By Debbie Ashton
Noori, where were you born and brought up? What was your childhood like?
I was born in Punjab in Northern India. I grew up in a very traditional way, learning my cooking skills from my mother, which was the cultural norm for a young girl. My parents enabled me to try some jobs before I was to marry. I taught in a local school as well as working as a beauty therapist!
Were you destined to be a chef from an early age?
Cooking is a must in every Punjabi or Sikh house. We as children grow up on the smell of a variety of dishes. My mother often cooked, and my father was a chef and ran his own establishment in Germany, so cooking was in my blood. In our culture it is vital for a girl to be a good cook in order to find a good groom as the question is always asked by the groom’s side at the time of first meeting ‘Can she cook’?
How did you meet Raj?
Raj’s mother Sneh knew that her son would want a life partner without any complication. He’s a simple man at heart who wanted a wife to form a partnership with, not to rule. At that time, he was a successful Bollywood actor, living in London. We met once for a couple of hours in Delhi and it was love at first sight. I felt so comfortable with Raj, and we both agreed to the marriage. We met twice more, once for the engagement and once for the marriage! We had fallen for each other at our first meeting, so I was certainly excited about joining him in his life in London.
You are well-known name as an acclaimed chef. Who do you give the credit?
My mother in-law encouraged me to turn my passion for cooking into a profession. She has always been supportive, and whilst we were working to bring our dream and vision to fruition, she helped take care of our two children who were then extremely young. This has enabled us to show our children a good work ethic, so that we may inspire them also to work hard in their lives, at whatever they opt to do.
Tell us about your partnership with Raj?
Raj has enabled me to have a platform, to have a business, from which I can shine. He has always seen me as an individual with my own skills and potential, recognising from day one that I am a good cook. We work together and are totally supportive of each other’s vision. Raj’s experience and his very calm and composed approach to any difficult situation has been extremely helpful in creating a synergy that allows us both to still smile and laugh together. There are times when it is stressful, but he is my rock, and I am his.
How did you end up in Wales?
We wanted to live in a completely different environment to the busy streets of London, we wanted
a little more space and fresh air, and Wales seemed perfect. Rod James, the landlord of the property (which houses Indiana), has been an amazing support! We could not be more grateful to him and his mother. We initially met him on a recce and he remembered we were aiming to open a food business in the area and let us know when a premises became available after our initial contact with him. The rest is history!
What made you both want to open a restaurant?
We had a joint vision of the business, and while at first we had considered a Tiffin business, we always knew that we wanted to open a restaurant. We intended to take it in stages and build up to the restaurant, however it had become very clear to us that we would be able to open this restaurant much sooner than anticipated due to the premises Rod James had available. What sets us apart would be the authentic, non-westernised taste and flavours (cooked fresh with love, care and passion), as well as the dining environment we had created.
What inspires you in the kitchen?
Empty plates coming back to the kitchen! Knowing that people have enjoyed their dining experience with us continues to inspire and encourage me to keep innovating. Another thing that inspires me is the number of people who ask to meet me during the evening’s service. It’s gratifying when they tell me how much they have enjoyed their meal. It’s great to hear this directly from diners!
What are your future ambitions?
We plan to try a few different things in the future. We have an outside area which is to be known as Indiana Village, where we will have an outside bar, tandoor, and will serve authentic street food.
Despite my formal posts, it’s amusing to let everyone know that I am actually a vegetarian! This is surprising to many as I prepare all the meals, regardless of the presence of meat, but I am still able to cook it with special care for tenderness, flavours, etc.