During the lockdown, residents of a gated community in Anna Nagar develop their culinary skills and start their own food ventures
Rewind to the first lockdown in March.
For those who can’t cook to save their life, that phase, when domestic help stayed away, left a bad taste in their mouth. For those who loved eating out, closed restaurants were hard to digest.
For those who enjoyed cooking, it was an opportunity to add to their culinary repertoire, trying out new recipes. For a rare few, it was a call to start cooking up a storm. They responded to that call and how!
Aware of the challenges people were facing during the lockdown, some residents of Metrozone, a gated community in Anna Nagar with around 1200 units, increased the portions they cooked to keep the youngster stuck at home and the neighbour who did not want to sweat it out in the kitchen, well-fed. They were meeting a need and getting paid for it.
With every passing day, the orders kept growing.
Today, some of these ‘home chefs’ have either started their own commercial food business outside the community or are in the process of starting it.
On September 27, Gee Krishna Ragothaman, an astrologer, opened Kumbakonam Iyer’s Cafe at Shanthi Colony. Two of his relatives are part of the cloud kitchen where they serve a variety of South Indian food items, the idli, dosa, vada, poha and pongal among them.
“Forget starting a restaurant, I never thought I could make someone so happy with good food,” says Krishna, giving credit to Raghavendran Gopal, an expert cook and his flatmate.
It started during an evening walk around our gated community.
“Knowing my love for cooking and and being a fan of Udipi food, a friend, S.R. Babu, asked me if we could prepare lunch for three people. He was fed up of having the same food, day after day. That’s how we got started and soon word about our initiative spread across the towers,” says Krishna. The orders started pouring in.
“During weekends, the phone seemed to ring incessantly. Such was the demand,” he says.
Dessert jars to burgers
Rekha Vaidhyanathan is another working woman enjoying her chef moments along with her 11-year-old daughter.
“Lockdown gave me an opportunity to try out new dishes,” says Rekha, who heads marketing at her family business and recently opened Dessert Addiction.
“I started with bread, which became a hit and soon extended it to selling dessert jars,” she says, adding the ‘mango mania’ and ‘rasmalai trifle’ were the first jar she made, her voice betraying a hint of pride at the memory.
A WhatsApp group by the name ‘Metrozone Organics’ is where a majority of them found their first customers.
“During the lockdown, the group widened the scope of discussions to allow posts from people selling various items. With the group gaining in girth, it had to be moved to Telegram; and now we have around 600 members,” says Rekha.
Similarly, Rekha’s sister Renuka, who is also a resident of the community, has found luck selling pre-cut washed vegetables to those pressed for time.
There are many such residents, some who are juggling a full-time job and their love for cooking.
Twenty-eight-year-old Vishnupriya Rajarajan is another such happy chef and the challenge before her is attending to the demands of a full-time job with a start-up, and at the same time savour her growing interest and fresh discoveries in burger-making.
“While working from home, cooking is a stress buster,” she says on why she got started cooking and is persisting with it. Her neighbours who tasted her burgers encouraged her to turn her hobby into a part-time vocation.
“I got 15 orders for my first post which was a big moment for me,” she says. “During the weekends, the numbers shot up.”
How is Vishnupriya managing the two varied and equally demanding pursuits?
Most of her orders have to be met in the evening and she received help in doing so, from other members of the family. While dad cuts the vegetables, her brother, whenever he finds the time, would deliver the sold packs to homes.
A launch pad
All these cooks say the community has been the launch pad. “What encouraged me was the reviews and the repeat orders – a neighbour who returned from the United States compared my truffle jars to the one sold by a well-known joint in the West. And a parent with a toddler was happy to see him open the fridge on his own,” says Rekha. Between June and August, many started ordering her jars for gifting purposes. By then, Dunzo had also opened up and she started delivering her specialities to customers in Velachery and OMR.
Rekha has also set up her cloud kitchen in the neighbourhood itself. “I opened it a couple of days back and have started taking order through Zomato. I would be roping women from other gated communities who will get a small percentage selling the dessert jars,” she says.
Vishnupriya is also grateful to neighbours from the community for the encouragement they extended to her.
“I started taking referrals from Metrozone customers, which helped me get orders from outside,” says Vishnupriya who is neck-deep in the process of starting a commercial food venture.
Saieeji R., joint secretary, Metrozone Owners’ Association, says they are happy that some of them have moved out to start their own commercial venture outside the community. “The rules of the Association do not permit one to run a business from within the Society. Lockdown was a unique situation and we did not discourage them then, but now as things are normalising we want residents to not commercialise it,” says Saieeji.