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And the food pro wears many hats
Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal, a Mumbai-based food writer and consultant, is working hard on her dream project: India's first cooking studio, which she hopes to open in the first week of August. Ghildiyal admits that she's been fielding questions about what exactly a culinary studio is since the day she floated the idea. "I'm looking at it as a dream kitchen that will inspire people to cook;a space that will enhance the experience of cooking, " says Ghildiyal. Food is everywhere today, she says, and her studio aims to create and encourage conversations about food.
In the past few years, food has made its way from the kitchen to the living room, gone from being a passive product rustled up by boring studio chefs to becoming the focus of high drama in cooking shows that everyone, but everyone, seems to watch. On the Internet, food is a talking point that never gets stale;in fact, the classic social media trope of telling the world what you ate for breakfast has been extended to lunch, dinner and in-between snacking.
With this, the food consultant's role has expanded beyond advising restaurants on theme, menu and, occasionally, branding and dêcor to what marketers are fond of calling a 360-degree approach towards food.
Most food consultants in India today got off the starting block during the restaurant boom in the metros about a decade ago. Before that, running restaurants was a functional business proposition and great stand-alone eateries run with passion and creativity were few and far between. Now with the market maturing, many food consultants have diversified into creating varied events and content around food. At the same time, the lines between chef, restaurateur and consultant have blurred.
So alongside advising restaurants like Soam and products like Amore Gelato, Ghildiyal in Mumbai provides back-end help and content for brands such as Godrej Nature's Basket, for whom she does a bit of everything - from training staff to writing the recipes that are distributed as flyers at Nature's Basket stores to handling social media. One of her most interesting projects has been getting Mumbai's food bloggers together for a series of blogger dinners hosted by her at well-known restaurants.
In Bangalore, chef and restaurateur Manu Chandra, who is associated with buzzy restaurants like Olive Beach and Monkey Bar, is the consulting chef for Weber, makers of barbecue grills and grilling accessories. Not only has Chandra created a signature recipe book for Weber, he also conducts its License to Grill sessions - interactive workshops during which he demonstrates the fine art of grilling.
In Delhi, restaurateur and food consultant Sudha Kukreja of Chilli Seasonss, Ploof and Blanco runs a consulting business, Ambrosia, which advises foreign food brands such as DuPont on how to market products they are pushing on to Indian shelves, creates hearthealthy recipes for cardiac specialty hospitals, trains staff for other restaurants, advises high-street F&B brands on supply chain management and creates menus for multiplex chains. "The lines have blurred because those of us who started off as chefs and restaurateurs 10-15 years ago have acquired knowledge and experience that we can share with others, " says Kukreja. "Earlier, food consulting would mean giving a few recipes to a restaurant that was starting off. Today, it means being associated with most of its aspects for a longer period. "
Bangalore-based restaurateur and consultant Avinandan Banerjee of hospitality firm Syra Partners goes one step further. According to him, it is increasingly obvious that consultants need to remain associated with restaurants through their life-cycle. "If you look at good restaurants that surprisingly close down after a year or two, you'll notice a pattern: that the decline started after the consultants left, " says Banerjee, whose firm kicked off the once-popular Ping in Bangalore, a place that became famous for its gourmet dimsums before turning into a crowdpleaser and ultimately a has-been. "Food and restaurant consulting are not just about creating that great menu anymore;you have to stay around to maintain the brand's integrity, " says Banerjee, who also runs the Manchester United pub in Bangalore's Koramangala and is launching his own Indian eatery Bakasura soon.
He asserts that the sheer volume of conversation surrounding food has exploded, pointing to the high-profile and eclectic 'Foodies in Bangalore' Facebook group, a forum on which chefs, experts, consultants and garden variety foodies weigh in several times a day on topics ranging from military hotels to the best craft beer in the city. Members of the Foodies group also meet up often offline, and new restaurants keep a keen eye on this space.
If you ask how and when all this hyper-awareness about food started, the name of a certain TV show is sure to come up. MasterChef is not just a spectacularly popular show, it is cited again and again as the trigger behind the cultural phenomenon of creating serious foodies or, at the very least, making them de-lurk. Cordon blue chef Michael Swamy is the man who crafted the Indian version of the show, and his reason for becoming a food consultant, stylist and writer is simple: "I didn't want to restrict myself to being a chef. "
Being the consultant for the food show, which plays out on a huge scale, Swamy headed the team that trained contestants, many of whom needed basic food training, and judges (as Swamy puts it, the judge for first season, Akshay Kumar, was but a sous chef), designed tasks and challenges and coordinated the entire food-related content for two seasons of the show.
(Disclaimer: Ghildiyal is a regular columnist for TOI-Crest )
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