Dal Chawal in Disney World: NRI’s Homemade Desi Food Creates Magic in the US

Devyani Patel started Fusion Flavors in 2019 from her home kitchen in Orlando to serve simple home-cooked meals to tourists from India.

Passion fills one with energy.

This was true for 37-year-old Devyani Patel, a resident of Orlando, Florida. It has filled her with energy that she says is her driving force. Having moved to the US at the age of 12, Devyani says that cooking, cleaning and doing her chores came rather naturally to her.

“I am a mother to two and with them being home, returning to a full-time position outside of my home was not something I wanted to do. Cooking was always something I was very good at and friends and family always seemed to enjoy the food I served,” she tells The Better India.

Knowing how to cook well became a badge of honour that Devyani wore very proudly.

Indian food
In her happy space – the kitchen.

“The encouragement of family and friends was what steered me towards thinking about doing it professionally,” she admits.

With an initial investment of $10,000 in 2019, today Devyani’s Fusion Flavors makes a monthly revenue of $8,000 by serving some delicious home-cooked Indian tiffin meals across Orlando.

Home-cooked meals away from home

Food
Indian home cooked meal away from home.

In 2019, she officially launched Fusion Flavors, a home catering business that primarily caters to Indians on holiday in the US and those living in the country. “Up until then I was cooking for various occasions but it was all on an informal basis. The idea of being more organised happened by chance,” she says. Devyani admits to being nervous when she started.

“As friends, sometimes people say nice things just to keep you happy. I kept asking my friends to give me good feedback so I could improve. Nine out of 10 times they all had only good things to say, so that was encouraging,” she says. As a family, Devyani says that everyone in her household pitched in when it came to cooking. Her mother, aunt, brother, and father all cook.

“We love cooking,” she says with a laugh. She continues, “While in India, none of us ever did anything as we had help to cook, clean, and just manage the house, However, in the US, it’s different. One has to do their own job and that was when we all got into the kitchen and started to work. In hindsight, it’s been great. Today, I have a career thanks to all that training I got as a kid.”

Once the interest in cooking was kindled there was no stopping Devyani. She relies on YouTube videos to find the right recipe and how to make new dishes.

A grand take-off

Indian food
Busy at work.

One of the first few orders that she took on was for a Jain get-together. “A group of them were visiting Disney from India and had very specific requirements in terms of what they wanted to eat. There were four of them and that was a good starting point for me,” While Devyani whips up all the lovely food, her husband Samir helps her with marketing and social media.

Many of the customers who get in touch with Devyani are tourists visiting Orlando. They mostly are vegetarians and have a very simple ask. “They just need a good wholesome home-cooked meal to keep them going. They never ask for anything fancy – dal, chawal (rice) and a vegetable are all they require,” she says. The one thing that she gets asked often is if she has a separate kitchen for vegetarian and non-vegetarian cooking.

“I do,” she says, understanding how many people might not be comfortable with the same kitchen for both cuisines she has consciously kept the spaces divided. “These are small things but make such a difference to those who order my food,” she adds.

Having catered for large groups with as many as 75 people, Devyani says that now she’s used to the cutting and chopping that large orders demand. “If I have an early morning delivery there are days when I wake up at 1 am and get all the cutting work done. It is all a matter of planning it,” she says.

One of the strangest requests was to cook jackfruit. “I had never cooked anything with it so I was a bit sceptical. However, the result was great because the customer who ordered it enjoyed the dish I came up with,” she says.

On average, Devyani sends out 15 tiffins a day and says that when its season time the numbers can double or even triple.

Food
Devyani’s biggest cheerleader, her husband, Samir.

One single tiffin, which consists of dal, rice, chapati, a vegetable dish and salad costs $13, while a tiffin for two is priced at $20.

Samir, who has been one of her loudest cheerleaders says, “I was excited about her doing something that she was so passionate and good at. I have seen how well she has grown in these last three years. She is constantly looking to be better and learn. That enthusiasm is infectious and we are so proud of her growth.”

Devyani has a social media presence on Facebook and Instagram and says that she is active on WhatsApp (+1 (407) 374-3114) where people can reach out to her and place their orders.

(Edited by Yoshita Rao)

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