Home chefs are now star residents of apartment complexes in Chennai, providing fresh, healthy meals to office goers, the elderly, and young parents juggling work and children
Every day by 8.30am, Haritha Raghavan packs 30 tiffin boxes for residents in and around Sholinganallur.
By 11.30am, she finishes preparing lunch, and then moves on to making evening snacks. This routine continued even during the recent floods as she had anticipated the situation and stocked up groceries and vegetables and supplied the meals to the customers who mostly lived in the same apartment complex or gated community.
Even when most delivery services suspended movement during the recent floods, home chefs seamlessly began to offer meals in the neighbourhood.
On days there are cricket matches, Haritha adds burgers and pizza to the menu. “I am punctual because parents working from home need to make sure that their kids, taking online classes, are fed on time,” says Haritha.
As a volunteer for Chennai Sappadu, Haritha Raghavan was actively providing home-cooked meals during the lockdowns. In September last year, she launched food4souull to help people in her apartment complex, Doshi Risington, Karapakkam. She creates a weekly menu plan and posts it on the building’s WhatsApp group for pre-orders on a monthly subscription model. On weekends or days when there are cricket matches, she also offers burgers, pizza and pasta.
“My elderly customers request salt-free, or less spicy food, food that is mashed well, and sometimes bland soup. All this is possible when you know the caterer,” says Haritha.
When the first lockdown was announced towards the end of March 2020, many families that depended on their domestic help, cooks or food delivery services were affected. During those initial days of confusion, a group of enterprising homemakers emerged as saviours for their apartments and neighbourhoods.
These women began supplying home-cooked meals to neighbours and building staff. What started as a helping hand extended during the lockdown has given way to the rise of food businesses. And now with offices re-opening, home cooks are also offering dabbas to employees who prefer avoiding canteens at workplaces.
The family pitches in
“The concept is catching up in Chennai, after the many lockdowns,” says Abilasha Poddar, a home chef based out of OMR, “Many people have lost jobs or have had pay cuts. Women who have excellent culinary skills are trying to pitch in and help the family financially. The best part is elders in the family of these caterers also feel useful and relevant. Mothers-in-law pitch in, sharing signature recipes, fathers-in-law pack meals, attend calls and keep track of orders…”
When the lockdown was announced, Abilasha supplied lunch and dinner for security guards at Hiranandani who stayed back to help the community. “Gradually, bachelors, elderly people and young couples, who were working from home and had toddlers, began to approach me. They found such an arrangement, within the community they live in, most convenient,” she says.
While her chaat was in high demand during the initial lockdowns, now her soup and salad monthly package for dinner has become all the rage among younger clients.
In Thiruvanmiyur, Harsha Goyal ran was running a beauty parlour before the pandemic hit. Unable to pay the rent, she had to shut it down.
“Then my husband lost his well-paying job and we were on the verge of moving back to Delhi, where his family is based. But friends motivated me to get into the food business, so in September 2020, I began to offer Punjabi lunch during the weekends and gradually started daily snacks and dinner as well. Today, I am catering to a wide clientele within five kilometres radius of my house in Thiruvanmiyur,” says Harsha.
Her husband helps by shopping for groceries, cutting vegetables and packing and delivering the food. “Lockdown or floods, we continue with our on time and assured delivery,” says Harsha.
“Of course, I find it hard to prepare large portions of food in my compact apartment. But I don’t mind, as my husband and I have supported each other and survived the most challenging times.” She adds, “We also find joy in making life easier for the neighbourhood.”
At Hiranandani, OMR: Abilasha Poddar’s Xtreme Indulgence. Try the Mexican combo, momos, dal bhaati and churma.
At Olympia, Navalur: Chef Deepa Prakash’s Tipsy Topsy Bakes. Try her cookies and brownies
In Sholinganallur: Haritha Raghavan’s food4souull. Try the South and North Indian office dabbas.
In Thiruvanmiyur: Nidhi’s Kitchen by Harsha Goyal. Try the bread-paneer pakora, dahi puri, Punjabi thali and dal makhni.