A Dad’s Love of Making Daily Lunchboxes for His Daughter Took Him to MasterChef India
Harish Closepet started making tiffins for his daughters and turned that into an Instagram page called Harry’s lunchbox. Today, he’s among the Top 6 contestants on MasterChef India and talks about why men should cook.
In 1992, high school sweethearts Rashmi and Harish Closepet began their married life in Singapore. A working couple, they would take turns to cook. Whenever Rashmi worked late, she would come home to an elaborately cooked meal, plated and served with love by her husband. Needless to say, the young bride was floored by her husband’s efforts.
Every weekend would mean parties hosted by the couple. And what Rashmi cherishes 31 years later is the time they spent cooking together for these parties. It was a real bonding experience, she shares. She enjoyed watching her husband present different dishes and create interesting elements on the plate.
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“When we travel, I get busy shopping for clothes while he buys different pots and pans,” laughs Rashmi.
This continued well after their daughters, Vibha (28) and Isha (21), were born. Rashmi saw the ‘family man’ emerge in Harish who would look after the girls and feed them. Harry, as he is called, started cooking for his daughters too, and would make their dabbas (tiffins) for school. While they were given traditional rice, sambar, rasam and roti-sabzi, the parents saw that they didn’t finish it.
To make the food interesting, the couple started adding some paneer and cheese to the sabzis. They also made pastas, which the girls loved, and finally, the dabbas would come back empty. “They found this food exciting,” says Harry.
Thus, food and cooking became a strong bonding activity for the family too. Isha tells The Better India that many of her core memories with her father are in the kitchen. For almost 15 years, till the girls finished college, Harry and Rashmi would pack tiffins for their daughters.
In the last week of her college, Isha realised that this would probably be the last few days that her father would cook his scrumptious meals for her.
Wanting to share her wonderful father’s cooking with the world, she took a video of him making a lunchbox and put that reel out on Instagram. To her surprise, it got over 10,000 views on the first day. And so began the journey of ‘Harry’s lunchbox’, which was a stepping stone to the 58-year-old man auditioning for MasterChef India, where he is now in the Top 6.
So how did this entrepreneur’s tryst with food begin? Here’s his story.
Breaking gender roles
Youngest of five siblings, Harry grew up in a big family in Bengaluru in the 1960s. He would spend a lot of time in the kitchen and was his mother’s sous chef. The four brothers and sister would partake in all activities at home, from adding firewood to heating water, gardening and cleaning.
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They also saw their father cook during festivals and family gatherings, which left a lasting impression on the young children.
“We were all involved in cooking at home. I didn’t think that a boy cooking and being comfortable in the kitchen was anything different. We enjoyed partaking in activities at home and that mindset stays with me even today. For us, our father was ‘Mr Fixit’ around the house,” Harry shares fondly.
The importance of family was instilled in him by his parents and he realised early on that working with the family and doing everyday chores together was a priority.
He loved making desserts and would make truffles using bournvita and make his own rabri. He cooked a full meal after joining college at 18. He heard his engineering college friends, who stayed at the hostel, complain about the quality of food. He decided to whip up a meal for them.
“I tasted the food at the hostel and it was awful. I decided to try cooking and feeding my friends. I would cook at home and take the food to the hostel. They really enjoyed what I made,” he adds.
He would cook South Indian meals which included rice, rasam and poriyal for his friends. They loved it, and it also made him a big hit with his friends at the BMS College of Engineering, Bengaluru. This kicked off his cooking journey, which helped immensely when he moved to Singapore for work.
It not only helped him cook for himself, and later his family, but it also won him a lot of friends right up to his professional life in Singapore and Australia.
“Food breaks barriers and connects people. When we migrated to Australia, we started hosting barbecues. We could connect much better with the locals over our shared love of food,” adds Harry.
A family that cooks together, stays together
Whenever Isha wants to cook something, she always reaches out to her father for advice. A lot of their conversations revolve around it. Harry, too, says that she probably thinks of food when she thinks of him.
In September 2022, he put out a reel on Instagram which he titled ‘Pack A Lunchbox With Me’ Day 1 where he made a tomato zucchini rice, baked crispy potatoes with a tomato sauce marinade and a fresh orange and cucumber salad. It was a tremendous hit and earned him a great following. So far, he has made 63 healthy, balanced lunch boxes with a following of over 5.27 lakh people.
While they made the videos just for fun, Harry soon realised that he was solving a real problem faced in most households. What to make for the next day’s lunchbox and how to make it nutritious yet interesting for the child?
“My daughters don’t like straightforward South Indian food and I started making lots of changes. I would make different types of fried rice, noodles, pastas and breads. I would make pasta with Indian flavours. By mixing different flavours and fusing them with the Indian touch, I would give about 50-60 different kinds of tiffins,” he says.
He ensures that each meal is balanced with enough carbohydrates, good fats and protein. His lunchbox series always include these elements.
Some of his popular dabbas are paneer paddu with a beetroot chutney and carrot salad, rajma pepper rice with tomato masala and chia fruit salad, peas fritters with a sweet potato yogurt dip, masala paneer roll with tomato broccoli salad, a high protein upma with dry coconut chutney and a carrot vinegar salad and many more.
His favourite meal is rajma rice with a warm salad while his daughters love pastas and mexican rice with an avocado dip.
What fascinates Harry about cooking?
“I love the chemistry of food. I love how different ingredients work together to give a beautiful, tasty outcome. The whole process of seeing simple ingredients become an extremely palatable dish fascinates me,” he adds.
As the page grew, his daughter encouraged him to apply for MasterChef India. After a tough audition process across two cities and four rounds, Harish is today one of the Top 6 contestants. He wowed everyone with his watermelon rice in Chef Marco Pierre White’s challenge where they had to cook with just 250 ml water.
While not cooking, Harish runs a chain of art and craft supplies stores with Rashmi called Itsy Bitsy, through which they provide employment to rural women in Karnataka.
He starts his day early making and packing a tiffin for Isha, who now incidentally takes it to work, then exercises, goes to office and comes back late. The trick, the entrepreneur says, is to enjoy it all.
Harry’s positivity and warmth is unmissable, even on a conversation over the phone, and through his Instagram reels.
“One of the reasons for my cooking journey to be so exciting is the fact that I cook with my wife and kids. When you cook with your partner, it will help improve your relationship. I would ask all the young boys and girls to cook with your special someone and make it into a fun activity, if possible every day,” he says.
In fact, he chortles and says that he’s got quite a few of his friends in trouble as their wives/daughters are expecting them to cook. But isn’t that how it should be? Harry adds that when both husband and wife are working, it’s only fair that they share the chores at home.
“See, it will take time to come to an equation as to who is going to do what at home. It took us some time and effort to come to the conclusion about our roles, but it’s worth it. You have to be flexible. Whoever is free at that point of time can do whatever chore is pending,” he adds.
While Harry has been shattering stereotypes, Isha says that it was usually rare for her classmates to get lunchboxes made by their father.
“I’m so proud of my father. It’s really not that common for fathers to cook, but it should be. I would have been dead against just my mom cooking. It’s just so much fun to cook together,” she says.
Harry hopes to use his MasterChef experience to make more interesting lunch boxes in a shorter time span like 20 minutes to help busy parents. Rashmi playfully adds that one of these days, she is going to stay back late at work to come home to a fully cooked meal by her husband, much like the initial days of their marriage.
Edited by Padmashree Pande
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