At her acclaimed restaurant, Indian chef Helly Raichura challenges the cliches on Indian cuisine
Having gained recognition as a guest judge on MasterChef Australia, and with an extensive waitlist at her initial 10-person pop-up dinners hosted in her own home, Indian chef-owner Helly Raichura has now found a permanent home for her culinary vision.
Since its opening in 2022, Enter Via Laundry, the best Indian restaurant in Melbourne, has consistently embodied Helly’s unwavering dedication to spotlighting the diverse and vibrant regional cuisines of India through a rotating tasting menu. By delving into native ingredients, ancient techniques, and the rich cultures of India’s diverse regions, she aims to shift the focus away from ordinary curries and well-known dishes like butter chicken.
We caught up with the chef to delve into her culinary philosophy and explore how she reclaims the narrative surrounding Indian cuisine, expressing the wildly creative and diverse ways in which taste and identity can be interwoven through the art of cooking.
This interview has been conducted with the help of the dining experts at Westpac Concierge. They are on hand to help with all your bookings and bring you exclusive perks at some of Australia’s most-coveted restaurants. If you’re a Westpac cardholder, you might already be eligible for this service.
In conversation with chef Helly Raichura, the culinary master behind Enter Via Laundry – the best Indian restaurant in Melbourne
A culinary heritage nurtured in the heart of Gujarat
Raised in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, Helly’s culinary journey began in a family that revered the art of cooking.
At home, dinner was more than a meal; it was a cherished tradition, a time to relish her mother’s expertly prepared Gujarati dishes. It was here, within the walls of her childhood home, that her love affair with food truly ignited.
Here, she not only discovered the joys of cooking but also imbibed the crucial values of sourcing – ‘there was a lot of thought put into where our food was coming from’ she recalls, and the art of pickling. Concepts that have recently gained popularity in the western culinary scene were, for her, a matter of common sense, as she grew up practicing the principles of seasonality and preservation. Early on, she’d lend a hand with prep work, soaking rice, cutting vegetables, and kneading dough, all under her mother’s watchful eye.
But life’s path can be unpredictable. Despite her passion for cooking, Helly’s parents encouraged her to pursue higher education abroad, leading her to the distant shores of Australia in 2007. Over the years, she completed an undergraduate degree and embarked on a career in human resources. Yet, her culinary dreams remained ever-present.
It wasn’t until her first maternity leave that Helly decided to rekindle her passion for food, initially starting a small cake business. However, the focus on aesthetics over flavour left her craving something more. Thus, the seeds of Enter Via Laundry were sown.
A journey from home gathering to culinary reimagination
In its early days, Enter Via Laundry was an intimate affair, a way for Helly to share her love for cooking with friends and family, recreating the warmth of gatherings back home in India. Inspired by a desire to learn and grow, she sought mentorship from culinary masterminds like internationally acclaimed chef Gaggan Anand, and Shaun Quade, of South Melbourne’s Restaurant Lûmé fame. Their influence nurtured her discipline, honed her technical skills, and encouraged her to experiment with new ingredients.
As Enter Via Laundry’s popularity surged, the confines of Helly’s home could no longer hold her culinary ambition. Thus, a series of pop-up experiences in various locations became the next chapter of her culinary journey.
In March 2022, this project took a permanent form in Carlton North as a restaurant. Yet, despite her growing success, Helly stays grounded in her belief that Indian food culture revolves around home cooking. She explains, ‘We put out our best dishes, ceramics, and cutlery when we have friends over, during the festive season, or when celebrating a wedding. We wanted to stay true to that.’
At Enter Via Laundry, Helly continually reinvents her menu, much like the ever-evolving tapestry of Indian cuisine. ‘My food is a discovery of food from my motherland that has an advanced ancient culture carried forward to date’ she says. She seamlessly combines Indian ancient techniques and recipes with native Australian produce, infusing flavours like lemon myrtle and finger limes. Her passion for hyper-regional Indian cuisines drives her to explore the vastness of her culinary roots.
‘I feel immense pride to be representing my culture through my food, hence food when misrepresented does not sit right with me as it is not representing my culture appropriately.’
Preserving tradition as a path to reinvention
One notable distinction in her fine-dining approach is the presentation of dishes in a more traditional manner. She cites the example of her kingfish paturi, a dish that is traditionally served with rice at home in India. ‘For us, it’s an exceptional luxury.’ she says but she was afraid people might ask what is so special about a rice-based dish. She’s committed to preserve the authenticity of her culture’s culinary traditions as she feels changing Indian cuisine so that it’s more broadly accepted means losing the unique craft attached to it and eventually its soul.
In a world where Indian cuisine can be typecast by popular dishes, Chef Helly Raichura dares to challenge the status quo. She brings together diverse regional influences, redefining the very essence of Indian gastronomy. With each plate she crafts, she invites diners to embark on a journey, rediscovering the authenticity and versatility that make Indian cuisine a treasure trove of flavours waiting to be explored. Cooking in this permanent home and sustaining it is what brings her joy for now and when asked about what’s next she says she has ‘sprout of imaginations’ popping up her brain that are just dreams for now.