How L.A.'s Coolest Restaurant Family Cooks at Home
Pawan Mahendro is standing shoulder to shoulder with his eldest son, Nakul, staring at a cutting board on the granite kitchen countertop in the home Pawan shares with his wife, Anu, in Anaheim. "You're cutting the onions crooked," Pawan gently scolds Nakul in Hindi. Across the kitchen island, his younger son, Arjun, laughs as he tussles with the cork of a bottle of wine.
Arjun, Nakul, and their parents are the family of restaurateurs behind Badmaash, a modern Indian concept with two locations in Los Angeles. Since opening nearly nine years ago, Badmaash has helped set a standard for what a modern Indian restaurant looks like, with a cutting-edge wine list, incredible hospitality, and a catchy hip-hop playlist. If your local Indian restaurant is serving chicken tikka poutine, tender lamb burgers, or a saucy fried butter chicken sandwich, you can thank the Mahendros.
When they're not running their restaurants (they also own a catering kitchen and Burgers 99, a fast-casual burger spot), the Mahendros try to gather weekly for family dinners, though Anu admits that it's closer to "a twice-a-month thing." Each person lends a hand in the family kitchen. "Dad is the chef at the restaurants, but mom is the chef at home," says Nakul, who for his own part is acting as a prep cook, dicing the vegetables for the coleslaw. Anu is in charge of the noodle salad; it's a recipe she came up with nearly two decades ago after wanting to create a healthier and more flavorful version of KFC's macaroni salad. Pawan, who likes to joke he is Anu's sous chef, readies fish fillets for his fried fish sandwiches, dredging each piece in flour and spices. He uses two stainless steel thalis, or rimmed plates, handed down to him from his grandfather in Amritsar, Punjab.
Arjun is on what Nakul calls "vibes duty," making sure everyone's wineglasses are filled and the playlist remains robust. Conversation zigzags between Hindi, Punjabi, and English, punctuated by raucous laughter and occasional ribbing. Nakul's wife, Saloni, wanders into the kitchen to grab their energetic three-year-old son, Shivam, who is looking for snacks, as their dog, Timbit, barks in the backyard.
For the Mahendros, work time and family time bleed together the way cream swirls in coffee—it's impossible to separate the two spheres. This is evident in the way they cook, too. Though they are at home, little details betray the fact that they are a professional restaurant family: the industrial-size roll of cling wrap that sits on the counter, the small plastic bag into which they throw trash and scraps as they cook, the way they clean as they go—just as they do in their professional kitchens. "Pawan taught us all these tricks," says Anu. But a close look at the kitchen also reveals the Mahendros' personal family story in small details: the aforementioned thalis from Punjab, the bright red coffee maker stocked with Tim Horton's coffee that marks the family's time in Toronto, the bowls of Doritos and sleeves of Oreo Thins on the counter—American snacks that they fell in love with when they moved to Los Angeles.
The Mahendros spend their days in their restaurants making plates of verdant saag paneer, a rich coconut fish moilee, and vats of butter chicken, so when it's time to relax, their family meals are often less Indian than people might expect. Sure, the coleslaw might be laced with Indian spices like cumin, and there will definitely be cups of masala chai after dinner, but tonight, they just want to eat and enjoy each other's company and cooking. After all, the most important aspect of the meal is that they are eating it together.