Chef Jai Lakhawi from Ja's contemporary fusion cuisine

Local Spotlight: Jai Lakhwani

Infusing Memories into Food


By Alita Singh


Does your gnocchi speak with an Indian accent or the other way around? Probably not. How, you may wonder, do these two end up together? In the kitchen of St. Maarten/St. Martin Chef Jai Lakhwani of Jai’s Contemporary Fusion Cuisine.


This Culinary Institute of America graduate got his start like many chefs: in the kitchen alongside his mother. He was drawn to the kitchen by the smell of the spices and herbs and the mesmerizing rhythm of the meal preparation process.


“My first memory of cooking is not actually of making a dish; it is as a teen being in the kitchen with my mom. It’s how I connected with food,” says Lakhwani. A memorable dish from this time in his life, he says, is poached mahi-mahi in coconut curry sauce.


His formal foray into the world of restaurants was with Chef Dino Jagtiani at the famed Temptation for three years before heading to the CIA in Hyde Park, New York. Following that, Lakhwani put his skills to use at several restaurants in New York, including Tabla, Oceana, Morandi, North End Grill, Tuome, and The Bombay Bread Bar.


Today, in his kitchen at the Simpson Bay Yacht Club, Lakhwani pays homage to his childhood memories and what he has learned along the way. One dish that exemplifies his journey and the story he wants to tell diners is the gnocchi tikka masala. “I always recommend this dish,” he says. “It brings together the well-known tikka masala sauce with freshly made gnocchi.”


Lakhwani wants diners to be reminded of the traditional tastes they know or have come to know from Indian cuisine, juxtaposed with his culinary twist. The goal is to make memories for the palate and the hippocampus.


“We are not your traditional Indian restaurant. This is my twist,” shares Lakhwani. “It is a melting pot of my heritage — Indian, Caribbean, and a bit of the world.” His unique twist makes Jai’s one of a limited number of Indian fusion restaurants in the world.


And what does this chef eat in his downtime? As you may expect, it’s a dish with a dash and a twist. “My easy meal is a bowl of salad… with hot sauce.”


When not in the kitchen, Lakhwani recharges and stays grounded by spending time with family and friends. Mullet Bay Beach and Karakter Beach are some of his usual haunts. These are places where he can unwind his innate desire for perfection and order, especially in his open kitchen at Jai’s.





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