Meet Our First-Ever Guest Chef, Besharam's Heena Patel – Salt & Straw
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Besharam ConeBesharam's Yogurt Lassi w/ Raspberries

 

Prior to the onset of COVID-19, Heena Patel was on a runaway streak. She had just taken full control of her regionally specific Gujarati restaurant, Besharam (Urdu for “shameless”), which had been awarded the 2019 Eater SF’s Restaurant of the Year. As a graduate of incubator La Cocina, she has crafted a restaurant that is about so much more than just food. For Patel, sharing her Gujarati food means getting to tell her story, on her terms. To pen a love letter to the land she once called home. We recently chatted with her on all things Besharam:

What inspired the creation of Besharam? 

English is not my first language, and neither is my food. I had to prove myself. Whatever I do, I have to achieve it. And this is beyond that; this is how I tell my story. I'm so excited about Besharam, because there is no limit if you really want to do something. 

You’ve mentioned that you didn't start out cooking. What drove you to the space you’re in now - going into the La Cocina program, opening Besharam, and all of the things that have led you to today? 

With my family, having my children and raising them here, my husband and I were the only team we had. My friends are my family - I don't have any others. You kind of try to survive, like, “What’s next? How do I make money?” and I knew my strength was cooking, I knew my food was good. But I didn't know how to do it professionally or how to achieve that goal. That drive kept me going, out of necessity, more than anything.

Sometimes this is the story of the first immigrant, which so many people go through. It's very hard. It took away my younger years, because you only think of how to survive, and you miss living life, but now I'm catching up. This is my passion, and I’m having fun. At this point, I don't want to have any regrets. Even when I'm eighty, I don't want to feel like I didn't try. So that always pushes me to achieve more.

What excites you about your career and your company?

Telling the truth through my food and having emotion in what I serve. I get jitters before every service, because I put my heart into everything I make. With my food, I want to connect; I want to take you back to a memory. Each and every page of the menu has a story. I want to make sure I have that no matter what I serve, it’s more than just food.

Can you tell us more about your venture into ice cream?

I was excited because I had never done ice cream before. I wanted to see where I can take my flavors, what I work with. 

We hear you’re a big fan of cheesecake - you even have your own signature flavor. Did that inspire any part of this ice cream flavor?

Back home, we make this dessert out of yogurt, but here in America, you all grow up knowing cheesecake. When I came, I remember thinking “What the heck is this? Cheese never tasted this good!” I wanted to take this flavor of one of my favorite desserts to serve as the cheese, and the crust is made with Parle-G biscuits. Every household in India all had those cookies at home. I had five sisters, and my mom would allow us each to have only two cookies a day - that’s it! As a child, all I wanted when I grew up was to be the manager of this company because I thought if I grew up to be the manager, I could show my mom how many cookies I could eat. I love those cookies, so I use those as the crust of my cheesecake; I wanted to combine two of the best things I know in one flavor. With the cheesecake, it has more saffron and it’s very pronounced. Here, with the lassi, we wanted to go with the cumin and make it more savory. 

You know we have to ask: What’s your favorite ice cream flavor? 

Vanilla 

We are so honored to have worked with Chef Heena Patel to create Besharam's Yogurt Lassi w/ Raspberries and to be able to share it with you! In this lassi-inspired flavor, delicate rosewater and a hit of cardamom are balanced by ripples of raspberry jam infused with toasted whole cumin seeds. Spice-forward and unabashedly unbelievable - just like its namesake.