Only a few decades ago, eating out in India was a rare pleasure for families. Today, it is an everyday affair.
With #foodcoma taking the internet by storm and restaurants opening (and closing) their doors every week, eating (out) can well be called a hobby now. Everyone loves a good meal, and people are willing to experiment with their taste buds more than ever before. Little wonder that along with restaurants and fast food joints, a culture of home chefs are also making their mark.
Working out of their dining rooms and kitchens, Indian home chefs are catering to a variety of culinary needs—from offering office-goers nutritious food to showcasing little-known cuisines. But running a food business is not easy, especially for solo entrepreneurs. We spoke to five home chefs from around India about how they make a living in this competitive world.
Mansi Kapoor, Delhi
Image source (food): Facebook
Founder of Awadhi Season, Mansi grew up in Lucknow and has been a foodie all her life. While she was exposed to many cuisines, she retained a soft spot for Awadhi cuisine. When she moved to Delhi, her biryani and kebabs were huge hits among family and friends. They encouraged her to start a home catering enterprise and begin a new culinary journey. Working independently, she takes her challenges in a positive light.
She says, “I have small children, and can devote limited time. Though there are a few helpers, I do most of the cooking myself and request clients to give me a few days’ notice. But the small-scale also makes it an intimate affair and I can look after all the details myself. My recipes are authentic—even the meat for kebabs is hand-pounded—and I don’t use artificial colours or preservatives. With my children around, working from home also keeps me at peace.”
Her menu is limited, and she avoids recipes like Kakori kebab, which require specialised equipment. But the encouraging review of her food and quality keeps this home chef going. She hopes to invest in a bigger kitchen space in the future.
Reetha Balsavar, Mumbai
Image source: Facebook
Reetha has been making salads for 40 years, but her stint as home chef and founder of Tossed and Dressed is only a 6-month-old affair. It all started when a friend asked her to cater the salads for two days during Raksha Bandhan last year. The success moved her to launch Tossed and Dressed, which offers a daily changing menu of healthy, organic salads and also caters for events.
“My challenges are very logistical—deliveries, how to stop the leaves from wilting etc. I researched and found a delivery person. I have nobody to help me, so I get all the supplies myself, start prepping the night before and get everything ready by 8.30 every morning for deliveries. I offer two salads every day, and most of my clients are young professionals and some of them take both, one for lunch and another for dinner.”
For Reetha, innovation and collaboration goes a long way for home chefs. Known for her preservative-free dressings (like a yummy amla dressing), she has begun bottling the durable ones for sale in Mumbai. She also collaborates with four other home chefs in the city to do pop-up events. Each of them specialise in their own area, and together, they offer a full meal experience.
Anne Cherian, Chennai
Image source: Facebook
A retired professional, Anne runs her much-loved home catering unit, The Saturday Kitchen, simply based on her love for food and the desire to use her time productively. “We are focusing on Malayali cuisine, and the food is essentially what we eat at home,” she says. “I even procure my supplies from my regular vendors, and I cook on wood fire.”
Anne is assisted by her family cook, who has been around for 40 years. Together, they cater to small groups and parties, delighting them with a variety of home-cooked recipes. “I started the business when I was two year younger and I began with making meals on Saturdays but I ended up making a lot of stuff. It was very tiring.”
She changed her operation to an event-catering model instead, and prepared meals for small groups. With advance notice, the two-woman crew can even put together delicacies for 50 people.
With home chefs thriving, Anne is acquainted with many others in the area. She makes her delectables from family recipes, and while catering keeps her busy, she still makes small meals on Saturdays for few single residents.
Saiprasad Vishwanathan, Mumbai
Image source: Facebook
Mumbai has many an Udupi restaurant and the city’s fan following for Mysore Masala Dosa only keeps growing. Yet, some of the other South Indian cuisines remain elusive in the city. Sai, founder of Southern Food Trails, is addressing the gap with his unique offering of Iyer marriage food. “I loved cooking since I was in school,” he says, adding that he did a regular job for about eight years before he turned to home cooking.
“I had neither the experience nor the money to start a restaurant, so I thought why not start something for a small group at home instead,” he says. Every weekend, Sai hosts one lunch in the afternoon for a group of 8-10 people, giving them an authentic experience of his specialised offerings.
“I spend most of the week promoting the event on social media, and get a lot of response. Demonetization affected my business a little, but we have started other means of payment too.”
As a small home-run business, Sai considers marketing his biggest challenge. Having recently quit his full-time job, he is now in the process of spreading the word and planning to stabilize and scale up his venture.
Mamma’s Kitchen, Bengaluru
Image source: Facebook
Located in Kamanahalli, home to some of the Garden City’s most fabulous restaurants, Mamma aka Najma Abdullar runs her Kitchen, specialising in Kerala and Mopalah delicacies. A mother of three, her stint as a home chef started thanks to her daughter’s colleagues.
“I used to pack my daughter’s lunch and her colleagues began asking me to cook for them as well,” she says. Their appreciation was encouraging and Najma, who found herself with a lot of time in hand once her children had grown up, decided to start a small venture.
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“I started with my daughter’s office sending them biryani, pickle etc,” she says. “Delivery used to be a major issue for me, but three years earlier or so I’d put up a stall and I received help from a delivery startup. Now I prepare the food, and they manage the delivery.”
Her children help her whenever possible, but other than that she manages everything on her own with one assistant. “My husband lives in another town, and my children are out all day. So I have a lot of time in hand,” says the entrepreneur, lovingly called Aunty Najma, for whom no obstacle is big enough. As she says, “Cooking is my passion.”
To get in touch with all the home chefs, please click here.