The pandemic thwarted not just our travel plans, but also barred us all from eating out or even placing online orders from our favourite eateries. But the year was wrapped in the aroma of home-cooked dishes delivered from someone’s kitchen, and of meal subscription plans, and cloud kitchens. The pandemic resulted in flourishing businesses for home bakers and cooks, and cloud kitchen owners.
The Chennai Story
Blogger and cooking instructor, Sara Koshy has been baking for the last 25 years, attending workshops to hone her skills, working on refining and modifying her recipes, adding new baked delicacies to her menu. She specialises in baked goods, and says the past few months have worked out well for her business. “It’s been a good time for me to work on a few recipes I’d been wanting to try out. The lockdown kept me pretty busy“, she says. While the initial days of the pandemic slowed down all businesses, people living in Sara’s vicinity started contacting her, ordering her dishes once the lockdown rules had eased. “I learnt to make babkas years ago. The lockdown was a good time for me to try out different fillings.”
Started by Humera Begum and Mehak Khezan Baig, The Buddy’s Kitchen originated as an idea in February 2020, after Humera and Mehak put up their food stall at an event called The Big Picnic. “There were some big names participating, but the response that we received left us humbled and overwhelmed. We even received a few partnership offers at the event, which made us think more in this direction”, adds Humera. The duo brought The Buddy’s Kitchen initiative to Instagram around July 2020 and started delivering food to customers during the lockdown. The Zaffrani Matka Phirni is their specialty. “Our deliveries were done through Dunzo and Swiggy so we were able to deliver to most areas across Chennai,” says Mehak. With most of their orders being pre-booked, Mehak and Humera have a well-planned work schedule for the days ahead. “We limit the number of orders on a given day, so that we prepare the meals, for the ones that have already placed an order, with patience and zeal”, says Humera.
Certified nutritionist Maria Priyanka started Healthychef Kitchen almost two years back when she moved to Chennai from Bangalore. With people looking increasingly at healthy food options during the pandemic year, they offered monthly and weekly meal subscriptions which were an instant hit. The meal plans are based on two types of diets, low carb and keto. “Every week we have a different menu, and we cater to different cuisines – Indian, Continental, Jamaican, and many more”, says Priyanka. And she’s had her hands full during these months. “My kitchen runs from 7:30am to 12:30am.” She believes that services like hers are here to stay. “People love healthy home-cooked food being delivered to their doorstep with zero contact in these times. I’ve been getting a great response from Chennai.”
Another successful health food initiative in Chennai is Aakaariyaa. With a motto of ‘Reshaping Your Life’, it was started in 2018 by certified holistic health coach Deepali Nichani. “I was in college back then and started it as a passion project wanting to create the world on a plate”, she says. “My journey started with cooking for myself, with the struggle of not being able to find enough options. Cooking for myself, experimenting with different tastes, feeding family and friends, led me to discover my passion for creating diverse meals and giving people healthier eating options, which are probably not easily accessible to all.” Her sushi sandwich is in high demand as well as the pizza, pasta, mock meat dishes, Buddha bowls and vegan caramel tarts. “Initially we were clueless when the pandemic hit. But after a short break, we decided to relaunch as a fully vegan brand. To our surprise, we received recognition and appreciation immediately.” With orders ranging between 5-50 per day, Deepali believes that veganism as a trend and lifestyle is on an upward graph right now. “More and more people are becoming aware of the benefits of turning to plant based food.”
What Brewed in Bangalore
There are chefs that want you to visit their restaurants again, and there are home chefs who make sure that you do not have to visit any restaurants again. They not only guarantee a fresh and homemade range of food dishes but also surprise you with unique tastes that you are not likely to find anywhere else. With commercial businesses shutting down during lockdown, home chefs from Bangalore made sure that their customers continue to get the best of food in these unusual times.
Aurélie Lalande, Plume Delicacies
Having grown up making French pastries at home in France, Lalande decided to set up her baking business in Bangalore last year in November. From leaving her job in the fashion industry to pursuing a degree in baking, she took up the challenge of switching her life to what she truly loved – baking. With support from her friends in India in setting up the business, her range of dishes—French pastries, quiche, cookies, tarts, and cakes—began to receive attention at parties. “People are always happy to taste new dishes,” she says.
Despite business being closed in lockdown, Aurélie continued to bake through the period meeting the demand for baked goods. Famous for her lemon tart, the recipe she has not changed in years, she reopened Plume Delicacies last month. In no time, orders began to increase as people wanted to try something new. Sharing the workload with two other people, Aurélie is set to take her home chef career to the next level. She is soon opening her own Café Plume in Bangalore. From baking 20 items a day to saying no to a few orders in Christmas, 2020 has been pretty smooth for her year-old venture.
Jyothi Varne, Spice Charmer
Three years ago, when Jyothi’s Anglo-Indian friend introduced her to a plum cake, she knew that she had to make it at home. From receiving support from family to taking a course on weekends to hone her skills, she soon planned to switch from her corporate job to full-time cooking.
Her food blog, Flavor Flame Fusion, was her first step towards pursuing her passion, which she has been using to review restaurant dishes and write about her own DIY recipes. With a belief that she could make those dishes better than restaurants, the plan was made to start her own home chef journey with the name, Spice Charmer. Despite having substantial industry knowledge, Jyothi invested her time to learn cooking from YouTube and old-time cookbooks that she would purchase from second-hand book shops. “I like masaaledaar khaana”, she confesses while talking about her love for dishes like fish curry and dum biryani that reflect her roots in Hyderabad and Tamil Nadu.
During the lockdown, Spice Charmer received huge orders for its organic bread as people were unable to find any bread in the market. Along with her bread, she also delivered other items like homemade jams, stuffed pies, and pizzas. During Christmas, around 15-17kg of cake were made, out of which her plum rum cake became the top seller. As a home chef, the entire business is managed by Jyothi, and her mother who often helps in choosing fresh ingredients from the market and ensuring that her customers get the best of their organic food.
Rekha Joseph, RJ’S Healthylicious
“People today put more trust on home chefs than commercial bakeries,” says Rekha Joseph, who first started designing bread using ragi, oats, and flour with a creative twist that any child at home would love to eat. Whether it was minion print bread, sculpture art bread, or cake pop, being a mother herself, she exactly knew what would excite young minds. With an aim to use no preservatives, cake gels, and pre-mixes, Rekha began to make customised theme cakes using homemade wine, natural sugar, jaggery, and other organic items.
On asking how her three-year-old venture, RJ’s Healthylicious, associates cakes with ‘healthy’, she replies, “I provide my customers options to use refined sugar-free or flour and further educate them about its benefits.” The plan is to make her customers’ celebrations a little healthier than what they usually get from commercial bakeries. From baking to client interaction to accounts to delivery, Rekha has been handling everything single-handedly.
Over the years, her products have helped her build trust among her customers and motivated her to create her own different style. Excluding the initial lockdown months, she was busy taking orders from her locality and regular customers. During Christmas, she sent out hampers which comprised her famous gingerbread cookies, babka bread, and brownies.
Rhea Aaron, Klaa Kitchen
From having great cooks at home to working as a junior chef for continental cuisine at Marriot International, Rhea Aaron had the right experience and support to take her love for European cuisine to the next level. “Klaasic food” as she and her brother would usually say after enjoying a tasty dish, quite interestingly transformed itself into her venture called Klaa Kitchen, which she launched in August this year.
Fondly recognised for her butter chicken pasty, a new combination of puff and pastry, Rhea aims to provide her customers with lesser-known food dishes in Bangalore that also includes Korean and Portuguese dishes. “I am not getting back to the hotel,” says Rhea, who recently held her first back sale with 60 pastries, all of which were sold out in three hours.
Being half-Goan and half-Tamilian, she also loves cooking Goan chicken, homemade puffs, and her mother’s famous cutlets. When her love for European taste unites with her cherished Goan and Tamilian recipes, the scope for experimentation only grows. After delivering 120 cakes in the festive season, Rhea, who has been receiving new customers through word-of-mouth, plans to expand her venture by travelling to places and making new dishes using local recipes.