This chef duo in Assam is changing narrative with home-cooked haute cuisines
A few businesses have sprung up amidst the coronavirus pandemic as a result of the demands created by the prolonged lockdown. Not many have been able to capture the hearts of Guwahati indigenes in a short period of time like Food Affair by Mr and Mrs Chef, a home-kitchen run by hospitality professionals Pallavi Das and Bhartendu Chandola.
Das and her husband Chandola have settled quite nicely in the home-kitchen niche in Guwahati, serving their loyal customers with tasty delights.
The story of Das begins in Meghalaya where she was born. She goes on to spend most of her childhood in Guwahati where she attended Ankur Seminary. Das was always drawn to the arts and crafts from an early age, her passion for cooking and baking slowly progressed as she grew older.
She took baking and cooking seriously after dropping out from Guwahati Commerce College, where she majored in Commerce. As her interest in baking and cooking grew over the years, Das thought of ways to introduce her passion into her education. She later graduated from the Handique Girls College in home science, where she came out as the best student in that department, and received a silver medal in her final year.
She worked briefly at the Eros Hotel run by Hilton. This was where she was properly grounded in various international cuisines as an operational trainee and where she met Chandola. The duo would then go on to work together in a keenly competitive industry. First in organisations like IBIS Delhi Aerocity, Courtyard and Fairfield by Marriott Bangalore, Novotel Kolkata, Residence, Holiday Inn Chennai, and internationally in Muscat, Oman with Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah.
For Chandola, he was brought up in Pauri Gharwal, Uttarakhand. He left home at an early age to live with his aunt, from there he attended Government Inter College in Rishikesh. For his higher education, Chandola attended the HNB Gharwal University, Srinagar, where he graduated in hotel management. He began his working experience with Intercontinental Group of Hotels in Delhi which, after a change in management, was renamed Eros Hotel managed by Hilton. Chandola later worked in several other establishments with Das, before going to work at the Hilton AL Habtoor Palace in Dubai where he worked for banquet operations as a Junior Sous Chef.
The couple's entrepreneurial journey started in the heat of the pandemic as a result of a massive layoff at the Hilton AL Habtoor Palace. Das says, "My husband was already working in Dubai and I visited him after our marriage in March in the hope of getting a job there. But just after a few days of reaching there, the lockdown started due to the COVID-19 pandemic. After two months, my husband too got laid off from the company. Then we decided to not just be idle. After 14 days of being quarantined in Guwahati when we returned to India, we started our little venture."
The couple always had a passion for entrepreneurship but previously couldn't act on it as a result of their tight work schedule until the layoff happened; talk about blessings in disguise.
They began their business in Guwahati with an initial investment of Rs 20,000. "Since I am doing this from my home, I only had to buy the raw materials and packaging items," Das says.
When it comes to international cuisines, Das's expertise is unmatched, and this shows in her menus. As a result of working in coffee shops, she has been able to acquire basic knowledge of cuisines around the world. From Italian cuisines to Continental, Asian, Indian, and several others, she has them covered. Her husband, specialised in garde manger, is restricted to salad for now, as he is slowly learning his way around a hot kitchen from his experienced wife.
When asked about the reasons for most of her menu options, Das says, "We wanted to make the not-so-healthy dishes in a healthy way. We love to eat pizza but cheese and refined flour is not healthy. I decided to change the base into wheat flour. Also, I changed the wrap to wheat flour. We’ve included salads on the menu. My focus is also on Assamese and Indian cuisines with locally available ingredients.”
"We’re doing cakes for birthdays and anniversaries as well. This is my new found love I would say,” she adds
Although the venture began very recently in August 2020, their business has been warmly received by Guwahati indigenes. Das attributes the growing success of their business to its uniqueness. She reveals that their training at highly rated hotels has set them apart from all the rest.
She highlights "Thai curry, Briyani, The Ultimate Chicken Burger, Mutton Kosha, Pork with Sesame Seeds and Nicoise Salad" as some of their favorites on the menu. At the moment, for Rs 600, you can order and enjoy the two person package.
Some of the personal hobbies the couple enjoy when they aren't running their kitchen include; sketching and painting for Das and playing video games for her husband.
As for their favourite ingredients, they quickly mention "locally available products like vegetables, branded sauces like Panda brand oyster sauce, Namjai red curry paste, Lee Kum Kee soy sauce and many more."
They plan to stick to serving their customers with mouth watering cuisines until the future leads them otherwise. The couple believe more people will try their cuisines, love them, and become regular customers.