Putting their knowledge and experience to good use, these curators have carved a niche for themselves in their areas of interest

It was around three years ago that Mumbai-based Insia Lacewala joined a management company for Indian music groups, Only Much Louder, while it was planning the first Indie music festival, the NH7 Weekender. “It was a first-of-a-kind music festival and someone needed to handle food and beverage for the audience, the artists and the crew. I come from a family known for the way we eat, so food comes naturally to me. I opted to take up the job, and with time, it became my identity. I was doing some other work in the company around the year, but with time, I realised that food was my forte,” says Insia. Circa 2013, the young lady runs her own company and it’s no hobby. “I do it for a living.”

Insia is one among a rising breed of ‘curators’ who have left well-paying jobs to venture into a field they are expert at. Putting their knowledge and experience to good use, these entrepreneurs have carved a niche for themselves. Take the example of chocolatier Ruhee Bhimani, who believes that a perfect chocolate is a piece of art. Ruhee runs an academy in Mumbai that trains people in chocolate-making, baking and desserts that are internationally in vogue such as French macaroons, choux pastry, jar desserts and petit fours. Says the mentor, “If you see the Indian market, it is clogged with compounds (aka fake chocolates) as compared to pure couverture chocolates. We teach students how to temper pure chocolates and work with compounds too. We also have specialised courses for working with organic chocolates and a recent addition to it has been organic baking, under which we teach how to make organic cupcakes, cakes, brownies, cookies and gluten-free French macaroons.” How did all this begin? With a childhood fondness for candies! With the driving motto of ‘Even if it’s your mistake, you can eat it’, Ruhee decided to bring out the art in chocolate-making with Cocoa Cottage.

Travel made easy

Short on time and wanting instant and gratifying results, people are lapping up such expert advice. Travel curators Manjari Verma and Avani Patel started Broken Compass in 2009 with the intention of making individuals more open-minded on travel. The ladies have exciting offers for vacationers of every type. Some of them are babymooning, fravelling (travelling with friends), and bacherlorette party vacations. “We plan the travel around the clients’ budget and travel personality, essentially. If we know that our client has a budget of Rs. 1.5 lakh and wants to visit Italy, we send her backpacking, even though we have options for everything from backpacking to premium packages. There was one client whose wife wanted to go shopping in Milan, while he wanted to go skydiving; we organised separate itineraries for both of them,” says Manjari.

While online travel advisors with the USP of reasonable rates add to the competition, Manjari says people still come looking for specialised advice. “We work with our clients around a travel questionnaire to understand their travel personality and requirements. We even offer consultation to those who are still undecided regarding their destination,” she says.

Design is in the detail

For Natasha Bohra, design journalism seemed to be her calling till she decided to start a design studio of her own. “I started my career as a journalist with Society Interiors. Interior design has always been my passion, but I never took it seriously. However, after three years of working with the magazine, I understood the field better, and I knew I wanted to be associated with it.” Natasha left her job to start Chromakey Designs, a designer stationery brand that sells through exhibitions and retail stores across the country. Having been introduced to retail and simultaneously having joined Design Matrix, Natasha was introduced to the multiple arrays of design. “By the end of it, I knew Chromakey had to grow further. My fascination for differently designed products has moulded me into a curator, as also the realisation that there are scores of designers in our country who aren’t well-known but are extremely talented. With time, Chromakey intends to reach out to these talented designers and work with them,” she says of her venture. Chromakey stocks products that have been carefully designed and crafted by their respective designers. None of them are mass-produced products that can be bought in wholesale markets.

Surprise and serendipity

Sabine Heller is the CEO of the by-invitation-only social community A Small World (ASW). This is a travel and social club that offers community, content and member benefits in 100 cities. Members engage in the ASW community in their own city or tap into local communities when we they visit a city. They can do this by attending events, using their geo-location-based mobile app that tells them which of the members around them are interested in meeting them, or by meeting members online.

The ASW experiential travelling forum also offers member-generated city guides (detailing what’s current) and a robust member benefits programme through which members have access to deals, discounts, upgrades, and experiences, and even freebies with 500 of the top hotels, spas and shops globally. Additionally they can automatically access 120 nightclubs in 75 cities. Obviously, this is not for people who rely on travel guidebooks. Sabine says, “Most of our lives are somewhat unremarkable on a day-to-day level and we travel to have experiences that are unusual and open ourselves up to surprise and serendipity. Visiting the Eiffel Tower on a visit to Paris isn’t enough. ASW has expert-curated guides that help make travel experiences extraordinary, but beyond that, we have a social community of people in the know. When travelling with just a guidebook, the serendipity doesn’t really happen because you don’t have that human element.” ASW members need to be internationally-minded, know several languages, be sophisticated, well-travelled, and wanting to access a culture through its people.

The experiential curators are now making a strong footprint in India by allowing a membership application process in the gated community. While curated experiences may sound like they’re for the crème de la crème audience, a lot of people have it on their wish list and business is good. Food curator Insia says, “Now that people in the F&B and events business have become familiar with curating and F&B consultancy, restaurants usually come to me for a quirky concept or event to attract the right audience. So is the case with venues such as Jean Claude Biguine, where I do my monthly pop-ups. For the Farmers’ Markets, I put together a Patisserie Pavilion and help bring on the right exhibitors. Different people have different needs.”

Going by the response to her Mumbai academy, Ruhee wants to open a chain of Cocoa Cottage outlets across major metros. Even for Natasha, business comes from buyers looking for the unusual and that tribe is certainly increasing. Customers come in with bizarre requests. One even wanted Chromakey’s window display! “We customised the interlocking wooden cubes for her home as a book shelf,” she says. Insia consults for venues such as the new culinary centre Studio Fifteen and the Farmers’ Markets in Mumbai and Pune by Karen Anand. “Then there are curating pop-ups, music festivals and smaller events for restaurants. All this put together pay the bills! The one and only reason I do what I do is because food is the one thing that I love unconditionally,” she says.