WHILE CLEANING my kitchen shelves last week, I came across numerous jars and bottles of once-used marinades, sauces, pastes, spreads, and what not. Bought with the purpose of whipping up gourmet, restaurant-style dishes at home, these were now long past their expiry dates. The once or twice I did make use of them, it undoubtedly resulted in delicious meals, but the hangover of my culinary experiments was a major killjoy: heaps and heaps of once-used expired exotic ingredients.
It was a predicament of this sort that led 36-year-old Vishal Shah to found Mumbai-based Haute Chef, a food start-up, which home delivers across Mumbai boxes of pre-measured, labelled ingredients along with easy-to-follow step-by-step instructions on putting together a gourmet dish in your kitchen. “While living in New York, my wife and I would often crave for a home-cooked meal, which would be fresh, healthy and easy to cook, while recreating the look, taste and feel of a restaurant dish,” says Shah. “However, we regularly experienced frustration, as there would be a lot of stuff left over: either ingredients or cooked food, both of which would go waste. Often times, we would get a box of mascarpone cheese or a bottle of sherry vinegar and didn’t know what to do with the excess after using the 2 tbsp that the recipe recommended. And that’s how the thought of providing exactly-measured ingredients was conceived.”
Cities are becoming denser and eating out costlier. Even a single-course meal for two at any good restaurant these days costs upwards of R1,000. And even if you decide to get your gourmet fix at home, it usually involves a weekend spent on grocery shopping, overcrowded aisles and long checkout queues. And then begins the tedious process of preparing the ingredients for cooking. This is where food start-ups like Haute Chef, Seven Sexy Dinners, Cook Gourmet, Chef’s Basket, Chefkraft, Cook Fresh and For My Belly step in, aiming to fix all your culinary troubles with their cook-it-yourself gourmet meal boxes and that, too, at a fraction of the cost of eating out. The boxes contain pan-ready fresh ingredients, labelled and portioned neatly, along with recipe cards (some even have photos of how the dish should look at different steps) of the gourmet dish of your choice. All you have to do is open the packaged recipe kit, follow the instructions, cook and create a high-quality gourmet meal at home. No more visits to the grocery store and no more tears from chopping onions!
For 49-year-old Ram Wasan, it was the love for his daughter that made him launch Seven Sexy Dinners, which delivers gourmet recipe boxes in Gurgaon and New Delhi. Wasan was struck with the idea during a dinner with his daughter, who works with a banking consulting firm in Toronto, and her friends when they evinced interest in gourmet food being delivered to them on a periodic basis. “To savour a gourmet meal cooked at home is becoming a luxury and we wanted to change that,” says Wasan, whose Seven Sexy Dinners curates different dishes every week. The menu selection covers a range of cuisines—you can choose from dishes like tofu in claypot rice, spiced chicken with couscous, Chinese greens in light soy, soy and ginger basa, Thai sesame noodles, cold pasta salad, balasmic salad, chicken in mushroom sauce, Mediterranean couscous and fish, Italian pasta stir fry, chicken teriyaki, red wine risotto, etc—and the price per meal is around R183.
Another start-up Cook Gourmet, which delivers to New Delhi, Gurgaon and Noida, has on offer delicacies like Spanish fish one pot with chicken chorizo, Louisiana cajun gumbo with French baguette, Lebanese falafels with houmous and tabbouleh, Ladakhi sole fish curry with jasmine, star anise rice, eggplant lasagna with chive-flavoured veggies, pan-seared Norwegian fish with glazed carrots, Indonesian nasi goreng, Marrakesh vegetable curry with French baguette, etc. Their meal boxes are priced between R500-600 inclusive of delivery and taxes.
But why would anybody want to cook if they have the option of just ordering ready-to-eat fare from any nearby restaurant? “Ready-to-eat food comes cooked to your doorstep, but isn’t always hot when it arrives,” says 27-year-old New Delhi-based Arjun Davar, who was one of the first to order a dish (penne alla vodka) from Cook Fresh, which has been delivering to New Delhi and Gurgaon since February 2014.
“Also, with ready-to-eat services, you order for instant gratification without knowing the quality of the ingredients. Ordering from Cook Fresh gave me the chance to see each ingredient individually before it’s cooked. I learnt how each ingredient plays its part in making the dish come together,” Davar says, adding, “It was an amazing experience. I had a friend over and we both were in the kitchen for about 45 minutes. During that time, we spoke about various topics. It was a good bonding session over cooking.”
A sentiment echoed by 30-year-old Gurgaon-based banker Siddharth Gupta, who is a regular customer of For My Belly, which delivers to Gurgaon and New Delhi, “It gives one a sense of accomplishment, as well as a chance to relax while cooking rather than waiting for a pizza or Chinese food to arrive while sitting in front of the TV.”
But not everybody can cook, even with the help of step-by-step recipe cards. Is there any chance of a recipe failing in the hands of a customer, one wonders. “It depends,” says Shah of Haute Chef, “We go to great lengths to carefully take pictures at each step to offer a visual benchmark to our customers combined with detailed instructions on our recipe cards. We also highlight the ease of cooking level across all our recipes so that customers attempt recipes depending upon their skills even though most of our recipes are very easy even for novice cooks. Pre-identifying what they would need in terms of pots and pans, too, prepares them beforehand and eliminates any chance of confusion during cooking. There might be the occasional sauce getting too thick or the meat being overcooked, but the restaurant-quality taste and the achievement of cooking something from scratch overshadows these minor glitches.”
Agree Sanny Chaudhary and Daman Singh Kohli of Cook Gourmet, “We make sure that the recipe should not fail by testing it first in our kitchen. We also adapt recipe steps, so that they can be cooked in, for instance, a pan and not require any specialised oven.”
So popular is the concept becoming in India now that Massive Restaurants, the company which owns restaurants like Masala Library by Jiggs Kalra, Made in Punjab and Farzi Cafe, is planning to start delivering gourmet recipe boxes to customers later this year. To begin with, their focus will be Delhi-NCR, post which they plan to expand to Mumbai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Chennai and Kolkata. “Today, diners are looking for exceptional experiences not just at a premium gourmet restaurant, but also in the confines and comfort of their own home.
Thus, the need for offering such a concept was felt,” says Zorawar Kalra, founder and managing director, Massive Restaurants, adding, “The biggest USP of a concept like this is offering a truly avant-garde culinary experience within the comfort of one’s residence or venue of choice, while enabling the guest to learn a new dish or method of preparation.”
Pleasing the palate
Delivers to: New Delhi and Gurgaon
Choose from: Dishes like quinoa tabbouleh, spaghetti bolognese, chocolate mug cake, pork salad with buttermilk dressing, etc
Price: Starting from Rs 299
To order: Call 9971835722, or log on to www.cookfresh.in
Delivers to: Bengaluru
Choose from: Dishes like spicy Balinese chicken with jasmine rice and Asian greens, vegetarian chiang mai khao soi, etc
Price: Staring from around Rs 250
To order: Log on to www.chefkraft.com
Delivers to: Delhi, Gurgaon and Noida
Choose from: Dishes like herbed zucchini and lemon wholewheat spaghetti, Spanish vegetarian paella, etc
Price: Rs 500-600
To order: Log on to www.cookgourmet.co
Delivers to: Mumbai, Pune, Delhi-NCR, Bengaluru
Choose from: Dishes like black bean burritos, olive basil pesto, creamy tomato in penne, Thai green curry with jasmine rice, etc
Price: Starting from around Rs 200
To order: Log on to www.chefsbasket.com
SEVEN SEXY DINNERS
Delivers to: New Delhi and Gurgaon
Choose from: Dishes like Thai sesame noodles, chicken in mushroom sauce, Mediterranean couscous and fish, red
wine risotto, etc
Price: Starting from Rs 183
To order: Log on to www.sevensexydinners.com
Delivers to: Mumbai
Choose from: Dishes like watermelon panzanella salad, harissa marinated cottage cheese steaks, crostini platter, etc
Price: Starting from Rs 200
To order: Log on to www.hautechef.in
FOR MY BELLY
Delivers to: New Delhi and Gurgaon
Choose from: Dishes like Vietnamese soup with rice noodles, mini burrito with mozzarella cheese, chicken quesadillas, etc
Price: Starting from Rs 150
To order: Log on to www.formybelly.com