc.” In a nutshell, Shambhavi’s relentless efforts at Café Samsara are directed towards the purpose of authentically deriving comfort food out of local and global cuisines and serving it to diverse palettes. “Food has become so fancy that people often ignore its fundamental properties for something more frivolous. That said, I have come to realise that an increasing number of diners yearn for comfort food that enlivens bygone nostalgia. Hence, my central aim is to design a culinary experience that is nurturing, enjoyable and satiating without inducing my diners into a food coma. There’s always room for dessert, and my cooking style honours this saying.”
Situating this exciting venture of Shambhavi’s into the sociocultural and logistical milieu of Jaipur has its own sets of merits and challenges, some of which the restro-entrepreneur discloses during the discussion. Locationally speaking, Café Samsara suffers a geographical disadvantage due to its distance from the city centre. Hence, Shambhavi side-steps the ‘grab & go’ concept that is a lucrative advantage for outlets situated close to important workplaces in metropolitan cities. When seen in another light though, this very geographical disadvantage comes with its own set of assets, the primary one being that of space. An abundance of space within the Haveli compound permits Shambhavi to participate in a perennial culture of home farming and thereafter, a farm to fork concept at Café Samsara. “This concept is in tandem with the dominant theme of Café Samsara that respects seasonal and scientific eating. Diners today are much more aware about their health and hence, willing to support sustainable and organic efforts even if that means an overall shortening of the foods’ shelf life”, she comments.
Amongst other challenges of operating a dining venue in Jaipur, Shambhavi mentions an unsteady availability of food produce, fluctuating expenses and a rather disheartening general obsession vis-a-vis cold storage. She also observes an overall hesitation amongst diners to trump sustainability over pricing especially so because fresh and organic produce is often as much as three times higher than their non-organic, stored versions.
On the other hand, the advantages that accompany the dining culture of Jaipur are various as well. Shambhavi elaborates some of these, “since Jaipur still remains as one of the smaller metropolitans, it enables a loyalty that is becoming rare in the choice-saturated mega cities. Due to the excess of choices, customer retention in these cities is much tougher. In Jaipur, if you stick to your product and its concept, like-minded diners are sure to get on board and remain loyal. My parents are my favourite and the toughest food critics. This is ideal for me because they motivate me to perfect the craft before serving it on the table.”
As we wound up our meal, Shambhavi let me indulge in my all-time favourite brownie at Café Samsara while taking me through her future aims and goals. With her winter menu due to launch in less than a week, she wishes to develop Café Samsara into a fine dining experience in the long run, which delves deeper into a speciality, regional-Indian cuisine style on the one hand; and her personally-curated global hits on the other. Her Michelin Star-studded dreams for Café Samsara continue to be honed by her love and passion everyday and as I dedicated the afternoon to explore Shambhavi’s curious little turquoise, white and fuchsia world, I left with a full heart, a welled tummy and an obvious conviction that blue was indeed, the warmest colour.
Until next time Shambhavi, may all your dreams come true.