Anuradha Hawaldar, a resident of Nagpur, loves to cook and has not only participated in local food competitions but also appeared on television shows as a contestant.
These days, she wakes up early and goes about her chores. Then, at around 7 AM, she begins to prepare modaks—rice flour shells filled with a delicious mixture of jaggery and coconut.
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First, she grates some fresh coconut and keeps it aside. Then, she adds jaggery and a pinch of cardamom to ghee, before adding the grated coconut to this mix. Once it is cooked, she adds spoonfuls of the filling onto the dough and steams them.
The modaks are then arranged in a dabba for the delivery guy who comes to pick them up.
“I can cook dishes like misal pav and sabudana khichadi, but people have been going crazy over the modaks I make! On regular days, I receive four to five orders, and this goes up during festivals!” she shares with a smile.
Anuradha is a home chef for Nativ Chefs, a food delivery startup based in Nagpur, which not only delivers home-cooked meals but also ensures that the food is prepared using traditional recipes.
Keeping tradition and culture alive
Nativ Chef was founded by Leena Dixit. A former techie, Leena was considering the idea of delivering home-cooked traditional food to the masses when she got selected at IIM Bangalore’s NS Raghavan Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning (NSRCEL) women startup programme in May 2018.
This programme is an online and classroom initiative aimed at supporting entrepreneurs who are women. Leena is one of the 100 women selected who received instructions in developing a good business plan, understand how to manage cost and pricing, marketing and sales among other skills.
Post selection she got incubated at IIM Nagpur for further support in terms of mentoring, infrastructure and networking opportunities. Later, she received an extension for the mentorship programme.
Post selection she got incubated at IIM Nagpur for further support in terms of
In July, she started studying the market and perfecting her business model. She hired three interns during this time, and together, they went about looking for chefs who could start working for them as soon as possible.
By the end of August, about 16 home chefs came on board, and the startup formally started operations in September. During this period, she also hired a food consultant who would oversee the menu, taste and quality of the food.
This was a challenging phase but also a great period of learning, says Leena.
“Finding the right target group was a bit of a challenge. Plus, since we were starting out and we are bootstrapped, marketing is a bit of a challenge,” she says.
She adds that since most of their home chefs are not trained, there were fundamental issues around time management and quality. But, having a food consultant in the team helped.
Till about December 2018, they regularly tested and perfected their recipes. In the same month, they organised a food competition for cooks who wanted to showcase their skills.
“The competition was probably our first attempt at marketing our startup. Until then, we were only relying on the word-of-mouth of people who had tried our dishes. But, at this event, hundreds of people joined the competition, and the event was a huge success. In fact, the number of chefs rose from 16 to 24!” she says happily.
So, what makes Nativ Chef unique?
“The fact that we select and curate recipes and dishes which have been in a particular family for generations is what I feel makes us unique. We want to bring out these cuisines and connect people to the original taste,” says Leena.
Asmita Kole, 47, a former home science lecturer, was browsing through Instagram when she came across Nativ Chefs and was immediately taken by their menu.
“I really liked how they were offering home-cooked meals that came directly from the kitchens of the chefs,” she said.
Kole orders frequently from Nativ Chefs and her family of five also loves the food. “I love their saoji chicken and order it often. Other things my family and I like in their menu are dishes like machher jhol and nawabi chicken. But their modaks are out of this world!” she says.
Nativ Chefs has about 150 dishes listed on their menu today, the availability of which depends on if the chef who cooks the dish is working on that particular day.
Jennifer Estibeiro, 53, was born and brought up in Mumbai and moved to Nagpur after her wedding. A talented baker, she would bake cakes for corporate events, and Leena happened to try her cake during one such function.
Since then, Jennifer has been baking date and walnut cakes, fruit cakes, choco-chip cakes and others, using traditional recipes that were passed down to her by her mother and aunts.
“I loved the idea behind Nativ Chef. Home chefs like us barely get any recognition. So, it feels nice that people appreciate our recipes,” says Estibeiro.
Anuradha echoes her emotions and says that such kind of appreciation does boost their confidence and strengthens their connection with the food they cook.
“I just wanted a successful business, but never did I imagine that it would empower so many women,” admits Leena.
Today, Nativ Chef has 75 home chefs on board, who have catered to over 900 new customers, and 650 of these people have ordered at least twice. Now, they want more than 1 lakh home chefs on this platform.
“Home chefs have exceptional skills that can be honed with training. The ambition in the future is to have a pan-India platform. That is what keeps me motivated,” signs off Leena.
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(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)