A.Radhakrishnan meets popular Pune-based home-chef Bharathi Gundappa, a modest homemaker, whose supreme passion is cooking.
Please tell me a little about yourself. Your strengths and weaknesses.
I am an ambitious, confident, enthusiastic, friendly, honest and organised person. My strengths are always saying ‘yes’ and going out of my way to help, leading a systematic life, a good planner, building family cohesiveness and infinite patience. My weaknesses are unfortunately my inability to say ‘no’, wanting everything to be absolutely perfect and getting carried away by people.
Did you choose cooking by accident or was it design?
I think cooking was a hidden talent in me. Most of the time friends appreciating my cooking made me ponder over the possibility of taking it up as my profession and when my kids moved out of Pune for higher studies, the support and trust I got from family members / my team members made me design and convert my culinary skills into a startup.
Till I got married, I never had any experience of cooking. It was my grandmother, mother who inspired me initially and the realisation and confidence that I can cook well came with the appreciation from my father- in- law, as he always eagerly waited to be served food that I cooked.
What does food mean to you? Are you a foodie? How creative is cooking?
To me, food is life. I will cook and serve through life as long as the Almighty gives me strength. Creativity in cooking for me is presentation of food in its simplest form and garnishing it. If people applaud it, then I think the purpose is achieved. Cleanliness in cooking is also creative work.
I’m not a foodie though my son and caring hubby are. Their critical views matter. Enhanced communication between brain and tongue, I believe is a must for good cooking and eating.
What type of people form your clientele and how do they relate to your dishes? Where do you draw inspiration from? How would you rate your cooking skills?
Families /teachers who love vegetarian fare are my clients. Of late, working women have been added to my client list, as for them home cooked food is vital. Those whom I serve food have always shown appreciation as well as given critiques.
Inspiration is derived when people appreciate your hard work and simply love the food you have prepared. My husband himself is a good cook and he keeps trying out new recipes (either from his mother’s recipes or popular channels).
As for rating my cooking skills, I leave it to customers, as I strongly believe that delivery on time and meeting the customer expectation is paramount.
Is it the sheer love for food or commercial gain that rides high in your mind? How motivated are you?
Cooking with love is my passion. It helps me keep busy and connects me to the best of people. Through cooking, one also gets opportunities to learn by venturing into new territories, which motivates me further.
Do you keep abreast with the ongoing trends and developments within the culinary world and new spins on traditional dishes and does this inspire you to try out your own ideas?
Yes, I keep in touch with ongoing trends, through social media and my sister who is a food nutritionist, and try to make the best out of it. I try to also be creative with catering through the use of eco-friendly packing, delivery of friendly menu items and of late, wanting to cook what is of late becoming obsolete like Grandma’s recipes and also authentic and traditional food items.
Creative new ideas also emerged because my daughter at 14 years of age was troublesome in eating. As she was into dancing, I needed to feed her healthy and nutritious food. This prompted me to explore new recipes and I cheated her by adding almond and walnut powders in few curries and milkshakes. She went on to perform her Arangetram, where she danced for four hours on stage.
Truly, necessity is the mother of invention!
Explain your typical day as a home chef. Are you able to work flexible hours?
As a home maker, I wake up to the morning alarm at 6 am, and say by 6.30 am, I hit the kitchen and by 11.30 am, most of my work is done. Then it’s me time and workout at the gym. I plan the menu for the next day in the evening. As for being able to have flexible hours, it depends on the need. Sometimes, my day begins at 4.30 .
Tell me about your budgeting, purchasing and inventory control experience.
I am a small timer, catering to family and friends in a small way. It’s just an extension of my daily cooking. What I wish to maintain, however, is the QCD (Quality / Cost and Delivery).
Do you work well under pressure? How do you remain calm and composed when a rush of orders come in?
As I said, I am an organised person. The belief in my energy level keeps me cool and I try and deliver to the best of my abilities. I abhor getting into difficult situations. Knowing my strengths and limitations, I accept only what I can deliver. I do have my maids who assist me and are ready to put in extended working hours, in case of the odd difficult situation arising.
How many different types of cuisine are you capable of producing? What is your specialty? How customised are your menus?
I am a vegetarian and cater only to vegetarian food, both South/North Indian and sometimes Chinese too. Ideally the food we serve is what we eat at home, sometimes customised, based on the customer requirement. Our specialty however is South Indian Food.
How do you ensure the quality of the food going out to customers? How is your knowledge on food hygiene and allergens and dietary requirements?
We serve what we eat; so quality is adhered too. We certainly do take the benefits of the pricing of vegetables available in that particular season. Based on customer requests, we also accommodate food dietary requirements and also deliver Satvik food.
How often do you and family go to restaurants?
We do go to restaurants, maybe once a month. As kids are away, we both are not keen on eating out. My favourites are Paani Puri and my evening tea! When I go to a restaurant I always try some new dish. This way I have learnt bhendi kurkure, vegetable biryani and few other recipes.
What do you think about food critics? Is there a celebrity chef you admire the most?
Critics are most certainly welcome. Celebrity chefs like Sanjeev Kapoor are most learned and experienced and I do observe their cooking style and methods. He is the man who convinced me that cooking can be fun and creative and was the first cook celebrity in India, I believe. I have learnt so many recipes from him. Brown bread sandwich, Lauki aur Matar ki sabji and so on.
What is your marketing strategy?
I depend on word-of-mouth publicity and sharing in group chats.
How would you respond to a customer’s criticism?
I appreciate customer criticism a lot as it provides room for improvement. It also helps one work on ones’ beliefs.
How often do you cook with ready-made products?
Seldom do I use ready-made products, unless the recipe calls for it.
Are personal chef services becoming main stream? Where do you see yourself in five years? Any idea to open your own restaurant?
Yes, personal chef services are becoming widely accepted. I have no plans as of now to open my own restaurant, as I am too small a player. What is important is to enjoy what I do. But who knows the future?
Best cooking tip for a novice just getting into the business? Or to a home cook enthusiast?
I would say start with easy recipes; ensure it is fast and tasty and also presentable. Most important enjoy the food you cook!