Read about the inspiring journey of Chef Ayesha Sajjan, an ex-lawyer who followed her passion for cooking and baking and co-founded a cafe called ‘Quaint’ in Jaipur.
From being a professional Lawyer to opening a Cafe, Chef Ayesha Sajjan’s journey has been quite fascinating. She is the Chef and Co-Founder of Cafe Quaint, which is known for its unconventional menu and sustainable practices like plastic-free and zero-waste kitchens. Her cafe is one of the most popular places in Jaipur, owing to its delicious food! During the lockdown, Chef Ayesha started experimenting with sourdough baking,- and was often spotted around the home talking to her starters or playing with flours. Ayesha’s kitchens now churn out over 200 loaves of sourdough bread every week. When not in her whites whipping up tasty, Ayesha can be found hunched over a book, coffee (or gin) in hand, or in the throes of a mono-deal war. We were able to catch up with Chef Ayesha Sajjan to get to know about her journey!
Tell us a little about yourself and your journey from a lawyer to an artisanal Baker.
I am a lawyer by degree, a chef by profession, a sourdough-baker by obsession, a book hoarder by choice, and a champion of environmental conservation and sustainable living (because, hello! It’s important!). My journey has been extremely rewarding, yet like any other journey one embarks on, it has its highs and lows. The highs have taught me humility as I have never known before, and the lows have been the greatest learning in paving the way ahead. Through both these phases, what has kept me afloat is my passion and love for what I do.
What challenges did you have to face and what are the challenges you face now?
I switched careers at a young age, both fields are very different. I did not have the awareness as to what to expect, my biggest challenge has been staff management, the industry sees a high attrition rate, and retention and training of a team has been a constant struggle even now. Other struggles come by virtue of my gender, women bosses are never taken well in a male-dominated profession.
Can you tell us a little bit about Quaint, bistro Quaint and tryst with taste and your journey with them?
Quaint is the brainchild of myself and my business partner Twinkle Singh, we both, upon a casual conversation, ended up actually achieving a part of our dreams and following our passions. In a literal sense, quaint is a passion project, reflecting our identities in an enterprise, in what we serve, and who we are. We are a produce-driven, seasonal, local sourcing, sustainable and slow food set up located in Jawahar Kala Kendra.
Our entire interior and exterior seating is upcycled. We limit waste by having a flexible menu on the wall, the menu wall is now a part of our identity. Bistro quaint, I would say, is an extension of our ideologies again. It’s a more upmarket bistro that serves a produce-driven menu. We also bake our own bread out of bistro quaint, which are slow-fermented sourdoughs, without any additives or improvers. I do feel proud to be serving honest food.
Tell us a little about the food culture of your city.
The food culture in Jaipur is vibrant and evolving. We have a mix of everything available, from the best street food to upmarket fine dining. Jaipur is also big on coffee roasting and cafe culture. Jaipur houses some of the best cafes in the country. However, there is more acceptance and demand for vegetarian options as opposed to the contrary, yet there are eateries that still serve traditional Rajasthani dishes like Laal Maas, Safed Maas, etc. The walled city is a paradise for any foodie with street food, traditional sweets, evening tea, and snacks.
Tell us about the most challenging recipe you’ve ever cooked.
I really love challenges that are kitchen-oriented, cooking meat to perfection is always challenging, other than that I feel working with high hydration doughs is also quite challenging.
Your learnings running the Quaint?
Always stay focused on your long-term goals, growth whether it is slow or fast is growth nonetheless. work hard to build the life you want, while you’re at it, love what you do. No work by virtue of its nature is big or small, one must be prepared to do anything and everything within the scope of your work.
What would be your advice to the bakers who are just starting out?
Work toward practicing your skills and craft.
What are your go-to spots to buy ingredients for your bakery?
I usually pick up good chocolate while I’m traveling, other than that I bake bread, and the most important component for those is flour. I work with local farms across, I use nature land organic. Usually, I find most things at the market.
Do you have any baking tips for us?
Baking is a science, always follow the recipe. Use the freshest ingredients always.
Any particular recipe that made you proud when you made it?
My nana’s shami kebab recipe! I hope he’s proud of me from the heavens!
Your food mantra?
LESS IS MORE!!
Must try at quaint: Turkish eggs, waffles, Mezze platter
Your biggest achievement according to you: Keeping Quaint afloat and running through the pandemic.
Indian chefs or bakers, you look up to: Chef Zac, Chef Manu Chandra, Chef Tejasvi Chandela.
Your baking mantra: Show up and bake every day, practice makes all the difference. Staying consistent.