The pop-up tea party, New Delhi

Of the 10 guests at Sumedha Jain’s pop-up tea party in south Delhi, some are present to try new desserts and meet the pastry chef—a graduate from The Culinary Institute of America, New York—in her home setting. Others have come in the hope of teasing recipes and baking tips out of Jain (“To make madeleines, pipe the batter into the moulds for a smoother finish," she obliges). At least one gentleman wants to see if Jain might bake for a private party at his home. For most, it is an opportunity to network and exchange business cards.

To be sure, the pop-up house party idea isn’t new. It has been tested in the West for many years, with supper clubs being popular in Germany and the home tea rooms in the UK and the US. Jain says she was inspired by the Uparwali Chai (high tea) events that Mint Lounge columnist Pamela Timms organized in New Delhi a few years ago.

It is exciting, however, that some home cooks are now exploring ways beyond the make-and-deliver model to market their creations. Like Jain, who isn’t so much in the business of selling desserts as curating experiences around her food.

Jain’s panna cotta with a cookie

“It’s the element of mystery that attracts people to these parties," says Jain. And so she doesn’t announce the menu or the guest list beforehand.

As for who gets in, Jain announces the event on the Facebook page for her venture, Nomad Pattissier’s Secrets , and anyone can pay the 1,000 fee for admission. That is, after a brief conversation on the phone with Jain. “I only do a very light screening over the telephone, just so I don’t invite anyone my other guests might feel uncomfortable around," she explains.

Fine-tuning the business model will take some time still. Jain is figuring out a way to charge people when they RSVP; for her first pop-up, two people cancelled last minute, burdening her with the extra ingredient costs. Sourcing materials too is something Jain is trying to streamline. “I try and use local produce, but good ingredients are hard to come by. Also, I am sharing my mom’s fridge and oven so it’s not like I can buy (or bake) in bulk," she adds.

At the party, the guests drive the conversation through the evening, which typically lasts from 5.30-10pm. Jain pops in and out of the kitchen, plating dishes and checking in on her guests intermittently. She takes time to explain the dishes as well as take questions and comments.

The menu comprises 8-10 dishes, including a couple of baked savouries. The first single-serve panna cotta dish on this occasion is quickly followed by a frangipane with a plum preserve centre. A tray full of sugar and chocolate chouquettes is passed around, and the bite-sized desserts disappear in minutes. By the time the fourth dessert, a ginger cake covered in chocolate ganache, served with pear sorbet and blue cheese, comes to the table, everyone’s reaching for the jug of water—this evening is for the seriously sweet-toothed.

Chanpreet Khurana

Cuisines on call, Bangalore

MeatBoat chefs (from left) Anjali Ganapathy, Letita D’cOSTA, Neha Mathur and Sajini Shetty. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint
MeatBoat chefs (from left) Anjali Ganapathy, Letita D’cOSTA, Neha Mathur and Sajini Shetty. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint

“I love cooking for my friends and family and especially for my grandchildren. Since I have a big kitchen and all the required infrastructure, I thought I could try my hand at a small catering business on MealBoat," says D’Costa. “Since I lived in the Middle-East for many years, my menu is a combination of their cuisine as well as Mangalorean, Continental and other dishes that I have perfected over the years and I have been getting good feedback for them," she says with a smile.

A little more than a month old, MealBoat has on its roster several star home chefs across Bangalore, home-delivering a range of international and regional cuisines—biryanis, bakes, Bengali shorshe maach, Mangalorean gassi—for cash on receipt or online payments (from mid-October). This fast-expanding virtual network of neighbourhoods, cooks, small caterers and foodies is the brainchild of a group of city techies, who aim to curate good food, talented home chefs as well as offer small businesses a platform to showcase their produce.

Among them is Sonali Majumdar from Yelahanka, who runs her small Bengali catering outfit called Rannaghor—The Kitchen on MealBoat. “I think I am among the first people to tap into the authentic Bengali home-cooked food space and I think it has a lot of potential," says Majumdar. There are many Bengalis in Bangalore as well as sizeable population interested in experimenting with different cuisines. Other chefs on the portal include Gopinath Shetty, who specializes in sweet and savoury home-style dishes and biryani by the kilo, and self-taught sisters Anjali and Ambika Ganapathy, who, after gaining some visibility through pop-ups at Sunday Soul Sante and other flea markets, are on MealBoat with their brand of Coorg specialities Pig Out!.

“Our idea is to bring together those who like to cook with those who like to eat, but don’t necessarily cook," explains Sajini Shetty, one of the home-chef partners on MealBoat. “We want to create a network where Bangaloreans can find different food options available across the city for different meal occasions and can connect with home chefs in their neighbourhood and perhaps even in their own building."

There are plans to provide users with single meal and dabba/snack box options as well as masalas, jams and preserves. As the area of operation and traffic on the site increases, reviews and ratings of the home cooks will become available, allowing users to choose, for example, the best cheesecake in a particular neighbourhood, or even the best khao suey in the city.

Diya Kohli

Doorbells to dinner, Mumbai

Ranjith and Sheetal Bhonsle Rajasekharan of OUMK
Ranjith and Sheetal Bhonsle Rajasekharan of OUMK
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