The Package | 19 Stories

Woman power in India’s food circuit

From first movers in food blogging to United Nations forums, these women are cooking up a storm

March 07, 2019 04:41 pm | Updated 04:41 pm IST

Anahita Dhondy

She grew up dreaming of cooking modern French cuisine across the world, but being a celebrated Indian cuisine chef did not come by chance for Anahita Dhondy, chef partner at SodaBottleOpenerWala Gurugram. “I had always wanted to work with Modern European and French cuisine and loved pastry,” she says. “During my course at Le Cordon Bleu London, however, I realised how much I missed home food. Even though I had the option to eat the best European food, I cooked Indian meals every night.” The realisation paved way to her opening the first mainstream Bombay Irani café in the country. Her Parsi roots, and her passion to revive the dying culinary heritage of the community ensured that in a short span of five years, she not only became a partner at franchise, but also the face of young India at culinary forums across the globe, including the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation.

“I love all cuisines, but there is nothing like Indian cuisine,” declares Anahita. “And I strongly feel that we must do everything to preserve and promote it.” Advocacy of sustainable food practices by a young woman ensured that the new generation takes interest in what was considered old-fashioned until now.

“I always knew I had to toughen up if I had to be in the business of food. No one will sweet-talk you just because you are a woman — neither should you expect that.” It is this attitude that has, perhaps, helped her reach where she is — awards, recognition, collaborations, endorsements, and even a book on the dying culinary traditions of the Parsi community — Anahita is doing it all.

To young women who dream of making it big in the business of food, she has one thing to say: “Working with food may look glamorous but it is real hard work. If you want to make it big, you should be prepared to work for it.”

Nandita Iyer

You wouldn’t expect a qualified medical professional to be dishing out recipes and writing books on food. But that’s just what noted blogger, author, recipe developer, and columnist, Dr Nandita Iyer, does. “I had no connection or interest in food while growing up. We ate only traditional meals at home and eating out was rare. We would celebrate when my aunt made bread rolls,” she chuckles. The most she had done until her late 20s was cooking basic meals during her internship.

Her introduction to the culinary world happened in the US, where she had moved with her husband. “In an unknown land, food is the easiest thing to connect with,” feels Nandita. “Plus, I had discovered an entire channel on food. It was like nothing I had seen in India.” The impressive programming, interesting recipes and easy availability of ingredients and equipment nudged her into trying out cooking for the first time.

“I played with ingredients and experimented a lot. To ensure I did not forget recipes that turned out well, I started journalling them online.” The journalling made her one of the first few food bloggers of the country. Comments and interactions on the platform ensued, offers from magazines and dailies followed, and social media ensured everyone got to see the face behind the name. Her niche — healthy, sustainable, vegetarian recipes with local and easy-to-procure produce — grew stronger and resulted in her book, The Everyday Healthy Vegetarian . “My book is a combination of nutritional advice and vegetarian recipes, which can be easily made with everyday ingredients.” The aim, she says, is to inspire readers with ideas that they can interpret in their own kitchens.

Nandita is still as passionate about her work as she was at the start. But doesn’t doing the same thing every day get mechanical, we ask? “I do get a creative block sometimes,” confesses Nandita, “But since I do many other interesting things, and do not give in to trends of formulas, it is never monotonous.”

Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal

Food shoot with Rushina Munshaw at APB cook studio in Andheri.
Mumbai Mirror _ 13 Nov,2018.
Photo _ Nilesh Wairkar.

Food shoot with Rushina Munshaw at APB cook studio in Andheri.
Mumbai Mirror _ 13 Nov,2018.
Photo _ Nilesh Wairkar.

Writer, consultant, author, chronicler, Rushina Mushaw Ghildiyal started her culinary career while she was on a sabbatical. Being at home as a new mother meant limited interaction with the world outside and yet having pockets of free time at home. This is when the World Wide Web took over.

“When I started writing about food, there was no concept of a food writer,” recalls Rushina. “I remember stumbling upon an online forum — — where established food writers of the West would have passionate discussions. Inspired, I wrote a story on pickles and got instant acknowledgement.” Suggestions to write about regional Indian cuisines followed and interesting interactions ensued. Rushina, who was with her mother-in-law at the time, capitalised on her diverse culinary background and started chronicling stories of Garhwali and Gujarati cuisines. Her blog made way to offers of writing about food in national and international magazines. “It happened in a matter of months — writing, styling, an offer to do books...” and before she knew it, she was knee-deep into the food business.

Rushina and her husband set up a studio kitchen in 2011. “The idea was to have a platform for people to experiment and play with food.” The studio, set up in uptown Mumbai, soon became a hub of chefs, cooks, bloggers (which were many by now) and food lovers. Pop ups, culinary meets and workshops became regular features.

Rushina, meanwhile, continued to write, teach, and consult. A passionate proponent of Indian cuisine, she is at the helm of the Annual Godrej Food Trends Report, Indian Food Observance Days and many other culinary initiatives. While some of them work at projecting and preparing for upcoming changes in the culinary business, others promote Indian culinary heritage. “The idea,” she says, “is to support traditional Indian ingredients, collate recipes, share stories, and help people take pride in their food.”

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