Great taste at your doorstep
There is a revolution happening in the food scene and it is led by small suppliers who value quality
One of the perks/perils of my job is that people in the food, restaurant and hotel businesses reach out to me in the hope of being mentioned either in my journalism or on social media (Instagram, mainly).
The hotel people are generally professional, if a little too ambitious sometimes.
Sample mail: “We represent a delightful little hotel with a lot of charm (600 rooms) in Uzbekistan, which is very popular with Indians. We would like to invite you for two days to sample the delights of our gourmet local cuisines....”
I am always polite when I regret that my schedule prevents me from travelling to Slovakia/Uzbekistan/Mongolia or
wherever. Though of course, I would have loved to go.... And they are as polite when they reply.
The restaurant people are, by and large, completely unprofessional. Most restaurateurs are advised (by PR companies) not to deal with the media directly. So they pay large sums of money to these PR companies, who assure them that they know every journalist extremely well and produce lists of ‘influencers’ who nobody has ever heard of.
Then, these PR agencies put young trainees (or just not very bright older people) on the job. They give them a list of names and numbers and a script. Each call goes something like this.
“Is that Vir?
“Vir. How are you today?”
“I am fine. Who is this?”
“Hey Vir, I am (Neha/Megha/pick name) calling on behalf of (add name of restaurant)! A very good day to you!
We are a great new restobar in Khar/Gurgaon/etc. and would love to invite you to come over totally Free!”
“You have a blog, right?”
“Not really, but...”
“Oh? You are on our list of bloggers. Okay. Must be a mistake. How many Instagram followers do you have?”
“I am sorry. What is this about?”
“See, we do collaborations with bloggers for which we have fixed rates. But for Insta, it depends on the followers.”
“Can you please hang up.”
“But, see Vir, your name is on the list I was given...”
At this stage, I disconnect. And I resolve never to go to the restaurant in question.
I have no idea how much restaurateurs pay these agencies for this so-called service. It is their money and I am no one to tell them how to spend it. But I know that the savvier restaurateurs are wisening up. Priyank Sukhija who is pretty much the restaurant King of Delhi told me that he no longer spends a penny on agencies.
(If you are a restaurateur and you are reading this, please be slightly sceptical when an agency tells you they can get me or other food writers to come to your restaurant.)
By far, the nicest of the people who approach me are the ones in the food business. I ignore the ones who use agencies, but most of them write to me directly, most frequently on Instagram.
Take the case of Artisan Meats who wrote to me, leading me to order some of their products. Though one of their sausages was so over-smoked that I felt like calling the fire brigade, the rest of the stuff (charcuterie, duck confit, meat etc.) was so good that I called them to ask who ran the company.
It turned out to be a brother and sister team called Meherwan (27) and Mehma (23) Bawa, who despite their Persian names, are not bawas at all, but are part of a large Punjabi joint family in the NCR. The brother trained in Italy, came back to Delhi and joined his sister in handmaking Italian sausages. They were financed entirely (well, the whole operation only cost ₹2 lakh or so) by gifts from the family and have grown by the day.
I order their products at home (they deliver within NCR) and heartily recommend them; though keep in mind that this is an artisan cottage-industry operation where volumes are low. When I told Mehma I would be writing about Artisan Meats, she sounded a little pleased but very apprehensive.
I asked her why.
“Well, the last time we were written about, it was only a small mention and we got so many orders that it was really hard to cope.”
Let’s see how they manage this time.
Another family who reached out to me directly were Asra Ahmad and her husband Adil Kidwai. Both have full time careers. Adil is an executive and Asra is a dentist.
They saw an opportunity when they realised how difficult it was to get good UP food in Delhi. The food at their home, made by cooks from Barabanki and Lucknow, was so good that they wondered if they could sell it on a home delivery basis.
Thus started their catering service Ta’am. You can order by phone and they will cater parties for up to 50 people.
I ordered some at home. They had two biryanis: Hyderabad and UP-style and both were subtle, home-style dishes of the sort you don’t see in hotels. There were magnificent kormas too and everything was hand-delivered.
They had contacted me out of the blue and I liked the food enough to call up and ask about them. They were strictly professional in their interaction and it was only later, when we were on a TV show together that Rasheed Kidwai, my old friend and journalistic colleague, mentioned that he was related to them. They had refused to let Rasheed make the introduction and had let their food speak for itself.
Do you know what hydroponics is? I had no clue. When I first heard the term, I thought it was a new system of underwater phoning. But then, it was being used in the context of salad vegetables so that left me even more confused.
Karan Jolly who grows terrific fresh and flavourful salad vegetables explained it to me. Apparently, hydroponics is a way of growing things only in water, without any soil. As a good city boy, I had no idea that such a thing was even possible. (No soil? If you grow grapes the hydroponic way, then what kind of terroir will your wine have? Bisleri? Perrier ? The mind boggles.)
But it works. I tried Karan’s vegetables and the eight different kinds of salad he does (Romaine, Rocket, Red Oak, a Wasabi Arugula, etc.) and though I am no rabbit-like salad-eater on the whole, I had to concede that his quality was astonishing. He is now also growing strawberries, but I have still to try them.
Nature’s Miracle is a big company doing the same sort of thing. They had a glamorous launch with Vicky Ratnani cooking etc. I didn’t go, but I am including them here because they got in touch directly without any agency middlemen and the quality of their products is very good.
They pointed out other advantages of hydroponics to me. No pesticides, no contamination, no environmental damage and oddly enough, less water. They say that their tomato plants use 90 per cent less water than the ones grown the traditional way.
They home deliver cucumber, capsicum,tomatoes, Dutch strawberries and other vegetables and though their prices are about 30 to 40 per cent more than the local sabzi wallah (unless you buy your vegetables from Defence Colony, in which case they may be even cheaper!), the quality is more than worth it.
And finally, since we are talking of home delivery operations, how can I fail to mention Fresh Brew, run by Chandni and Karan Tibrawalla, whose coffee I drink every day. The Tibrawallas approached me directly three years ago and though there were better organised rivals in the business, I was so impressed by their passion for quality that I tried their Nespresso-style capsules. They were so good that I remain a Fresh Brew guy.
Isn’t it good to know that so much is happening in the food scene in India?
And that it is all being delivered to our doorsteps!
From HT Brunch, April 7, 2019
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