The Telegraph
| Sunday, February 22, 2015 |

Graphiti

The regions rule!

Amateur cooks are turning chefs in their own homes to whip up regional cuisine meals for large-scale events and short-of-time urbanites, says Chitra Anand Papnai

IT professionals turned entrepreneurs Ashima Shetty and Radhika Hegde were quick to spot a business opportunity. For years they watched their young colleagues in the info-tech industry eat out or struggle with getting their three meals a day.

Today this Bangalore-based duo runs mealboat.com, a website which lets you pick from about 70 amateur-turned-professional cooks each offering different regional cuisines cooked in their own homes. “An increasing number of working people find it difficult to cook but prefer home-cooked food over restaurant meals,” says Shetty.

Shetty and Hegde aren’t the only ones who have spotted an opportunity in home-cooked, regional cuisine made in small batches for working people looking to serve up or eat a meal with a difference. 

The good news for curious foodies who are tired of overly rich restaurant meals is that they can now rely on a number of home-cooks who can whip out fresh regional home food on demand and even cater for larger gatherings.
For instance, Bangalore-based sisters Anjali and Ambika Ganapathy say they entered the catering business by chance. Both sisters had their own careers when they were approached by friends to set up a stall at a flea market that would serve up Coorg specialities. The sisters did it more as a lark than anything else. 

  • Bangalore-based sisters Anjali (right) and Ambika Ganapathy’s company Pig Out offers Coorg cuisine
    prepared using many ingredients sourced from their family farm in Coorg; (Below) Among their Coorg creations are paaputtu (steamed rice cake), pandi curry (pork curry) and korru curry (mixed 
    beans curry); Pic: Jagadeesh NV

Not only were their offerings a total sell-out, but, by the end of the day they had guests asking for more. “That’s when we started digging out our family recipes and sourcing ingredients from our family farm in Coorg,” says Anjali.
As their popularity grew, the sister duo organised themselves into a catering company called Pig Out. Apart from running their own catering unit Anjali and Ambika also get orders via mealboat.

It was a slightly different story for Letitia D’Costa, who’s from Mangalore and who, after spending all her working life in Kuwait, has returned to her family in Bangalore. Letitia, who is known for her delectable Goan curries and her Mangalorean food, figured there might be small numbers of people who’d like to try out her Mangalorean specialities like dukra maas or pork bafat with sannas, or, kombi mutli (chicken with dumplings). 

“Maintaining hygiene and using little oil is crucial to my cooking because that is what makes home food different from hotel food,” says D’Costa who needs 48-hours’ notice for orders. The minimum order placed should be worth at least Rs 1,000.
The fact is that these regional chefs are strongly in demand. Ever since the sister duo Anjali and Ambika became synonymous with Coorg cuisines in Bangalore, they have been catering for parties, functions and corporate events or even any person who calls them in advance and books. The sisters reckon they relive their childhood through food and trying to recreate what they savoured in Coorg during their summer vacations.

Similarly, during her growing-up years, food was always a big part of Delhi-based art evaluator and exhibition designer Prima Kurien’s visits to her Syrian Christian family in Kerala. Kurien, who grew up in Delhi, would spend two months every summer in Kottayam, Kerala, and when on holiday she got to feast on the finest Syrian Christian specialities every day.
But Kurien began to hunger for Kerala food more strongly after she married into the Sikh community. “That’s when I started missing Malayali food and there were desperate calls going out to my mother seeking Malayali recipes,” chuckles Kurien, who’s now in her early fifties.

  • Letitia D’Costa’s Mangalorean specialities like dukra maas (pork bafat with sannas) and kombi mutli (chicken with dumplings) are a hit with her customers in Bangalore; Pic: Jagadeesh NV

Gradually, after several forays into the kitchen, Kurien became an expert at cooking Kerala cuisine and got the nod of approval from friends and relatives she invited home. At the time, Kurien was running an art gallery and started serving Malayali fare at the gallery during previews and exhibitions. Once again, she got the thumbs up from guests. 

That’s when friends suggested she should take up catering professionally. Today Kurien runs Prima Kurien’s Traditional Kerala Cuisine and also doubles as an exhibition designer and art evaluator. Some of her hot-sellers are tapioca curry, avial, moplah biryani, appam and stew (mutton or chicken) and fish moilee apart from vegetarian Kerala specialities for Onam sadya or Kerala meal. 

Check out the menus offered by most home-cooks, you’ll find that most have tried to please both vegetarian and non-vegetarians equally.

  • Delhi-based art consultant and exhibition designer Prima Kurien is known for her Kerala cuisine like okra in a coconut milk gravy and Syrian Christian-style chicken cutlets (below); Pic: Rupinder Sharma

On Pig Out’s menu the star items are, unsurprisingly, non-vegetarian Coorg items like yarchi pulav (mutton pulav), pandi curry (pork curry) and koli curry (mutton curry) amongst many more dishes. 

But this doesn’t mean the vegetarians have been left out. The sisters also offer several Kodava preparations like kommu curry (wild mushroom curry), korru curry (mixed beans curry), kumbla curry (pumpkin curry) to name a few. All they need is two days’ notice and minimum order should come to Rs 700.

But in our hi-tech, highly connected age these cooks are also sharing their regional food cultures and expertise through blogs, cooking classes and events which allow them to promote their cuisines and business.
If you peep into Mumbai-based Parsi chef’s Perzen Patel’s kitchen, you’ll find the 27-year-old diligently preparing Parsi specialities and simultaneously taking pictures which later goes into her blog, Bawi Bride, along with the recipe. On days Patel is not blogging, she is whipping up Parsi dishes for pop-up events or hosting food enthusiasts at her house to introduce them to everyday Parsi fare.

Similarly, Gurgaon-based Rajyasree Sen, a dedicated foodie, home-cook and writer, is constantly sharing her Bengali and Anglo-Indian recipes on her blog Food for Thought. And sisters Anjali and Ambika are also planning to share their knowledge about the food and products of Coorg. “Soon there will be collaborations with cooking sessions and dining experiences and multi-city events,” says Anjali.

  • In Mumbai, Perzen Patel, 27, specialises in Parsi cuisine and juggles between catering, holding personalised cooking classes and hosting food events; Pic: GAJANAN DUDHALKAR

Patel is nursing an even grander food dream. “My ultimate dream is to run a Parsi food truck so that the accessibility to Parsi food is not confined to a certain location,” says Patel.

Interestingly, till few years back Patel, who now runs her cooking and catering unit called Bawi Bride Kitchen, knew very little about Parsi cooking. It was only when she got married that she felt she had to impress her food-loving husband and in-laws with Parsi specialities. She did this by making secret midnight calls to her mother in New Zealand to get detailed Parsi recipes. “That’s also when I felt the need to share my experience and also lesser known Parsi recipes through my blog,” says Patel.

Today Patel’s diary is choc-a-bloc with orders for food and food hosting events but she’s also looking at expanding her business further. She recently quit her marketing job and is now busier than ever putting together a lunch and dinner meal plans service which is scheduled to kick-off 
in March.

Foodies who are keen on knowing about and trying different Parsi dishes can check Patel’s website and pick items like dhansak (meat and lentils curry), patra ni machchi (steamed chutney-coated pomfret) or lagan nu custard (a creamy dessert) to name a few. Patel’s pop-up events cost Rs 800 to Rs 1,000 and if you order a Parsi meal it costs Rs 1,200.

While most home-cooks may dream of opening a restaurant or outlet someday, Calcutta-born Sen took the opposite route. A passionate cook, she first opened a Bengali restaurant called Brown Sahib in Delhi and then switched to catering business and cooking from home.

“Cooking and catering is more enjoyable than running a restaurant where you have to worry about a lot of paperwork,” chuckles Sen. The wafting aromas of bhetki paturi linger in Sen’s kitchen. The food is transported to customers’ homes in Tupperware dabbas. Today Sen juggles two jobs — that of a consultant and a writer — and it’s mainly on weekends that she dons the chef’s hat and cooks up a storm of Bengali fare.

  • Rajyasree Sen, who is a foodie, home-cook and writer, writes about her Bengali and Anglo-Indian recipes on her blog Food for Thought; Pic: Jagan Negi

Apart from bhetki paturi, much in demand are her keemar chops (minced meat cutlet), chicken cutlet, chingri maachher malai curry (prawns in coconut gravy), tok dal (tangy mango dal) and bhapa doi (steamed yogurt) to name a few dishes.

You can order food through Sen’s blog and the minimum order should come to Rs 3,000 and should be ordered 48 hours in advance.

At the end of the day it is a win-win for both the foodies and home cooks. While food lovers get a great food experience, the home-cooks get to convert their passion into profession.