The Women Behind New Foodie Revolution

Do you ever get the feeling that everyone around you is talking, eating, breathing and, of course, taking pictures of food? Well, you are not wrong. There is no denying that this is The Age of the Foodie, in India; not that food was not important to us before. What is different now is that this obsession has given a fillip to entrepreneurship. And it is the women of India who are at the vanguard of this New Foodie Revolution.

You may have heard of ‘home chef’ before. It refers to women (or men) who are not trained chefs but have used their cooking skills to create revenue generating opportunities. This is not a new phenomenon either. Corporate Mumbai, for example, ran on ‘monthly dabbas’ sent by women across Mumbai. They tapped the dabbawala network and provided home-cooked food for office goers. They were the precursors to the home chefs of today, who have emerged across the major metros. From lesser exposed regional cuisines such as Assamese, Coorgi and Himachali to micro-community cuisines such as PatharePrabhu and Koli in Mumbai, and Kayasth cuisine in Delhi… local food lovers got a taste of them all thanks to these women. Many of the early home chefs have now begun to build their own business models. Some examples would be Shri Bala of Chennai who conducts festivals showcasing food from the Sangam Age, JoyeeMohanta and PriyangiBorthakur who run an Assamese delivery kitchen called O’Tenga, in Mumbai, and Manzilat Fatima of Kolkata, a descendant of the late NawabWajid Ali Shah, who offers a home-styled dining option to experience heirloom Awadhi food.

It would be fair to say that the work of these home chefs inspired some of our modern restaurateurs and chefs to set up regional food restaurants in India. Once again, it was women such as PinkyChandan Dixit with Soam, in Mumbai, and Doma Wang with Blue Poppy, in Kolkata, who set up and ran regional food restaurants even before they became trendy. In the current wave, you have folks such as Kainaz Contractor of Rustom’sBhonu and Poonam Singh and Shilpa Sharma of Mustard, pushing the regional Indian food restaurant envelope.

And it is not just in India. Women from here who went to the UK, switched careers and made a name for themselves by showcasing ‘real food’ from the kitchens of India, have been trailblazers in their own right. Camellia Punjabi was awarded the MBE for her pioneering work in the field, as was more recently, Romy Hardeep Gill. Asma Said Khan became the first Britisher to have a Chef’s Table episode of her own. MallikaBasu and MallikaGowardhan from India have written best-selling regional Indian cookbooks, run workshops and catering businesses of their own in the UK.

There are many reasons for this success – the passion to excel and prove a point, feels Khan. Fuelled by soft power in terms of sensitivity to the needs of their customers and their staff, says PinkyChandan Dixit. And the ability to think out of the box believes AnuritaGhoshal, an advertising professional turned Le Cordon Bleu pastry chef in Mumbai. Ghoshal has now moved beyond working out of her own studio to retailing her bakes in a restaurant and consulting another for its dessert menus. “This is a model I chose, someone else might take a different path,” she says.
What these kitchen tales have made me strongly believe is that the next decade in the world of Indian food is going to be one driven by women.

I am sure there are many more tales of Indian women who are game changers in the world of Indian food, and we would love to hear these stories from you, especially if they are your own. Please write to us at www.timeskitchentales.com and we would be happy to feature their stories.

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