Priyanka Deshpande Shares Her Entrepreneurial Journey Of Tasting Regional Cuisines Across India
- IWB Post
- February 26, 2018
It was just last Sunday when I tried my culinary skills at making butter chicken for my family. It turned out to be a delicious feast. It got me thinking about two things. One, Butter Chicken is truly a gift to humanity, and secondly, Butter Chicken is of Indian origin, but most people don’t believe it.
Food now is not just about filling your stomach but an attempt to satisfy your heart. Being an Indian, we have a wide variety to choose from, Gujarati, Rajasthani, Punjabi, Kashmiri and the list goes on. It is yet another opportunity for us to bond with different cultures. We share our stories during breakfasts and bond over dinner tables.
Sharing this similar idea, Priyanka Deshpande and her co-founders started Authenticook, a place for people to partake in the rich cultural heritage of India by enjoying a meal at the homes of Home-chefs. She shares with us her journey and the moments she cherishes as an entrepreneur. Excerpts:
How did the idea of Authenticook come about?
It happened during one of our trips to Ladakh. Our group is a complete foodie group, wherever we go, we like to have the real authentic food there and interact with locals to get a sense of the region we are traveling to. While surfing the internet, we saw thupas and momos, and we got quite excited about it. Not having done too much research and misconceptions we thought non-veg would be available in abundance, but when we reached the place, it was a completely different picture. We could see the effect of globalization. Because a lot of foreigners visit the region, all the locals have started western cuisine restaurants, and there are small corner stalls for thupas. People were not taking pride in their own culture but promoting other cuisines because they are more fancied by the locals and other tourists. So that’s what got us thinking about this.
Tell us more about the home dinners you organize?
All our hosts are verified. We have a team that meets the hosts and asks them a couple of questions that are listed out, and we judge whether we should get the host onboard.
From the diner’s side, the concept is such that I don’t think anyone who is not social would kind of go for something like this. At the end of the day, we are getting people outside their comfort zone to go have a meal at someone else’s house. Someone who is adventurous would jump at this opportunity whereas others need a little bit of nudging. Even our payments are online, so they are completely secure. We know some financial institution has done KYC on them and we have this information available in the backend. We also give fun confirmation codes like Wonderwoman, Batman, etc. to our diners, so in case the hosts think something is fishy, they can ask them for the confirmation code.
In India, we have many regional biases, how is Authenticook planning to change that?
A very good example of this is Ramzan this year, we did somewhere around 10 to 15 iftaars that were a combination of non-Muslims breaking the fast with Muslim families. In a world where you can see so many biases, something like this is very heart-warming to see. The whole community is categorized under some misconceptions that are not true. We have seen people come out respecting and accepting different cultures. Complete strangers meet, but they leave each other after dinner like friends.
Any one funny incident you wish to share that happened at an Authenticook’s dinner?
Yeah. One of our hosts has this thing, when she is hosting a dinner, usually, her entire family comes to support her. After a meal, we always click a group picture that we put up on social media. So when we were clicking this picture, her mother-in-law came running towards us and told us, ‘Please don’t keep me in the picture because I lied to my friends that someone is ill. I couldn’t join them on the outing because I wanted to be here. I wanted to see people enjoy my food.’ It was very sweet because she was like 60+ and all smiles and blushing explaining why she lied to her friends.
Which other cities do you plan on expanding to in the coming year?
We are going to venture in another four cities by the end of December. We are looking at Calcutta, Chennai and 2 tourist destinations. We are already present in Kerela, but we are looking at Munnar and Alleppey since we have hosts’ request from there.
Which is one of the most beautiful regional food stories you have discovered?
Recently, we just boarded a Manipuri host. I have never traveled to the north-east of India, and I had this perception that it would be very meat-focused with pork and all. But on the contrary, our hosts told us that it’s more about seasonal vegetables and more of greens and vegetarian base. Obviously, there are non-vegetarian dishes, but in their normal consumption, they take a lot of vegetarian food. During Puja’s they have a proper vegetarian thali which was very interesting to know. The food was amazing too, something that I have never had before. They usually serve the food on Lotus leaves so the aroma is amazing too.
Any one interesting table discussion that you’ve been part of during such dining sessions?
I remember this incident that happened out of sheer coincidence, where our diners, 4 friends who were from IIT and an elderly couple booked for the same meal. The older gentlemen happened to be from the same IIT as them. So, he was from the batch of the 1970s, and they were from the batch of 2000s. The kind of conversations they had about places and professors, it was really amazing to see them bond like that.
Who do you think is the best cook in your team?
Among the three of us, it is Aneesh. He can cook pretty fabulous Berry Pulao and Mutton Khichda. I just like to do my regular stuff, simple home cooking. I am not into anything fancy. I like trying different recipes though.
Since you are foodies, are your lunch breaks a feast or like regular office lunches?
Earlier it used to be quite elaborate with tastings, usually 2 to 3 tastings a week. We used to fight over who would go to these tastings. When we just started Authenticook, we used to go everywhere and do tastings and eat to our heart’s content. Then we realized, after a couple of months, we were putting on a lot of weight. We needed to either start exercising to keep up with our eating or do something about it. The exercise was not happening so we decided to change our eating habits. Now our lunch meals have reduced to simple homemade meals.
Could you tell us about one woman who had been empowered by Authenticook?
In Versova, Koliwada village, we have a family where we take diners who enjoy an amazing seafood meal with them. These women work very hard, and they are empowered in monetary aspect, per se. But there are many people who blame them for cheating, but they don’t realize the hard work they put in. It’s a very tough life they lead. With people from different walks of life coming into their homes, understanding what is happening, their stories, they get a certain recognition.
Do you remember any one particular incident that sparked a sense of leadership in you?
I have always wanted to make an impact and help the women around me because I have seen my mom as a homemaker, always wanting to do something different. As a home maker, you want to stay relevant in the society. Looking at her as a child, I always wished to do something for this kind of women who want to get into any economic activity but for some reason had to take a back seat.
What would your advice be to young digital entrepreneurs?
I would just say one should follow their passion and whatever it is that makes them happy – be it tech or non-tech. Things will follow if you have your heart in place and plans in place.
This article was first published on September 8, 2017.