Why 2020 Was the Year of the Home Chef: The Mumbai Edition

Why 2020 Was the Year of the Home Chef: The Mumbai Edition
Mumbai chefs came into their own during the pandemic-induced lockdown, Photo Credit: TNF Online/Facebook

For home bakers and cloud kitchen owners, the otherwise tumultuous 2020 brought silver linings aplenty. In this series, we look at how the pandemic turned out to be a boost for home chefs as restaurants closed down

Aashna Dhiman
January 03 , 2021
17 Min Read

When the pandemic severely hit the country in March, even the financial capital had to keep its businesses shut for months. Coming to the rescue of all foodies in Mumbai was the community of passionate home chefs who supplied delicious khana with the assurance that their food was prepared in hygienic kitchens and delivered following safety guidelines. We talked to four such home chefs from Mumbai. 

Read: The Year of the Home Chef 

Sangeeta Shashital, Red Orange
She started as a designer making beautiful, patterned dress materials and dupattas. Red Orange represented Sangeeta Shashital’s motto, “Adding color to people’s lives”. Taking the same motto ahead later, she began to pursue her baking journey in 2002 after the convection oven made its first appearance at her place. Already winning hearts with her nankhatais that she made for school tiffins, Sangeeta began venturing into a range of other dishes. In the next few years, regular orders started coming in as more people started recognising her home brand through word of mouth. As kids grew up, they introduced her to the possibilities of social media and promotions. With help from daughter Tanushree, who by then had perfected the art of icing from YouTube, Sangeeta was running both her dress material business and baking simultaneously.

Read: Meet the One-Woman Army of Notting Hill

During the lockdown, Red Orange’s monthly schedule was filled with large orders for her bakes, including the popular brownies, walnut and vegan cakes and Nutella-based desserts. From Thane to South Mumbai, everyone wanted a taste of their home-made items.

 
 
 
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A post shared by Sangeeta & Tanushree Sashital (@redorange_)

 
 
 
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A post shared by Sangeeta & Tanushree Sashital (@redorange_)

Spearheading the presentation game, Tanushree does tasks that require patience while her mother takes care of the baking part. They've been doing quite well. They delivered 200 cupcakes in the last ten days, and introduced new items like cookies bars, rum, and wine cakes in their menu for the season.

Ramanuj Dutta and Saurabh Jitranjan, Petuk er Pantry
When the pandemic blues began to make them restless, cinematographer and home chef Ramanuj Dutta and Saurabh Jitranjan, a marketer and gardener, decided to pursue their passion project, Petuk er Pantry. “I have been cooking all my life,” says Dutta who derives inspiration from the Bengali dishes cooked by his mother and grandmother at home. Following in their culinary footsteps, the duo began with an introductory, three-course, weekly Bengali meal menu. While Saurabh designs the menu and handles everything from operations to customer services to marketing, Ramanuj curates and prepares a range of authentic Bengali food that he has specialised in (after travelling to places and speaking to chefs from both West Bengal and Bangladesh).

Read: Home Chefs in Goa Cook up a Storm

 
 
 
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“One should appreciate Bengali food in its totality,” says Dutta, “And not just limit it to West Bengal.” Famous for his Mutton Kala Bhuna, a 300-year-old Persian dish from Bangladesh, Dutta is motivated to serve soulful and authentic food to his customers who live in a fast-paced city like Mumbai. To ensure that their customers get the best, all ingredients are bought from local farmers and shopkeepers, and attempts are made to exclude plastic from their packaging.

Read: Why You Must Try the Eggs Kejriwal

Aditi Goel, Pie & Co
Growing up as that skinny kid who loved to eat and feed people, it was not difficult for chef Aditi to find her passion in cooking after she went to culinary school in Australia at the age of 19 and learnt the art of making pies from a homegrown brand. Knowing that pies are not a familiar dish on Indian dining tables, she decided to change the scene with her little kitchen in Mumbai, now running commercially as Pie & Co.

Sharing the workload is her two-women team who start their day at 8.30am baking up a storm of pies—savoury pies, Mac and Cheese pies, butter chicken pies, pizza pies, and many more—by using recipes that have been curated by Aditi herself. “My sanity is in the kitchen,” says Aditi who made the much-awaited switch from her small kitchen to a renovated studio apartment with an aim to grow her brand organically from scratch.

 
 
 
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A post shared by Pie and Co (@pieandcomumbai)

 
 
 
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A post shared by Pie and Co (@pieandcomumbai)

Considering that Indians would not relate to the concept of international pies, she decided to introduce Indian variants of pies like the Palak Paneer Pie, Veg Korma Pie, and Mutton Kheema Pie. However, to her surprise, people were enthusiastic to try her famous Mac n Cheese and Pizza Pies as well. Pie & Co soon expanded their services on platforms like Zomato and Swiggy and hit their 106th order in record time. Talking about the environment in their new kitchen, Aditi says, “We make sure that we don’t take any bad energy in the kitchen and give ourselves the freedom to take a day off or cancel orders if we are feeling overwhelmed.”

Madhumita Pyne, Insomniac Cook
“I love cooking,” says Madhumita Pyne, a filmmaker and a home chef from Mumbai, “It combines both art and science.” From making bottled jams five years ago as a side hustle to cooking authentic Bengali food for events and festivals in Mumbai, she realised that the maximum city lacks the wholesome variety that her hometown Kolkata has to offer. With her venture, Insomniac Cook, she aims to recreate nostalgic dishes from Kolkata using recipes that she has curated with help of her family, relatives, and the streets of her hometown.

Read: The Year of the Home Chef (Mumbai Edition)

 
 
 
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A post shared by Madhumita Pyne (@insomniaccook)

 
 
 
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Looking back at a challenging year, Madhumita feels proud of all the accomplishments that she added to her list as a home chef. Switching from an occasional menu to a daily one, not repeating any dish since May, receiving 40% of new customers during the lockdown, and organising her first wedding catering service - it has been a learning experience. Being a Bong, she recognises and celebrates the simplicity of Bengali food. Her Mutton Lonka Kancha and fish dishes (that she usually cooks using green chillies and minimal spices) have won her many fans. Talking about the authenticity of Bengali food, she says, “People should try vegetarian Bengali food dishes that are prepared using a wide range of seasonal produce and vegetables.”


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