Juhu Beach Club Lives On in Memoir with Recipes

Preeti Mistry on the line at Juhu Beach Club

This is a bittersweet note: As I type, Juhu Beach Club, feisty former Top Chef Preeti Mistry’s Anthony Bourdain–sanctioned Oakland restaurant, has served its last supper. The colorful Temescal spot, which got its start (in concept) as a pop-up in a San Francisco liquor store, closed its doors after a five-year run. The restaurant dished up spicy pavs, salty mango lassis, and crunchy Manchurian cauliflower—which the chef couldn’t take off the menu due to diner demand.

Not to worry: Preeti says she’ll be back with JBC 3.0. Details were still under wraps at press time, so stay tuned. And new tenants are slated to take over the JBC space soon. More on that later, too.

Meanwhile, Preeti can still be found behind the stoves at her second location, Navi Kitchen, on the Emeryville/Oakland border. The café, which serves Indian-ish pizzas and turmeric tonics, opened a year ago. And JBC lives on in the chef’s memoir with recipes: I had the pleasure of co-authoring The Juhu Beach Club Cookbook: Indian Spice, Oakland Soul (Running Press, October 2017).

I first met Preeti in 2012 when we both were guiding tours for Edible Excursions. (The James Beard Award–nominee was briefly serving as a guide in between restaurant gigs.) For this magazine, I covered JBC’s launch and included Preeti’s candid POV in a story about the ascent of women chefs in Oakland. The Temescal food tour launch coincided with Juhu’s opening. We spent many Sunday mornings in conversation with guests eager to learn the London-born chef’s richly diverse back story.

When Preeti decided she wanted to write a book, she asked me to partner with her on the project.

It’s been an honor to have this opportunity. I couldn’t think of a better time to share the story of a queer brown female immigrant chef’s passage to Oakland.

Sarah Henry

From Chapter Four: Oaklandish

Excerpted with permission from The Juhu Beach Club Cookbook by Preeti Mistry with Sarah Henry, Running Press, October 2017. Photos by Alanna Hale, Running Press.

It’s Monday, November 7, 2016—the day before the election. I’m lugging chicken, produce, and a bunch of spice bowls to a basement kitchen in Uptown Oakland at Youth Radio’s CHEF Program designed to help young people of color learn to cook nutritious food. I’ve been asked to come teach the cooking class as part of a program run by the nonprofit Cooking Project, founded by Michelin-starred chef Daniel Patterson, who is also the cofounder, along with Roy Choi, of Loco’l. There’s a Loco’l in Uptown and another in Watts; these guys are trying to bring healthy, affordable fast food to low-income people of color in underserved neighborhoods. I’m down with that.

Fluorescent lights, an ancient stove, mismatched kitchen equipment, dull knives. That’s the Youth Radio kitchen. No worries, I can work with whatever. As a professional chef, you need to be able to pivot quickly and adjust expectations based on the resources available to you. That’s what we do.

Today’s recipe is a classic chicken curry; it’s on the menu at Juhu. For me it’s an opportunity to teach young people, especially low-income students of color going to crappy public schools, how to cook a meal for themselves. A lot of these teenagers have never seen spices in whole form; they are excited to learn and taste and smell. One teenager picks up something and says: “This looks like a stick.” I explain it is a stick, a cinnamon stick. He says it smells like Christmas. Everyone in the room learns something that day. That’s why I do these classes.

I want to connect with these African American students. And, I hope, just my presence might serve as an inspiration. If I were another tall white guy in a chef’s jacket, that’s one thing; the kids don’t see themselves in him.

When I’m in there, showing them how to marinate chicken or grind spices, it’s different for obvious reasons. I’m brown, female, look sort of youthful, wear hoodies, can meet a person in conversation where they’re at. Maybe that gives them the feeling they could do this too. The kids don’t care if you’re “famous.” They really don’t care. They want to meet someone they can relate to.

After assigning different tasks I move around the room. I demonstrate technique as I go: basic skills like it’s easier to chop an onion when you cut it in half, and then lay the flat side on the cutting board. Two girls, with seriously major nail action going on, opt to prep the chicken for the curry. When I work my way to their station, they’re randomly hacking that chicken into pieces. It doesn’t faze me. I deal with this kind of thing every day in my restaurant. You’re always training someone. In this industry you’re a teacher every day; that’s what we do.

I just say: “Hey, can I show you something?” It’s an invitation, whether about how to chop an onion, remove skin from a chicken, cut meat into pieces. There are all these tricks and techniques you learn along the way to do these things efficiently and effectively in a working kitchen. One of my bosses used to say: “Take it or leave it.” I really appreciated that. It was like, let me show you a skill, but we’re all different, so maybe what works for me doesn’t work for you. Still be open to it. That’s how I teach, too: Be open, and take it or leave it.

There’s a lot for the students to absorb from one recipe in one afternoon: how to make a marinade, how to blend a masala, how to assemble and cook the components of a curry, how to prep and cook sides that pair well with the main dish, including basmati rice tinged with turmeric and a cooling cucumber raita. Cooking rice well is a skill. Juggling the different components of a recipe requires focus. Timing each dish so it’s all ready to eat together is an art. It all comes with practice.

The night after class, after the voting booths have closed, I’m tracking the election results as they come in. It’s hard to digest the news. As a brown immigrant, I worry about my future here. I also worry about the future of the people I care about who are female, black, Mexican, Muslim, LGBTQ, disabled—in some way considered “other” or “lesser” by the newly elected president and his administration. I’m depressed, sad, frightened, and I’m not alone.

And here’s what keeps hope alive for me: The night before those stunning election results were tallied, I’d cooked chicken curry with a group of youth who are fierce, funny, and ready to slay. This is the future I believe in. Shelby Starks, who oversees culinary instruction at Youth Radio, thanked me after the class, and, with a phrase she frequently uses with the students told me “because of you . . . the students trust their dopeness.” #TrustYourDopeness. What could be more important for our at-risk youth today? ♦

Contributing editor Sarah Henry’s food stories have appeared in the Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, and San Francisco, and online at NPR’s The Salt, Civil Eats, and Lucky Peach. Henry writes regularly for Edible San Francisco and Edible Marin & Wine Country. She is the author of Farmsteads of the California Coast and the co-author, with chef Preeti Mistry, of The Juhu Beach Club Cookbook: Indian Spice, Oakland Soul.

JBC Classic Chicken Curry

Recipes on this page are from The Juhu Beach Club Cookbook © 2017 by Preeti Mistry with Sarah Henry, Running Press. Reprinted with permission.

Serves 4

4 whole chicken legs or 1 whole chicken

For the marinade:
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons ginger, minced
2 inches of fresh turmeric root, minced (or substitute 1 teaspoon powdered turmeric)
2 serrano chiles, minced
1 bunch cilantro (including stems), roughly chopped
1 tablespoon Mustard Fenugreek Masala (recipe follows)
1 tablespoon salt

For the sauce:
3 tablespoons neutral oil
½ yellow onion, julienned
1 tablespoon ginger, minced
½ tablespoon serrano chile, minced
2 cups green cabbage, julienned
1 tablespoon Dhanna Jeeru Masala (recipe follows)
2 cups canned diced tomatoes

To marinate the chicken:

Remove the skin from the chicken legs.

Place the garlic, ginger, turmeric, chile, cilantro, masala, and salt in a blender with ½ cup water. Purée the mixture until fully incorporated; it should be the consistency of pesto.

Pour the marinade over the chicken legs, mix to ensure the chicken is fully coated, and let it sit for at least 6 hours, or ideally overnight.

To braise the chicken:

Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add the onion and a pinch of salt and let simmer on medium-high heat to soften the onions. When the onions begin to release liquid—in about 5 to 7 minutes—add the ginger and chile. After a few minutes, add the cabbage and masala and stir. A little bit of the spice blend will stick to the bottom of the pan; this is normal. Continue to stir and after about 3 minutes add the tomatoes and 1 cup of water. Scrape the bottom of the pan with a spoon to remove any spices and mix them into the sauce.

Season the sauce with salt to taste, and stir to fully combine all the ingredients. Add the chicken and all of the marinade. Make sure the chicken is fully covered in the sauce, add a little extra water if needed, and bring to a boil. After the sauce comes to a boil, lower the heat and cover for 20 to 25 minutes. To check the chicken’s readiness, pull out a leg with a pair of tongs. If it is fully cooked, the meat should pull away from the bone. If not, let it simmer for a few more minutes until the chicken is fully cooked. Remove the chicken from the heat and set aside.

The sauce should be thick and chunky. If it is too soupy, place the pan on medium heat to reduce the liquid and ensure a thicker sauce consistency. Return the chicken to the hot sauce to warm. Serve over lemon turmeric rice.

Mustard Fenugreek Masala

Makes 1 cup

3 tablespoons coriander seeds
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 black cardamom pod
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1 teaspoon cloves
½ stick cinnamon
½ teaspoon brown mustard seeds
½ cup dried chile de árbol
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

Preheat the oven to 350° F. Measure out all the spices onto a sheet pan. Place the pan in the oven for 5 to 7 minutes until the spices begin to slightly smoke and turn a little brown. Remove the pan from the oven and set aside to cool. When the spices are fully cooled, grind them in a spice grinder in batches, until all spices are completely ground. Mix them well and keep in an airtight container for up to 4 weeks.

Dhanna Jeeru Masala

Makes 1 cup

¾ cup coriander seeds
¼ cup cumin seeds

Combine the spices and grind them in a spice grinder in batches until all spices are fully ground. Mix well and keep in an airtight container for up to 4 weeks.