This article was originally published in Asian Age. Read the complete article here.
A new breed of homemakers and chefs is stepping out of their kitchens to dish out meals at city restaurants and food services
It is a Saturday afternoon and Mrs Urmila Gohil is roasting both sides of the bhakri on a girdle pan with one hand, while garnishing dhoklas with the other. Gohil, a homemaker who used to, until recently, only cook meals for her family, is today taking orders at Sofitel’s vegetarian dining bar, Tuskers. Originally from Vadodara, she adds an authentic Gujarati touch to her meals that the hotel believes will give their customers a richer experience. Neha Varma, her sister joins her in the kitchen to help dish out some traditional fare. The two are part of Sofitel’s ongoing Padharo Gujarat Festival that will last till February 28.
Gohil and Varma aren’t the only ones who’ve stepped out of their kitchen and into a more commercial chef’s workstation to make the best of their culinary skills. An increasing number of home chefs (chefs who have a catering business at home) and homemakers are taking to commercial cooking to cater to patrons who crave for home-style food at restaurants.
Urmila, who is looking at the opportunity to sharpen her gastronomical sense, admits that while her cooking is a clear hit with her family, it’s not as easy to please the patron of a restaurant. “Working at the restaurant gave us a fair understanding of what people like in the cuisine and their preferences with flavours. At home, we know how to adjust the balance of flavours according to our family’s tastes, but working for a restaurant is a different ball game,” she says. One of the major reasons why it is so is because of the care taken while presenting the food. “In a restaurant, presentation holds utmost importance. The difficulty arrives when we have to serve every dish individually, since I am only used to serving my family or cooking a portion that serves four.”
Indrajit, the executive chef at Sofitel believes that the secret ingredients to crackling recipes still lie with the home chefs and inviting them into a professional chef’s cooking station only works as a win-win situation. “The traditional recipes are best known to home chefs. It helps to have them over since people who dine out prefer flavours that remind them of home-cooked food. Also, it acts as a great learning experience. For instance, I may be good at continental cuisine, but cooking up a Gujarati fare isn’t my forte. Working with home chefs will help me understand Gujarati food better.”
Food writer and consultant Mini Ribeiro’s food event Flavours from Home brought together 20 home chefs where they whipped up their signature specialties in Sindhi, Gujarati, Parsi, Goan, East Indian and Maharashtrian cuisines. Mini, who is looking to curate more such events in the coming months says, “There is a major emphasis on healthy eating today. The food cooked by home chefs isn’t oily or synthetic; there isn’t any food colour or additives involved. Besides, home-style food has a nostalgic value attached to it. Cooked with the simplest ingredients, these dishes are made the way your mother or aunt would make it. It is healthy and traditional recipes cannot get more authentic than this.”
Holachef is another example of a service that offers home-style food to its customers. An online meal service, it employees both amateur and professionals cooks (high-end caterers, celebrity chefs, executive/sous chefs) to whip up traditional and non-traditional dishes. The best part about it, says home-chef Rachna Prasad who has earlier worked with the Taj Mahal hotel, is that, “It gives one enough time to prepare the meals. Holachef tells us a week in advance what we’d be asked to cook, so one can stock up accordingly. Also, if I am not comfortable cooking something, I can tell them about my reservations and it’ll be changed accordingly.”