Whether you admit it or not, the lockdown has made all of us chance our hand in the kitchen, hoping we could unearth some hidden MasterChef capabilities as we desperately missed being able to eat out with friends and family. Community through food or food through community is a chicken and egg question for a young startup in Bengaluru that is empowering home chefs to build their culinary business based on ingenious food stories. Juveria Tabassum chats with the team of Conosh…
Vaibhav Bahl and Neha Malik live through food as an experience. Each recipe, they believe, has behind it a fascinating origin story. And it is the stories behind these recipes and their creators that they wished to provide a platform to through their Bengaluru-based startup Conosh. Vaibhav, who completed his MBA in Paris always enjoyed a good pop-up, meeting and jamming with strangers over good food. When he met Neha in 2018, it didn’t take too long for the idea of Conosh to materialise—a platform where homecooks can bring the best of their recipes to a diverse group of people to bond over.
“We look for a home chef with a story to tell. An interesting heirloom recipe, a modern take on an old classic, chefs who have overcome all odds to pursue their love for food, moms who’ve turned their modest kitchens into a masterclass workshop; these are the stories we have been getting our hands on, and are waiting to be told,” says Vaibhav. Once a home chef is on board, the Conosh team works towards background and location checks, to assess the seating capacity, ambience and hygiene of the homes. The team also coordinates the menu for the meet, helps with the costing structure, and most importantly, comes up with a narrative that best tells the chef’s story, which then shines through with the help of the food and the decor. The home chefs earn an income from the events, but the owners believe that there is more to it than just money.
“The attendees at these events give them an audience for their story and their food. That brings them the validation that they don’t get when they are alone toiling away in the kitchen day after day. That appreciation is the biggest plus that we provide,” believes Neha. One such story is of home chef and grandma Nazneen, who makes Syrian Christian cuisine. Traditional delicacies such as Pathri aren’t found everywhere, and from her mother’s cookbook, Nazneen manages to recreate the magic of these dishes for a very different community of people.
The lockdown in 2020 put an effective stop to the pop-up events, but even from that adversary, the team managed to find a ray of hope, both for their home chefs, and for lovers of food in Bengaluru and Delhi. “When COVID struck, we pivoted and something great happened for us. Families were all at home, and they wanted to learn how to cook. We started having workshops, with our home chefs as the trainers. We also called upon some professional chefs from India and abroad to contribute. In fact, to celebrate our two-year anniversary, we had MasterChefs Gary Mehigan and George Columbaris join us all the way from Australia for a special which was attended by over 400 happy, overwhelmed people,” shares Vaibhav. The initiative began in May last year, and they have already conducted 200+ workshops, with an average attendance of 70-80 people.
Ideas continued to blossom, and soon people began requesting home deliveries from these chefs. In times where safety and hygiene were priorities, the customers had faith in these home chefs, and were reassured at the thought of a familiar face behind their food. “Eid ki Biryani and Haleem were one of the first meals we delivered. The chefs provide food from different cuisines at two to three slots per day, and they truly are foodpreneurs now,” the founders exult.
Vaibhav believes that people who have a story behind the food they cook, are important nodal points in history. “They add to and create a great sense of community. What we want to do with Conosh is empower people who want to learn. When you attend a Conosh workshop, you will be able to sell, host and teach. Conosh is an ecosystem,” believes Vaibhav.
“A Conosh workshop is built on community teaching and interaction. Upscaling the community will eventually upscale each home cook,” says Neha.
- A food affair at the farm:
Diwali 2019, Delhi: We had just started in October, and we decided to host a huge pop-up in December, European style, at a cool farm house. We had Pavlovas and grilled chicken. We had all our home chefs in, doing their thing. We wanted to sell 30 seats, but we had to finally stop at 70. There was singing, chatter, eating; a piece of community came alive. Strangers came together, interacted and had fun. We finally saw what we had first envisioned.
- Believing in Food: Our community in Bengaluru got a memorable start. We got a home chef, Bobby, who had just moved from Goa with his wife, and was looking to sell his food. They were uptight about a pop-up, but we said we’d take care of everything. We met a French expat soon after, and tolf him about this pop-up, and gathered eight other people from different walks of life just by word of mouth. These people came. That was special. They shared stories, and bonded over some amazing food. By the time we finished, it was 3.00am. The joy of eating together is Conosh.