CHANDANI KAUR KOHLI, FOUNDER AT BISKUT BAR.
Hi, hello and welcome. I've been advised by friends to start this section with a blurb about who I am. It might be of interest to some of you visiting the site, dare they say. My name is Chandani and in case you aren't sure how to pronounce that, just say aloud the words "on the knee" because that is what it sounds like, of course. Embarrassingly that little bit sat shot gun in the party train during my younger years sometimes winning the hearts of like minded weirdos but often times failing me. I have learned that maybe it is because the whole introduction begins with me touching a stranger's knee (naturally, for full effect). Have you touched another person's knee and tried to introduce a brown girl name? It renders the body in an awkward limp. With your back bent sideways feeling for a plausible kneecap, you try to maintain eye contact, forcing your neck to twist and caulk upwards. But no one can hear you from so low and confused glares meet your gaze as you shout seemingly random words: ON THE KNEE! It's like ON THE KNEE! Get it? Your ice breaker turns into desperation as attention turns to the lyrics of Bruce Springsteen's Born in the USA blaring on the speakers. Partygoers leave the scene thinking of many things, of which none is the name Chandani. But I guess now is a good of a time as any to point out that the CH in my name is a hard one like "chill" and not soft like "champagne" although some fun folk like to follow my introduction with "champagne." As if!
For the past 12 years I have worked at contemporary and designer fashion houses in both New York City and London. They were dream companies by the benchmark of many - Theory, Marc Jacobs, Roksanda. And if you're thinking "oh my gosh, are you a designer?" Nope! I worked in Production, the unglamorous, gritty foundation of the industry where deadlines, firefighting and negotiations were a daily challenge. Fashion was my everything and in some respect it still is (throw me an outfit and I'll make it work), but if anything this pandemic tells us, there are many industries in need of an upheaval. So let's talk food talk.
FOOD AND EXPLORATIONS.
Not too long after I got married, I had an overwhelming desire, a need, to learn how to cook Punjabi food. Naturally, we all have some expectations of ourselves when we hit a certain age. I was 30 and couldn't churn out a basic phulka (round unleavened bread that accompanies nearly every meal). Bad Punjabi wife status. But wanting to learn how to cook Punjabi food stemmed from wanting to learn how to cook period. I love to eat. I love the experience of it, dissecting the layers of flavours penetrating my mouth. It is a satisfaction I relish while fulfilling a basic need, a privilege which is never taken for granted.
I ate my way through New York City when I lived there for seven glorious years, and one of the few benefits of a three-year bi-coastal relationship is that I got to eat my way through Los Angeles. With the generosity of my husband, M, and a forgiving metabolism, I have had the blessed fortune of eating my way through many other parts of the world, a shared and ongoing passion with my husband.
Okay okay, so what's the fuss with cooking? Travel and fashion were embedded in me, but when M and I relocated our newlywed selves to London, I was not working the first few months and in exploring my new home, I was naturally inclined to deep dive into the food scene in the form of street stalls to fancy food halls, haute cuisine and farmer's markets. Tough life. And then I started to cook. The more I read about cooking, the more I fell in love with the process, and the more I cooked, the more I realized that every ingredient came from somewhere. Not revolutionary, I know, but all of a sudden I felt that I could make anything. With the world wide web at my fingertips, I made all things that I had an affinity for from donuts to the jam that filled them to gyozas and the wrappers that encompassed the spicy, garlic pork filling. Jalebis soaked in pistachio rosewater syrup? Sure. Croissants? Yes please. Ghee (clarified butter): easy. All homemade.
I loved it.
ALONG CAME BISKUT BAR.
With time, I found myself going back to South Asian sweets over and over trying to find new ways to curb my sweet tooth. I wanted to love them the way I did their Western counterparts, but I just couldn't devour the all too sweet sweets in the same way. And then as these things usually happen, I had my aha moment shortly after my second babe was born (gulab jamun points for baby making tick tick). I was gifted several ziplock bags of panjiri from my mom's friend to help with my postpartum recovery. This old school ayurvedic wellness and herbal restorative mix has been passed down for countless generations of new mothers before me in order to strengthen bones, aid in digestion and infuse a mama with nutrients and vitamins for milk production and health. Along with the panjiri, I was also gifted classic chocolate brownies and barfi.
The treats were given to me to "sweeten my mouth" in celebration and welcoming of a new life. This tradition of celebrating and delighting in sweets in South Asian culture is called "moo mitha" and it is this very act of giving joy and warm blessings that speak to me the most.
biskut bar is borne from repackaging and resourcing ingredients from those ziplock bags of the nutrient packed mix. It is borne from the lack of mindfully crafted South Asian treat options providing conscious consumers an option for Indian confections that use premium, organic ingredients packaged in reusable and recyclable materials.
Moreover, in sweetening the mouths of folks near and far, biskut bar uses a percentage of profits towards social justice and the patronage of south asian artists.
Here, I am just sharing the fun and keeping it real with a hashtag goodgood brown girl vibe. I hope that you will take the time to follow along the journey of biskut bar, one that I'm emphatically excited about. Maybe we can even be internet buds.