#DSSCPowerPackers: DSSC’s list of culinary achievers you need to look out for in Delhi (Part Deux)

You’ve met the first set of DSSC hand-picked power packers – a group of women who’re changing the way you experience food in the city. Here we continue with Part II of DSSC Power Packers.

In sync with the F&B industry’s ever evolving ways, a new storm is brewing, and this time the brew masters themselves have changed! We present to you eight ace women who’re changing the city’s culinary landscape, one delectable bite at a time.

Women rule the roost in the kitchen in most Indian homes, however, they’ve always chosen to ride pillion when it comes to the F&B industry. Till now. The rules are changing, and how! Not only have they entered the business, but with never-before-seen concepts. DSSC decided to investigate the matter and got these power women to gather around a cuppa joe and share their experiences on breaking barriers in the industry.

Kuhu Kochar + Tejasvi Chandela, All Things

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Kuhu Kochar and Tejasvi Chandela started All Things, a chocolate brand with great packaging, as one of those “impulse passion project that you just dive into”, but while most start-ups wash away after a month or two, these two women have stuck by their vision.

“Because it’s not monotonous”, they said. “There’s something new happening every month and that’s why we decided to do this in the first place.”

The two, who’ve known each other from school, got in touch after a few years and one thing led to another. Both of them weren’t excited by their current jobs – Tejasvi was running a patisserie in Jaipur and Gurgaon, and Kuhu was working as a graphic designer – and wanted to do something new. All Things came about as a way to combine their two passions, the food industry for Tejasvi and design for Kuhu.

They said, “We came up with chocolates because it’s something everyone likes. India does not really have any independent chocolate brands that are making good chocolate and that’s why we ventured into this space.”

The larger idea behind the brand is to make it something dynamic – the packaging changes with the flavour. For example, All Things Jaipur has the flavours of their city and the packaging is from a design that Kuhu made in school. It also comes with a mini map of Jaipur for tourists who are looking to do things like locals. All Things Barcelona is made of their favourite Sangria recipe and each comes with a photograph of the city.

They said: “The idea is to take chocolate out of the space it is in currently. Right now it’s in a very gifting space, Diwali space. We want to make it more experiential; we want to make it ‘all things’. It could be a Monday morning bar, where all you want is a bite of chocolate to have a good week or it could be a breakfast bar, which a lot of our customers actually eat in the morning.”

All Things try and keep their chocolate as natural as possible by staying away from preservatives and using local ingredients.

We asked them what the future is looking like for the two women in their mid-20s. “The future”, they said, “is in all things. We want to do fun and exciting things in all fields and connect with a whole bunch of different industries.”  

Gayatri Narang, Minus 30

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There aren’t many in India, let alone the world, who know the difference between a good ol’ ice cream and gelato. Yes, we all know that it is Italian, but what else? Well, Gayatri Narang, who officially started Minus 30 after a kitchen experiment last summer, is set to change the way Indians experience their gelato, through her brand. She told us that gelato has more air than ice cream and is much lighter on the palate. Ice cream is a term coined by Americans but gelato is as Italian as it can get.

“Last summer, I had a trial pop up, which went really well, so I decided to take things up a notch with Minus 30 for which I went to Gelato University in Bologne,” she said. Attending a whole course on gelato took her to the very basics of making this traditional Italian dessert. “I basically learnt the a-z of making gelatos.”

Her plans include spreading Minus 30 all over India but for now her market only includes Delhi-NCR. A few people, according to her, do understand gelatos and the ever-increasing middle class means that  more and more people will join that cohort. Also, more people travelling and experiencing new cuisines is a good sign for Gayatri because that will help expand her target audience.

Italy, she says, is a “hot spot” for Indians and they want to recreate their vacation in India when they return. However, while Indians generally have a sweet tooth, she adds, not everyone will understand some of the gourmet and artisanal flavours of gelato, and “that’s where I step in”. The popular flavours, of course, are coffee, chocolate and strawberry but “salted caramel, for example, is not one that everyone will enjoy. But since I started Minus 30, the number of people asking for salted caramel has increased. A lot has to do with exposure, I suppose,” she says.  While Gayatri wants to create an all-rounded experience of gelato for people, she is going to stick to classics for now and expand the traditional palates of Delhites before moving on.

Karina Aggarwal, Gigglewater 411

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Karina Aggarwal doesn’t look like a girl who drinks beer. No, it’s not what we think but a line many men have used on her. We suppose it comes with being one of the very few women in the “alco-bev” space. As she says, “there are not close to enough women in this industry”. The girl from Hyderabad told us, “I guess it’s because of the stigma attached to alcohol and working with it. Somewhere the business, also, is a bit chauvinistic. People don’t expect a women to know her whiskies and beers as well as the men.”

Karina joined the industry by chance. She joined a publishing house with an alco-bev magazine soon after she finished her degree in journalism. “At that point”, she says, “I used to drink my mojito with extra sugar syrup because I didn’t quite enjoy the taste”. Now, however, she is a recognized figure in the industry.

She says, “I had to interview a lot of brewers, distillers and attend quite a few wine tasting events so I had to do my homework to save myself. And that’s where the interest began  and grew. It was interesting to see my research being translated into a cup.” All this research means, “sometimes I end up knowing more than the men, and they don’t take that very well”.

“I remember when I started off, I could’ve picked a bum off the road and taken him to an event and people would’ve assumed he knows more than me. Being in this industry has taught me not to take anything for granted. If I don’t know something, then I’m not going to pretend I do incase I get called off on it” she adds.

One of her biggest achievements has been establishing herself as one of the most recognizable voices in the industry. She’s also broken into the international wine space, “which isn’t an easy task”. Concurs Mondial De Bruxelles, The United Nations of Fine Wines, has invited Karina as a jury member on multiple occasions. In fact, our research tells us that she is one of only three Indian jury members on CMB’s esteemed list.

She also runs a blog, GiggleWater 411, where she talks about the beers and whiskies of the world. Karina also runs an all-women beer club called ‘The Smarty Pint’s Society’, where women come together to drink and discuss beer. At one of her former beer workshops, she noticed that a lot of women would come to her at the end of the workshop and tell her what they did or did not like but they would push the men to speak for them. “I suppose they thought, he drinks more beer than me, so I’ll let him do the talking,” she says.

To our surprise, Karina rarely opens up a bottle of wine and our surprise doesn’t shock her one bit because she says, “I know it’s very contrary to perception”. However, she does drink regularly off the job to keep her palate exercising but her favourite drink is a chilled Thumbs Up!

Neeti Goel, La Bodega

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Cousins, Neeti and Smiti’s, La Bodega is one of the very few authentic Mexican restaurants in Delhi. We met up with Neeti in their very space to chat about more things Mexican.

La Bodega doesn’t believe in “Tex Mex” which includes rustic burritos and enchiladas loaded with cheese and sour cream. The duo wanted to create a space in Delhi where people could come into contact with elegant and original mexican food. And some of the dishes served at their restaurant includes Atun – raw tuna shaku with olive oil, pico de gallo, ginger and soya reduction – and champinones al ajillo – garlic mushroom with guajillo chilli, refried beans, sour cream and fresh cheese.

Their journey is not unlike many others in the industry. Neeti was a management consultant for a few years before she realised that it wasn’t exactly what she wanted to do. She was working in New York for a while, and then worked in Delhi for a while before quitting her job and “started brainstorming on what to do next”. She says, “I was absolutely sure I wanted to do something in the hospitality industry.”

It so happened that her cousin, Smiti, wanted to open a Mexican restaurant after her experience in the country . “I was scared of jumping into the ocean myself so Smiti asked me if I wanted to join her,” she told us.

Neeti was confident in her sister’s idea because she knows Mexico’s food and culture from having lived there for a few years. So when Smiti asked her to join, she was more than elated and decided to bite the bullet head on.

The two were complete outsiders to this sector and the biggest challenge, she said, was finding their way around how to get things started and going. Neeti said, “A lot of consultants approached us and quoted extravagant figures to get things done, but we decided to get our hands dirty because that’s where the fun is.” The learning curve, thus, has been very steep for them. From knowing next to nothing to setting up a kicker of a restaurant, these girls have (made it in one sense).

The biggest challenge for them has been sourcing ingredients that will lend to the authenticity of their food. For example, avocados are a very integral part of Mexican cuisine but isn’t very easily available in the city, and if they are – they cost a bomb a pop. Another important element is masa corn, which is what tortilla’s are made of and every element of Mexican cuisine has some of it.

She says, “Yes, avocado is a very important ingredient. If someone comes to a Mexican restaurant, they want guacamole but I won’t serve guacamole if we haven’t received good, ripe avocados. Some people don’t understand the limited availability of mexican ingredients in the city and are surprised if they don’t find guacamole at the restaurant.”

Neeti and Smiti also face a few operational challenges since both were new and outsiders. But said Neeti, “People in the industry were more than welcome and ready to help. If we asked a hundred questions, we got a hundred replies.”

On the very first day of La Bodega’s opening, a reviewer happened to walk in and since then it’s been an upward ride.

Cousins, Neeti and Smiti, are out to change the way people experience and understand Mexican food, starting from the very basic of nachos. Slowly and steadily they want to etch out the difference between Tex Mex and real Mexican food, which are poles apart much like Indian and authentic Chinese.

Our powerful ladies have been styled by Vasudha & Devika Jajoo in their fresh & unique lifestyle label, Tuned In Living. All the styles are available online for you to grab!

Read Part Un here.

Tuned In Living celebrates all elements of inspired living. It is about consuming consciously and building an emotional connection with what we consume. It believes in using pure natural breathable fabrics that nourish our being and the environment. Consumers shouldn’t have to pick between looking good and feeling good, and therefore at Tuned In Living every piece is crafted keeping fabric, quality, style elements and ease of use in mind. All its pieces are affordably priced as it wants to share the love of inspired living.

Location Courtesy: La Bodega