Bindu Gopal Rao
Earlier this year, as the pandemic struck and the lockdown shut hotels and restaurants, Chef Harry found himself stuck at home, without salary. A senior chef de partie at a hotel in Zirakpur, Punjab, he immediately took the plunge and decided to start The Avpreet Kitchen with his wife and parents.
“Sitting at home and brooding over the situation wouldn’t have done me any good. I knew people from my area were itching for restaurant food but were wary of ordering from outside. However, when it came to food cooked by people they knew, they didn’t mind. I then decided to take the plunge and became a home chef. I applied for the FSSAI Food License and spread the word on WhatsApp,” says Chef Harry aka Harjot Singh. He now gets about 20 orders for lunch and dinner on a given day.
With eating out the only outdoor activity for most urban Indians, lockdown was like a big blow. Even as India unlocked, only home chefs and bakers from the immediate neighbourhood seemed like the safest bet, the only ones to be trusted, if at all. This was also the much-needed opportunity for several like Mumbai-based journalist Priyanka Pani, who always had a penchant for food. Employed with a London-based FinTech publication, the lockdown left her with too much time at hand and she started doing chat sessions on food. “I soon discovered that homecooked food had immense potential with people happy to rely on someone they knew.” The result was MyDidi's Kitchen in August.
She now cooks delicacies from Odisha, her home state, and is happy to promote Odia specialties like the famous brown rasgullas. From an order or two in the first week, business has grown to 15 a day. Priyanka has a house help, who lives with her, to assist her in the kitchen and has a substantial number of monthly subscribers. “This has helped me earn some extra bucks while managing my regular job. The margins are at a healthy 30 to 40 per cent since I don’t have to bear rental or labour costs. We deliver through startups like Dunzo and Wefast,” adds Pani.
Good food promoted through fancy photos, thanks to smartphones, on social media have made outreach easier for these home chefs. Agrees Bengaluru-based Aiylapanda Nisheen Subbaiah, who has always had family and friends raving about her baking. When the lockdown shut the school she works with, she went pro with Nishi’s Love + Flour. She gets about three to four orders per day and handles them on her own.
Praveen Sawhney, who runs Greenolive Home Kitchen at Noida, is another one to turn home chef. “My family made me realise that there was a large void in the food space that needed to be filled. People were craving good food, but were skeptical about ordering from restaurants. So, we decided to start this small weekend kitchen,” says Sawhney, who was earlier running a boutique hotel in Goa. While his children take care of marketing and delivery, his wife packs the food. They work out of the two kitchens at their house and serve about 20-25 families every weekend. We wonder if he will go back to his original vocation once things are okay, and he says, “I don’t know. I am so in love with food!” And so are we!
The popularity of home chefs can be gauged from the fact that there are platforms that aggregate home chefs too. Shef, for instance, is a Mumbai-based food-tech platform that brings over 300 home chefs and bakers from across the city under one roof. Co-founder Deepti Verma Chhabria says the platform is designed to offer authentic home-cooked food having a wide variety of cuisines to offer. “Our platform brings together a vast variety of national, regional and international cuisines from basic yellow curry to Lebanese, Mediterranean. With people keen to experiment, we have been receiving an amazing response for desserts and international food.”
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