Posted in

Bollywood Meets Hollywood at Baar Baar LA

Photos: Neil John Burger
Photos: Neil John Burger

Chef Sujan Sarkar’s love for food began while growing up in a suburb of Kolkata, India. The influence of local cuisine soon developed into a culinary passion inspired by the sweet and savory memories of his childhood home. That, coupled with his background in art, fashion and design, also allowed him to explore the infinite possibilities of taking New Indian cuisine to the next level, with restaurants in New York City, Chicago, and now the West Coast. His latest venture is Baar Baar Los Angeles, where the flavors of Bollywood and Hollywood dance, turning into dishes that harmoniously mix innovation with tradition.

What is your earliest memory of food?

My childhood was deeply influenced by a natural respect for farming and local produce. I grew up eating a variety of Bengali food at home and other regional Indian food during my college days, which helped me develop a better understanding about simple ingredient-driven cuisine which is highly seasonal, and is still etched in my memory. A strong connection with one’s roots will inspire stories, and any initiatives I have been undertaking are backed by a strong story.

Do you remember the first dish that you cooked growing up? What was it and how did it go?

I never imagined that I would be a chef. However, in every Indian household guests come home every weekend. I used to help my mother make the pooris. I still have some burn marks on my hand because of that (laughs). My mom used to say, “I am rolling the pooris, you fry.” So that is how it started.

You almost studied fashion design. Why did you decide to pursue a culinary career?

I have always been fascinated and inspired by art and design, so I had briefly considered a career as a fashion designer. But life had other plans, so I just took the opportunity when it came my way and it has been a never-ending ride since then.

There is an artistry to your dishes. Tell us more. 

Art has always interested me from the very start; being in an environment like London and New York, has further pushed me to continue exploring. It has certainly had an impact on my philosophy as a chef. Going beyond food, I involve myself in the overall restaurant concept, interiors, artwork, cocktails, music, ambience, the entire experience – inside and outside the kitchen.

What kinds of challenges did you face early on while establishing yourself as a chef? 

Frankly, I’m not sure I remember the professional challenges so well. I’ve just come to adapt to them. But personally, finding time for my family is a big one.

What kept you going despite those challenges?

I think passion, willingness to push forward and people around me are the most important factors to overcome any challenges.

What sets Baar Baar Los Angeles apart from your other restaurants?

I’m driven by wanting to break stereotypical ideas and keep bringing a New India to the world. The choice of Indian restaurants in America has been very vanilla. Most of the places have focused on the food and a more traditional interpretation of our cuisine. It does not do justice to the rich variety and also growth that our palates have experienced. We’re constantly pushing boundaries at Baar Baar to showcase an entire New India experience – from the food, cocktails and ambience, to even our music.

Talk about your favorite menu items at Baar Baar. What makes them so unique and delicious?

Our menu is diverse and full of surprises, from our Dahi Puri, to Tuna Bhel with Passion Fruit Rassam, to Tandoori Monkfish Osso Buco, and desserts like Ghewar with fresh mango. We have plenty of vegetarian options along with meat, fish, poultry and desserts. We make everything from scratch in the kitchen and blend traditional recipes with fresh Californian ingredients.

How do you source your ingredients?

I always try to use seasonal and local produce as much as possible in my menu. We work with local farmers, fishmongers and butchers to get the right ingredients, tailor-made to our dishes. I often visit produce markets and nearby farms to maintain the relationship and to know more about the trend. Our spices and other specialty ingredients come from certified suppliers based in California.

How do you honor and celebrate your roots with your dishes?

The creative process is very atypical. I look at simple Indian dishes and think about how I can change the perception of that dish, while keeping the same flavor. The core spirit of cuisine at Baar Baar is no matter how innovative it gets, with ingredients, presentation or even technique, it must be a showcase of Indian flavors. I create dishes based on my childhood memories, my travels, and seasonal ingredients which are trendy and fun.

How do you mix tradition and innovation?

By preserving the integrity of the cuisine, I re-imagine and focus our experimentation on the right elements. It’s not fusion, it’s New Indian cuisine. I am not deviating from the fundamentals of Indian cuisine. I try to retain the essence of the same flavors, while showcasing it in a modern and contemporary way which is a combination of fresh local produce, regional Indian flavor and modern cooking style and presentation.

You also have some Bollywood influences in your cocktail menu. Please tell us more about that.

I always wanted to bring Mumbai and LA together and our cocktail menu represents the sentiments of Mumbai in L.A. through Indian cinema. Cocktails are named after movies from different eras and emulations of Bollywood movies.

Baar Baar is located in sprawling downtown L.A. What do you love most about the city’s food scene?

It’s very diverse with so many unique concepts. It’s informal but ingredient focused, light, and flavorful. From amazing baked goods at République to Middle Eastern at Bavel; classic French fine dining at Camphor to Indian sports bar Pijja Palace, the list is endless.


Marc Cuenco

Marc Cuenco is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer with over 10 years of experience covering pop culture, food, fashion and lifestyle. A healthcare professional by day, Marc spends his free time taking photos of his puppy Chandler and exploring L.A.’s diverse food scene.


Leave a Comment