Shraddha Bhonsle | Global Indian

A royal feast: Yuvrani Shraddha Bhonsle’s modern touch to Sawantwadi’s culinary heritage

Written by: Mallik Thatipalli

(March 10, 2024) The Japanese word ikigai is used to describe the very passion that gets you out of bed in the morning—your reason for being. One conversation with Yuvrani Shraddha Lakham Sawant Bhonsle and her ikigai is unmissable. Spending 15-day workdays on things she is passionate about—cooking, reviving handicrafts, and living her life to the full—this 32-year-old royal is all about giving her best every single day.

Shraddha Bhonsle | Global Indian

Married into the royal family of Sawantwadi that has been ruled by Sawant Bhonsles since 1627, life has taken a huge turn for the Mumbai girl, who, in a real-life fairytale, has seen her transform post-her wedding to Lakham Bhonsle of the Savantwadi clan. Today, she is the chef and owner of the Sawantwadi Palace Boutique Art Hotel and the Managing Director of Shri Sawantwadi Lacquerwares, which oversees the handicraft business.

Energetic, passionate, and realistic, the young scion is all about creating a difference. Be it her unique cuisine that marries traditional Sawantwadi styles and dishes with international recipes or her hands-on approach to running the hotel, she is an exemplary example of modern-day royalty working hard to ensure that the legacy of the past is safeguarded for the future.

Chasing her dreams

Growing up in a large Gujarati joint family, Shraddha remembers her childhood with fondness. She recalls, “I grew up surrounded by friends and family; it was a very regular childhood from the 90s.” One person who had a lasting impact on the young girl was the principal of her school, Walsingham House, Mrs. Bindu Mittal, a legendary educator who inspired her to follow her dreams.

Shraddha Bhonsle | Global Indian

Shraddha pursued a business management course, but an instantaneous decision changed her life forever. The Global Indian explains, “It was a spontaneous decision, but something that changed my life. I always wanted to start a restaurant of my own, so I applied for the position of assistant stewardess at the Oberoi Mumbai, and that started my culinary journey.”

She went on to work at the popular Indigo Delicatessen restaurant in Mumbai, where, while she worked to the bone, she picked up the rudiments of running a kitchen. Be it 16-hour shifts, peeling potatoes by the ton, or washing endless vegetables, she did it all. “It was there that I realised that the kitchen is everything to me. A desk job was not something I was suited for, and the kitchen, temperamental as it is, is my home,” she states with a laugh.

The next step on her journey was studying at the Culinary Institute of America in New York for a 22-month course, where she also met her future husband. As a part of her course, she worked at the Michelin-starred restaurant Oceana, which she calls a life-changing experience.

“Though I was dangerously dehydrated while working there, I picked up both knife skills and life skills there,” she jests and adds, “I understood how an act as simple as picking basil or coriander leaves can add to a dish. The discipline and cleanliness as well as the rigor and passion of running a kitchen I picked up there taught me a lot.”

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While she returned to India in 2016 to be closer to her family, she went back to the US a year later to be a certified sommelier before getting married in 2019 and moving to Savantwadi.

Princesses diaries

Just an hour’s drive away from Goa, situated in the Sindhudurg district of Maharashtra, on the Goa-Maharashtra border, Sawantwadi is a picturesque town famous for its sleepy forests, kokum, wooden toys, and delicious Konkan cuisine. Moving back and starting a restaurant was at the top of both Shraddha’s and Lakham’s agenda, and the heritage property seemed like the perfect setting for the young couple to start their dreams.

As the chef of the hotel and someone keen on innovation, she brings a unique flair to everything she creates. One dish that perfectly illustrates her culinary journey of bringing the best of the East and West is Sawantwadi Po’Boy.

She explains, “Po’Boy is a sandwich that originated in the US, so there is American influence (because of my education in the CIA) in terms of the classic French roll bread and a remoulade sauce. There is Asian influence (because of my love for Asian food) in the sandwich in terms of Vietnamese pickles and herbs and a spicy sriracha sauce, and there is Sawantwadi influence in terms of thetcha butter, rava-crusted prawns, and a solkadhi (sauce)”

Along with traditional Maharashtrian heartthrobs like aamti or thatlipeeth, she whips up eclectic dishes like the Sawantwadi Special Eggs Benedict (that pairs House-baked croissant buns with coconut chili chutney and a dry curry leaf chutney) and others using regional produce like cashew and kokum generously championing hyperlocal cuisine.

Shraddha Bhonsle | Global Indian

Yuvraj Lakham Bhonsle Raje and Yuvrani Shraddha Bhonsle

One area in which the restaurant distinguishes itself is when Shraddha serves Japanese and Korean dishes for dinner. A huge Ramen fan, she makes her own noodles and says, “I love these cuisines as they are very palatable to Indians. They are slow-cooked and are served with local ingredients. I want people to leave thinking they have never tasted food like what we make.”

That is something she is succeeding at, given that the Palace is slowly but surely gaining favor with gourmands, food aficionados, and new-age Indian travelers who go for experience as much as for sightseeing.

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Given Shraddha’s extrovert nature, was it easy for her to adjust herself to the pace of a small village after the hectic life in Mumbai? She smiles. “It took me a while, of course, but now I have my work and my friends in Goa (which is an hour’s drive) apart from my family.”

Culinary royalty

Working with her husband (who is a baker and a pastry chef), the duo has simple ground rules. While he takes care of the finances, she is in charge of management, and when it comes to their first love, food, they agree to disagree. She shares, “We are friends first and foremost, so we decided that the cold kitchen is his territory while the hot kitchen is mine. While we do confer with each other on the dishes and respect each other’s decisions, we ensure that we never interfere with each other.”

The future is all charted out for the enterprising entrepreneur: to extend the number of suites in the hotel from six to ten, to convert the family’s erstwhile summer palace (in Amboli, which is a half hour’s drive from the palace) to an eco-resort, and to expand her kitchen garden.

Given her penchant for ikigai, one can see Yuvrani Shraddha Lakham Sawant Bhonsle achieving all this in no time!

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