Cover

Comfort comes home in mains and sides

Payel Majumdar Upreti | Updated on January 14, 2021 Published on January 14, 2021

Full meal: Ghee bhaat, shona moog daal (yellow moong dal) with jhuri aloo bhaja (fried potato fritters), doi katla (katla fish in yoghurt gravy), payesh (kheer)

In these isolated times when people yearn for a slice of the familiar, amateur and professional chefs are zhuzhing up work-from-home meals, with recipes taught by grandmothers to menus designed around festivals

* The metros are bursting at the seams with food services. Some are weekend kitchens, some others have extended their services to the entire week

* Shuttered restaurants are not the only reasons why the trend of sending home cooked food to clients is on the rise

* One reason why the cottage industry is mushrooming is the fact that it is not capital intensive. A chef expands his or her business in accordance with the demands and sales

* Social media has come to the aid of the new businesses. Menus and recommendations are shared widely on WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram and other such sites

****

In the new lexicon of pandemic times, they call it ‘blursday’ — that feeling when we don’t know what day of the week it is. Work from home (WFH) has done that to us. But while weekdays may merge into one another, we do know our weekends. Not just because of the much-needed time off from work, but the thought of ordering in food.

Covid-19 may have taken the fun out of dining out, but it has fuelled a trend — of chefs preparing and delivering food from their kitchens. The pandemic has led to a desire for old favourites, and these small enterprises have stepped in to bring to homes all the dishes that people have been missing.

The metros are bursting at the seams with such food services. Some are weekend kitchens, some others have extended their services to the entire week. From hand-rolled noodles to pastas, and regional cuisines to smoked meats, home chefs have made the most of 2020 — and hope to continue feeding people in the new year.

Apps such as Yummy Idea, Authenticook and Food Cloud have teamed up with chefs to deliver home-cooked food to people. However, according to Karan Tanna, a Delhi-based investor in the food tech industry, the real growth is through social media with people directly advertising their food for local communities.

Regional cuisine is most sought after. The Naadan Kitchen in Delhi offers duck curry, vegetable korma, avial and a host of other Kerala dishes, while Park Street Food, also in Delhi, has Kolkata specials such as sausages and baked rasgullas on its menu. The mother-and-son duo of Mud Pot Curries prepares and delivers crab curries to Chennai foodies from home. According to a report recently released by food tech company Swiggy, chicken biryani is the most ordered item on their app.

World food has its loyal clients, too. In Chennai, Christ College student Florentitia Raphael has started her own lasagna delivery service called Flo’s Lasagna with an heirloom recipe. Vindhya Krishna Routhou has her own flavoured hummus brand Windy’s House Hummus. Serendipia, Indian-Spanish couple Arjun and Patricia’s labour of love, has a bestseller in Basque Burnt Cheesecake.

Sarvesh Shyam, a marketing consultant who recently returned from Melbourne to Chennai because of the lockdown, says he was “decently surprised” by the quality of food offered by home chefs in his home town. “I have always felt Chennai lagged behind when it came to options for ordering food. However, this time, the food scene was bursting, and it was the home chefs leading the charge,” says Shyam.

And, going by the orders they’ve been getting, clearly there is no dearth of clients. “When restaurants were shut, and my work significantly came down, food kept me going. I decided to research food and eat as much variety as I could,” says Bengaluru-based Saina Jayapal, a PR consultant for the food and hospitality industry.

Old familiar dishes

Shuttered restaurants are not the only reasons why the trend of sending home cooked food to clients is on the rise. For one, in these isolated times, people yearn for a slice of the familiar. Not surprisingly, a service selling a thali with fish curry, potato fritters and moong dal is always a big draw.

“With more people sitting at home, we had no connection with the world, and this feels like a slice of someone’s home. Everyone wants that human connection,” says Jayapal.

Second, with children staying indoors with nothing much to look forward to, ordering in food is also recreational.

“People want something nice for breakfast or snacks, and parents are often out of ideas when it comes to what to make. I feel nice that we’re making their lives easier, and providing little joys to folks stuck in the middle of a crisis,” says Mandakini Gupta, 39, a journalist-turned-chef whose vanilla bean custard doughnuts by her brand Smitten Bakery are a big hit.

Karo Kumar, co-founder of All Cap Communications in Kolkata, says that she orders in three or four times in a month, usually during weekends. “I live alone, and by the time it is the weekend one typically wants a break. At one point, I was handling all the office work, and had no domestic help so these kitchens were a saviour.”

For more and more people, the pandemic has triggered a longing for old familiar dishes which are no longer easily available. Kumar recalls how her grandmother was one of the last people in the family to make dishes popular in the Anglo-Indian community. “She would prepare pantaras (mutton samosas) and kulkuls (coconut curls) as Christmas specialities. However, in the pandemic year, I was able to get my hands on some of these delicacies thanks to home chefs who are providing a vast variety to people who have been stuck at home.”

Kolkata-based Panchphoron Kitchen, run by Malancha Dasgupta, Ishanjit Ghosh and Abhisayan Ghera, also seeks to give clients a slice of an old, forgotten life. The three — friends who found themselves stuck in an endless WFH routine — decided to shake up their boredom by trying out recipes from their grandmothers’ kitchens.

A friendly kitchen: The founders of the Kolkata-based service Paanchphoron Kitchen; (left to right: (Ishanjit Ghosh, Malancha Dasgupta and Abhisayan Ghara)

 

“Everyone was craving comfort food at this time. We decided it was going to be a nice distraction for us when we set up the weekend kitchen, but now it has grown to a point where we get some extra income from it,” says Dasgupta. Their menu involves traditional Bengali dishes such as loite macher jhuri (a Bombay Duck delicacy), lebu patay chingri stew (prawn stewed in lemon leaf), mouri diye chhana (paneer with fennel seeds) and all-time favourites such as stir fried prawns with lemongrass.

A slice of home: Prawns with lemongrass and chilli by Paanchphoron Kitchen

 

Likewise, Delhi-based couple Ashmeet (32), a businessman, and Dilneet (29), a German teacher, have been cooking and delivering pasta to their loyal clients. The couple says that they used to eat out at least three or four times a week, which stopped after the pandemic.

Power couple: Chefs Ashmeet (left) and Dilneet from The Pasta Lab

 

“While Delhi has a lot of variety when it comes to food, we came to realise that the one thing that was missing was pasta,” says Ashmeet. Both pasta aficionados, they decided to experiment with making it at home, thanks to a hand-rolling pasta machine that was lying around. What was a hobby turned into a popular blog, and soon they were sending pasta dishes to friends and others.

Magic of pasta: Pasta coloured with spinach and beets

 

Now as The Pasta Lab, they have been making fettuccine, ravioli and capellini pasta, and pomodoro arrabbiata, pesto and other sauces from scratch. They use third-party delivery agents to transport their products, and pack them in sealable bags to ensure there isn’t any tampering with the bags.

Cuisine from the regions

Hyper-local, regional cuisines outlets have cropped up in the metros. Utpala Mukherjee’s Culinary Connections, an outlet in Delhi serving largely North-eastern food such as pork curry, offered a Bihu special to mark the Assamese festival with koldil bhaja (banana flowers fritters) and fish tenga (sour fish curry). Dhar’s, run by a homemaker in Delhi NCR, has yakhni (a yoghurt-based curry), roganjosh and nadru (lotus roots), among other Kashmiri specialities, on their menu. Anamika Bajpai’s Arq in Gurugram has various kinds of Awadhi specials — including yakhni pulao, mutton boti and reshey-waley shami kebabs.

Made in heaven: Pork simmered with yellow mustard, smoked Naga dried chillies and potatoes

 

Jayapal has been relishing southern regional dishes in Bengaluru. “I got Bhatkali cuisine, which is specific to Mangalorean Muslims, and Syrian Christian and Malabar food, as opposed to an overarching Kerala menu,” Jayapal says. “One should’ve just seen the number of people doing sadhya during Onam, and they sent it across with all the frills, banana leaf and all.”

She has had Kashmiri food delivered at home, food from the Northeast, and sub-regional cuisines from several smaller towns of Karnataka and Kerala.

“We are spoilt for choice. The prices are also so decent, as compared to restaurant rates,” she says.

Money, money, money

Perhaps one of the reasons why the cottage industry is mushrooming is the fact that it is not capital intensive. A chef expands his or her business in accordance with the demands and sales. And the home chefs say that in these troubled times, they have actually been making a profit.

“We don’t plan to quit our jobs, for we love what we do. But within the three months of our existence as The Pasta Lab, this has turned out to be quite a profitable venture,” pasta makers Ashmeet says over the phone.

Gupta stresses that her enterprise has remained profitable overall despite the pandemic. She points out that she was concerned at one point of time during the pandemic about finances. “We were worried about our bank accounts since our earlier business had virtually trickled down to a bare minimum with no parties happening. We decided we would change our business models to suit the times and it paid off big time for us,” she says.

Before the lockdown, catering for parties had kept Gupta busy. “When people stopped having parties, we decided to shift from a full-scale kitchen to a weekend one because the time to prep had increased tremendously, with all the safety protocol, even as orders had reduced. We scaled down our menu to a limited edition that changed every week.”

Spread the good word

Social media has come to the aid of the new businesses. Menus and recommendations are shared widely on WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram and other such sites.

“My followers on Instagram have doubled to what it was, and I have thankfully not had an issue in selling my stuff,” says Gautam Krishnankutty, whose weekend menu is a popular one in Bengaluru.

Krishnankutty, who used to run a chain of restaurants by the name of Cafe Thulp and The Smoke Company in Bengaluru, decided to take a break when the Covid-19 lockdowns were enforced. He, instead, decided to open a weekend kitchen just to keep himself occupied and “in the business”. It is now a successful venture, with the chef moving on to making smoked chilli sauces and pickles, which sell out within minutes.

“I definitely feel that there is a market out there for these kinds of kitchens even in the future. I love the access that it has given me, too, to food from other people’s kitchens that I would otherwise not have had,” Krishnankutty says.

Will the trend continue as more and more restaurants reopen? Jayapal says that she will not depend solely on home chefs in the future. “If I have to get a decent croissant, for instance, I’m going to visit my favourite bakery.”

Investor Tanna believes that while the number of such enterprises will reduce by 2022, the “shift in culture” will continue. “Cloud kitchen- and home kitchen-based deliveries are going to stay popular. People felt they could trust food cooked at someone’s home when it came to hygiene and safety standards. This resulted in their popularity.”

Kumar, too, is convinced that the trend is here to stay. “I think as long as you keep getting items that aren’t available in the restaurants, there will be continued interest in them, powered by social media, of course. People have definitely changed their habits.”

Follow us on Telegram, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Linkedin. You can also download our Android App or IOS App.

Published on January 14, 2021
  1. Comments will be moderated by The Hindu Business Line editorial team.
  2. Comments that are abusive, personal, incendiary or irrelevant cannot be published.
  3. Please write complete sentences. Do not type comments in all capital letters, or in all lower case letters, or using abbreviated text. (example: u cannot substitute for you, d is not 'the', n is not 'and').
  4. We may remove hyperlinks within comments.
  5. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name, to avoid rejection.