The one thing that I have found immense joy and solace in during these difficult months is food. Much to the chagrin of my weighing scale, food has not just provided me with instant gratification but has also been a constant companion during stressful times. While Delhi has its share of lip smacking delicacies, ever so often, I miss Mumbai’s street food.
On rainy days, binging on a plate of hot kanda bhajiya (onion fritters) is a must and no one makes them like the Mumbaikars.
Imagine my delight then to have discovered Gautam Mehra (40), born and raised in Mumbai, and currently working in Delhi, who runs a rather successful Sunday-only Mumbai street food pop-up. Aptly named ‘The Bombay Bhasad’, a slang word meaning ‘chaos’, Gautam tells The Better India about his journey.
Corporate honcho-turns-weekend chef
“I work with an investment management company as their Vice President and National Head of Talent Management and Organisation Design from Monday to Friday and spend my weekends cocooned in my kitchen,” says Gautam. It was when Gautam was all of 8 years of age that his love for cooking began. The year was 1992 and the popular cookery show, Khana Khazana, by Chef Sanjeev Kapoor had just launched.
“I remember watching that show and telling my mother that one day I will become like Sanjeev Kapoor. So, there was that influence and also my neighbour/godmother, Hansa ben, who loved cooking and made everything from scratch for her family. Just watching her rustle up all that amazing food stayed with me for long,” he says.
He attributes a lot of his cooking style and influence to Hansa ben and those early years in Mumbai.
Another food influence comes from Gautam’s mami (aunt) who also happens to be a Gujarati. “My menu therefore has many of the Gujarati snack items on offer. Many of the recipes that I make today come from these two formidable ladies.” Remembering the first dish he made, he says, “It was sev puri – I had chopped up the tomatoes and onions. We would get the ready-to-eat puri’s in Mumbai, which I garnished with some ketchup and green chutney that was available at home and topped it up with sev.” All this from an 8-year-old Gautam’s kitchen.
This excitement of cooking and putting together recipes continued and when Gautam was in college, he actively started looking for ways to get into the Institute of Hotel Management Catering and Nutrition (IHM). “I didn’t come from a family that had any deep pockets. My father was perpetually unemployed and we didn’t have much money that went around,” he shares.
Gautam’s circumstances were such that he had to start working soon after he finished his schooling. “After that whatever happened in life was perhaps just divine intervention. My mother knew some stalwarts of the hospitality industry and that landed me a job as a trainee chef. That was a dream come true and even with just Rs 800 in my pocket each month, I got to learn a lot,” he says. “I owe all the groundwork and the little success I have achieved today to the one-and-a-half years of training I got then.”
Throughout his career, cooking has always been a constant source of peace and fulfilment for Gautam.
He says that he would always cook his own food and, very often, even for friends and colleagues. He gives credit to his stint in Pune for taking his cooking into the next orbit. “I was heading a food group in Pune and I started meeting people from the industry; chefs, restaurateurs and others from the food industry,” he says. This gave me insights into skills, techniques and also the ‘business’ side of a food business.
However, it was only when he moved to Delhi with a new job that it triggered his inner chef to awaken. While Delhi has great food, he started missing the street food of Mumbai, especially the vada pav.
“Delhi’s vada pav doesn’t hold a candle to the real deal. I missed it terribly and that was the reason I started making them,” he says. This was also the time that he had regained his weekends for himself, and was thinking about what to do with them.
The Good ‘Chaos’
Until September 2019, Gautam would travel from Delhi to Mumbai, where his mother resides, almost every weekend. It was only after she passed away that the trips stopped and that gave Gautam some time to himself. “I immersed myself in cooking and even created a Facebook page called Single Bawarchi, where I would share recipes. It was a kind lady who read my recipes and goaded me into sharing my food with others. She was happy with the detailing in my recipes and kept pushing me towards taking the plunge.”
Not only that but a couple of weeks later in June 2020 she also introduced Gautam to a friend, Leesha Arora, who owned a restaurant in Delhi and therefore became instrumental in setting up Gautam’s first food pop-up. “I did that while working my corporate job, I could not afford to give it up. I would work for 8 hours in the office and spend 5 hours in the kitchen prepping,” he says.
In a month, Gautam had sold close to 5,000 vada pavs alone and the pop up was a huge hit.
With the month coming to an end, the pop up ended as well, but the seed had been sown. “Just seeing the kind of response the food was getting, pushed me into launching The Bombay Bhasad from my own home kitchen,” says Gautam. In October 2020, Gautam started from his home kitchen and had only the vada pav on his menu. Even with just one item, he was selling close to 1,000 vada pavs each month. To this, he added the misal pav, pav bhaji, dhokla and even a multi grain and baked version of the vada pav.
“This is a work in progress and, slowly, I have been adding more items into the menu. I am doing it all by myself and I’m happy with the way in which it is all panning out.” For the Sunday orders, Gautam starts prepping on Saturday evenings and tells me that he is in the kitchen as early as 3.30 am on Sunday mornings. He bakes close to 500 pavs every Sunday for an average of 20 orders that he dispatches. With a monthly investment of Rs 5,000 for all the raw material and expenses, Gautam says that he makes anywhere between 5x to 10x week-on-week.
“My plan is to continue being a home chef for a while and in the meantime, I would like to build a brand and some capital before I can take a bigger plunge,” he says. And we couldn’t be more excited for this foodie’s next big venture.
To place your order for the weekend, click here.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)