For those who enjoy cooking, home kitchens can be comfort zones, a space where creativity flows, where the trials of the day can be pushed aside to focus on good food. And for some, those kitchens aren’t just the heart of cooking and eating, but the centre of growing businesses that allow them to make and serve their food to hungry patrons across the city.
Dozens of home cooks in Bengaluru are taking their skills and passion for cooking to create mini-takeaway and delivery services for their food. From pot pies and croissants to traditional regional Indian cooking, home chefs are churning out weekly menus for residents looking for delicious homemade food that, most importantly, they don’t have to make themselves.
While some of these endeavours have existed for years, others started out recently, amidst the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns that kept dining out to a minimum. Venus Menon, who is based in Mahadevapura in Bengaluru, had been thinking about starting her own home cooking business for years, but the timing was never quite right.
This week, we've gone back to some populars - the idiappam and stew, and the chicken varatharacha curry (a curry with grated, roasted coconut as its base).— Adukkala108 (@adukkala108) July 8, 2020
Our specials this week:
An utterly delicious Kerala prawn fry - our special, very secret recipe - and dry chicken. pic.twitter.com/i8JsqXXFog
“It’s been a very, very long-term dream and now I’ve found myself in a place that’s allowed me to start,” she said.
Venus is originally from south Kerala, though she’s lived in many parts of her country, and her repertoire is just as varied. But through her orders, she’s found that there is greatest demand for traditional Kerala dishes — such as prawn ghee roast, payasam and varutharacha kozhi — as well as dry snacks like murruku, ribbon pakkavada, unniyappam and achappam, in which she specialises. “I took the decision to stick to Kerala food.”
The home cooking business hasn’t been limited to amateur cooks either. Benpramar Das Laitflang, a chef and restaurateur, was all set to open a new restaurant in Goa this year after his previous eatery, Tierra Y Mar, closed down last year. However, the pandemic put his plans on hold, so he came to Bengaluru to stay with his family. And while waiting for an opportune and safe moment to restart his restaurant plans, he decided to put his culinary skills to use through his home kitchen.
Benpramar, who goes by Ben, now serves a variety of seven-inch pot pies, made with shortcrust pie pastry, with fillings that include vegetables, chicken, beef mince and cheddar cheese, and a steak and marrow version with beef tenderloin, potatoes, served with onion, bone marrow and red wine gravy.
“It’s been a good opportunity for me to try new recipes,” he said.
Ben, who trained in a culinary school in Argentina before moving to Goa, also has menus with Korean, Japanese and South American fare, like empanadas and bibimbap. And after working in the restaurant industry in Goa, he said it’s been interesting to see the differences in his customer base in Bengaluru. “You have young adults ordering as well as settled families. The demographic is very spread out,” he said. “People are more inclined to spend on eating out or deliveries.”
But the lockdown has been a challenging time for the food industry, including home kitchens that primarily cater to larger parties and events. Tanya Mannan started Party on a Platter in Bengaluru four years ago after leaving a career in Human Resources. She started by catering a birthday party for a friend, and it took off from there, cooking for 15 to 50, and even up to 100 people. However, when the lockdown hit, people started to cancel parties or hold smaller events with fewer guests.
Tanya has now largely put her work on hold for a while, until it’s safe for larger gatherings to take place. In the meanwhile, she plans to expand her menu, try new recipes and increase her ability to feed even bigger crowds. Given universal concerns over health safety, Tanya feels that people are still drawn to home cooking businesses, which maintain a certain standard, care and quality.
“People are more comfortable with people cooking from home. They know the kind of quality will be good and hygiene standards will be good,” she said.
The lockdown also made it challenging to procure certain ingredients and materials needed to cook and deliver the food. That includes finding packaging material and making sure delivery platforms were functional, Venus said. One of the biggest hurdles she faced was ensuring a steady access to cooking supplies. “We didn’t try fish for the longest time because we were not sure of supply chains and how fresh the produce would be.”
She was eventually able to purchase fish regularly, and those dishes are now among her most popular.
The fact that everyone is now stuck at home has also assisted some businesses, like Arati Rao’s Le Petit Chou, which focuses on French pastries. After years working in the hotel industry, Arati quit to pursue her passion for baking. She worked and learnt under a chef in Marseille, France, before returning to Bengaluru to start her own brand in August-September 2018.
Through Le Petit Chou, she now makes tarts, quiches, brioche, pain au chocolat, and hundreds of croissants a week. For weekend orders, Arati begins work by 1.30 am on Saturday, prepping orders that’ll go out by 10.30 am.
Though Arati stopped taking orders during the initial lockdown to minimise risks, she began again once it became clear that coronavirus was going to stay awhile.
“The lockdown may have given me that extra push because a lot of people are at home all the time and they’re tired of cooking,” she said, adding that her expanded menu as well as word-of-mouth has also bolstered her orders for the year.
And while these businesses are growing and gaining new fans, each is also looking to expand their offerings. Venus is hoping to create meal portions for single adults living alone. She also plans to get into more traditional Malayali snacks, particularly ones that are often forgotten, like chakka appam and ada. “These are things we used to have at tea time in Kerala,” she said.
Arati is also looking to expand by increasing her scale of production out of her home kitchen. While she currently makes 120 croissants every week, she said she’d like to be able to make 200 or 300 croissants.
Ben is also looking to make some changes to his menu, and possibly plan a few pop-ups when it’s safe to do so. “It’s an exciting phase for food, to do something unique,” he said.
For Le Petit Chou, get in touch with Arati at 9008311669, email@example.com or via Instagram. Orders must be done in advance.
For Ben, send a Whatsapp message to 9833943354 at least 24 hours in advance for orders.
For Venus's Adukkala108, DM on Twitter or Whatsapp to 8296612242.
Looking for more home chefs in Bengaluru? Check out the thread below.
Bangalore! I’m looking for home cooks that are serving delicious food through deliveries or picks ups. Send me your recs, I’ll compile them here.— Nikhita Venugopal (@nkvenugopal) July 24, 2020