The renowned author of Harry Potter series J.K. Rowling says, “It is our choices, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” And these women prove that they have chosen food above everything else. In past two years, India’s food startups have changed the complete food scenario. But our home chefs are retaining the age-old food traditions and keeping their authenticity alive for generations. Starting today we are featuring Home Chefs from all over India who are restoring their communities own unique food styles and history of their land. Meet our first Home Chef Shabnam Borah specialised in Assamese Muslim Food!
(i) First things first, tell us about yourself & your business.
Answer: I did my graduation in the early 80s in Guwahati, Assam. That time, students, who were interested in cooking and were keen to learn more about culinary, opted for the Home Economics/Science subject, so did I. I got married early, and although I was interested in cooking but hadn’t learned much till then, so my grandmother gave a cookbook, that had many recipes of Assamese Muslim households. That cookbook became my support system for many years, and even today after nearly 35 years of my marriage I refer to it, occasionally. I have started an initiative called Shabnam’s Kitchen — Mughali Flavours from East that does food festivals and pop-ups with star properties and fine-dining restaurants. I am promoting food of Assamese Muslim Households in Delhi. I am also selling food from home on order.
(ii) How did you decide to venture into this business?
Answer: My son, A. Sarwar Borah, who has been a food writer for many years, came up with the idea of promoting the food of Assamese Muslims. Delhi’s culinary scene has changed drastically in the last decade; people have opened up to different flavours. Food from different states of Northeast India has also found an acceptance. We felt it is the right time to introduce a sub-flavour of Assam.
(iii) What were the struggles you faced when you started out?
Answer: Food is an art, and every art is critiqued. In the age of social and digital media, there can be unhealthy critiquing, which tends to demoralise you. Every day is a learning experience for us. We are focusing on strengthening our catering and home-delivery service, and that needs marketing and a well-equipped logistics system. We are looking at procuring funds for the expansion of the business, which is easy said than done.
(iv) How much has changed today and what are the struggles you face today?
Answer: I have been cooking for many years, but it’s only recently that I have started cooking commercially. Today, the food business is driven by the digital media and with so many easy options available, survival is not easy. A home-entity cannot compete with a fine-dining restaurant; we need level-playing field. In the time to come, I hope to see more organized digital platforms that represent our kind of business.
(v) What are the things you love that keep you going?
Answer: Cooking, music and spending time with my family.
(vi) What does food mean to you?
Answer: Expression of love and care.
(vii) What is the vision for your business, few years down the line
Answer: I want it to remain a home-entity, as I feel, I can only retain my homely tastes, if the business stays at home under my supervision. I don’t believe in the concept of a commercial kitchen. I just hope there will be better and organized digital platforms in the time to come, that will support our kind of business