S. Sampath has started a purely vegetarian kitchen specializing in steam cooked food, and his joint located in Vilankurichi Road is teeming with orders and enquiries generated through word-of-mouth.
As a child, Sampath got regular doses of hospitality up close. His mother always extended the warmest welcome to guests, relatives and anybody else who came home. She would never allow anybody to leave on an empty stomach. This trait impressed itself on Sampath and stuck with him over the years.
But, in the beginning, he followed the regular route by completing his diploma in automobile engineering from Sree Narayana Guru College of Engineering and Technology in the city, after which he worked in various companies as an automobile engineer. He was posted in Chennai and Ooty, and later returned to Coimbatore, where he worked as a service manager at Ambal Autos. While his job gave him the perks he needed, there was still an urge to pay some sort of tribute to his late mother.
When his mother fell seriously ill and was hospitalised, Sampath and his wife quit their jobs to look after her. At this point he also seriously considered a change in line. “It was sad to see a cheerful lady, who till recently had served all guests with food and a smile, struggling so much. This is when I took my brother-in-law’s suggestion and followed my heart to get into the business of catering. I learnt about it from scratch, and my brother-in-law helped me find the right contacts,” says Sampath.
Sampath started a catering service which served food that followed all the food and safety guidelines, while being tasty too. And so began Mom’s Cook, a hygienic commercial kitchen, early this year.
Says Sampath, “People at functions may or may not talk about the grand décor, arrangements or size of the venue, but all of them definitely talk about the quality of food. The success of a party or function is often determined by the food served,” he points out.
Sampath decided to work on providing nutritional food at nominal rates, and approached his brother-in-law’s friend, R.M. Rathnam who has a vessel manufacturing unit in Ganapathy and decades of experience.
“To get me familiar with the techniques of food processing and know more about steam cooked food, my brother-in-law asked me to visit the Karaikudi Annalakshmi commercial kitchen, which is famous for its steam cooked idlis. I spent six months in Karaikudi with my wife and sister learning the basics of food processing and about the equipment required for steam cooking,” he says.
Sampath constantly updated himself on the Food Safety and Standards guidelines on the Internet and decided to follow them strictly. Artificial flavours and powders were thrown out and fresh vegetables and natural powders brought in. “Ajinomoto and vanaspati, items which are banned abroad are openly advertised and sold here. It can be very dangerous for people who consume it over a long period of time,” he says.
Steam cooked food maintains 95 percent of it’s nutritional value and is far lighter on the stomach. Sampath has taken the eco-friendly route, replacing plastics with stainless steel hot packs to pack the food. While Mom’s Cook was officially launched as an outdoor catering service, orders have steadily increased through word-of-mouth.
“We received 150 orders last month and orders have exceeded that count this time. On festival days and other special occasions, we get double the orders,” says a delighted Sampath. Sampath’s wife Uma also quit her job as a fashion technology lecturer at GRG Polytechnic College three years ago to assist him and is in charge of accounts.
Mom’s Cook now caters to the Food Court at the TIDEL Park in Vilankurichi Road, allowing young IT professionals to have a quick and nutritious bite. It turns out to be the ideal food for those professionals who are short on time. There are currently 20 employees at the kitchen who take care of the cooking, washing, chopping and peeling of vegetables, apart from kneading the dough. There are separate sections for each process. Food delivery is outsourced to a group of catering college students who work part-time, and are willing to travel a distance of up to 50 kms in and around the city. Only bulk orders are accepted. Another motive is to encourage healthy eating among the youth, who have a tendency to drift towards fast food. The good news is the gradual shift in the attitudes of these youngsters, by his own admission.
“We had a daily patronage of around 200 people at the TIDEL Park when we started. This has gone up to 250 in a month’s time. Quite a few youngsters have started ignoring street food outlets to eat at the canteen now,” he says proudly. He hopes this will keep his mother’s spirit of hospitality alive.
Mom’s Cook has over 200 varieties of vegetarian dishes for breakfast, lunch, tiffin and dinner. The idlis, pongals and uthappams are the most popular along with North Indian rotis and sabzis. Most of the food is steamed barring a few exceptions where they are deep fried. The food is steamed in 11 steaming chambers of different capacities. With the food also beginning to attract orders from Tirupur, this kitchen is making a steaming entry into the catering business there.