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Home / Mint-lounge / Features /  Entrepreneurs | One dish, but so delish

Many of us have that one dish we think only we can make best—and it feels great to have friends and family tell us repeatedly how wonderful it is. But does being good at making one thing, or even five, qualify anyone to open a restaurant or catering service? Four food entrepreneurs, who got into the business of cooking, baking, tea-making, and liqueur-producing for strangers simply because they believed in their talent, show us how it can be done.

The baker

It’s a bakery store in a Tata Nano car. You can see it around Bandra, Breach Candy or Horniman Circle in Mumbai on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Yet little is known about the person behind it and the 27-year-old baker and former banker, who operates under the brand name Sweetish House Mafia, prefers it that way.

“It’s like the food-truck concept you see in New York," she says over the phone. “In Mumbai, the idea is novel and that is why people are talking about it. But I don’t want my personality to overtake the brand. Besides ‘who is the baker’ adds some mystery."

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Cookies being sold from Sweetish House Mafia’s Tata Nano. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint

Though the response to her baking has been tremendous, she remains cautious: “My husband is already saying ‘Let us scale this up; let’s get more cars for delivery; get you more help in the kitchen so you can bake more easily,’ but all this is overwhelming."

Lessons she swears by: Being anonymous has worked in favour of the Sweetish House Mafia baker and she does not want to reveal her identity as of now. Frequent updates on Twitter and Facebook about the car’s next stopover, as well as asking people for suggestions on the next sales site, have kept interest alive in the brand.

The tea connoisseur

After Jiten Suchede, 32, who runs design and strategy firm Jamura Design Lab in New Delhi, finds out that I prefer non-milky tea, he decides to brew “Papawali chai"—a brew made by steeping tea leaves for a couple of minutes in pre-boiled water with a touch of milk added later.

Suchede, who organizes the Jugmug Thela—a pop-up tea and coffee pushcart which serves about 8-12 varieties of hot and cold beverages besides bespoke chai (tea made the way a customer prefers it)—has participated in three events in Delhi since February. Some of the staples at Jugmug Thela include the 12 Spice Secret Masala Chai (made from fresh herbs and ground spices), Chat-Pa-Tea (lemon tea with cumin and black salt), no-milk Greek Frappe and Vietnamese Ice Coffee or Ca Phe Su Da. He says people are willing to spend 100-150 for 100-300ml cups of chai and coffee produced at a non-branded thela because “here people get to try new stuff not found in most branded coffee shops. I am in this to help people discover new brews".

Some of his “weird" experiments include using Vicks ginger cough drops because he had “no sugar and no ginger". Though his first attempt at making tea for a large crowd (at a cousin’s wedding in Mumbai when he was 17-18) went awry—an uncle admonished him with “never make tea again"—Suchede did not stop. “I spent some time at kitlis or tea shops in Ahmedabad and got addicted to having my tea brewed in a certain way. I learnt you don’t need fancy ingredients to make different kinds of brews. How long you brew tea leaves, how much milk you add, when you add the sugar—any of these factors can change your tea," he says.

Lessons he swears by: “At my first event, a woman ordered tea and requested we serve her at a table a little further away. We agreed but forgot. She came back after a while to tell us we had poor customer service," he says. After this Suchede decided he would request people who come to the thela to take their tea or coffee with them. Another lesson has been to be “more vocal" about letting people know that these beverages will take time since “we are brewing fresh and not churning out machine-made stuff".

The home chef

The aroma of dry Hmmmutton ( 850 for 1kg) as it is heated is hard to resist. Once you start eating, the taste of cinnamon, curry leaves, mint, cardamom and betel leaves hits your palate with every bite. Hmmmutton is a recipe that Rathin Mathur, 42, founder and CEO of Wellscience (a company that formulates and markets Ayurveda-based natural supplements), worked on for a while. He says the dry meat preparation is influenced by the cuisines of Kerala, Kashmir, Malaysia and Indonesia.

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Rathin Mathur cooks mutton and chicken at home. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint

While none of his friends ordered that day, they shared the page with their friends and some took a chance on Hmmmutton. “The response was fantastic. Within a week, adman Swapan Seth had ordered it, tweeted about it and that set the ball rolling," he says.

From making a couple of kilos every week till three months ago, Mathur says he now makes close to 5kg at least three-four times a week and even then he is generally pre-booked. Hmmmutton takes about 7 hours to cook and to get it just right, Mathur has changed his butcher three times, invested in a weighing machine, started vacuum-sealing his masalas and paying his house help extra cash to help chop onions and tomatoes.

A month ago, he introduced Gorkha Langar Chicken ( 500 for 1kg) because “people were asking for a chicken dish. This recipe is inspired by the chicken made at a regimental cook house in Dehradun where I used to sneak in with my father’s orderly just to eat this dish. It was tough to get the original recipe, but I spoke with my mother, made my sister the tasting guinea pig so I could conjure up a dish as close to the original as possible."

Mathur is not looking to scale up, but he is spending more time in the kitchen so he can keep pace with the orders pouring in.

Lessons he swears by: “When you are cooking for people who are paying for it, you have to make sure the dish is consistent. For ingredients, I used estimates earlier, now I use a weighing scale and an Excel sheet for everything," he says. To ensure quality, Mathur says he pays special attention to ingredient sourcing. “I have standardized my suppliers’ list, especially the butcher. When you order a kilo of meat, you get good quality. When you order in large quantities, butchers can send some stringy meat too. I always check the meat before using it," he adds.

The liqueur maker

Guffaw Home Made Coffee Liqueur, a mix of freshly ground coffee, dark rum with a hint of vanilla ( 1,550 per 750ml), made by Alpana Parmar, 35, might be too sweet on its own, but it makes a terrific additive in cakes and desserts. Delhi-based Parmar, a marketing professional in another life, and now an army wife who often travels to be with her husband, makes this liqueur using a family recipe. “I visited Munnar in Kerala a few years ago and bought coffee beans and vanilla pods. I tried to make the liqueur using various blends of freshly ground coffee beans instead of instant coffee and the result was a better liqueur," she says.

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Alpana Parmar with her liqueur. Photo courtesy: Alpana Parmar

Parmar says it takes her a day to finish making one batch (about 12 bottles of 750ml each) of the liqueur. She also sells plum wine, which she first made in 2009 when her husband was posted in Srinagar and the bungalow had three-four plum trees. “I looked up recipes on how to make plum wine, experimented and added my own ingredients," she says.

Though Parmar has been on Facebook for a while, it was not until she reached out to a community of food bloggers and bakers that she found buyers for her products. “In the last three months, I have sold 40-50 bottles and my products are largely popular with the expat community in Delhi." Parmar, who bottles her wine and liqueur in recycled alcohol bottles, hopes to scale up, but knows she will also have to work at creating awareness about her artisanal wine and liqueur. She will start selling from Mumbai and Bangalore soon.

Lessons she swears by: Get connected to food bloggers and communities of people interested in cooking. “It was only after signing up with the Secret Delhi group on Facebook that I got many enquiries about my coffee liqueur," she says. “I also approached a group of bakers on Facebook, 90% of whom run home-baking businesses. Some helped me to understand how to use Facebook to promote my business."

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