Women’s Day special: Five foodpreneurs who are cooking up a storm in Kolkata
Eat, sleep and dream about food — that explains the mushrooming of eateries on main roads, lanes and bylanes of the city. Though womenfolk of Kolkata have been creating magic with their nimble fingers in the kitchen, they have been surprisingly aloof from the business of running eateries. However, the scene has been changing over the past few years, with a few women emerging as successful food entrepreneurs. On this Women’s Day, we track a few women foodpreneuers, and their journey to success.
Shripriya Gupta, Little Pleasures
Her lemon cakes and Profiterole Pyramid can literally transport you to Paris, for their authentic taste and consistency. Shripriya Gupta, founder of the Loudon Street dessert boutique, Little Pleasures, has baked for many a celebrity, including Master Blaster Sachin Tendulkar. “I had grown up watching him play, and making a cake to mark one of the most important moments of his career was something exceptional. It was also his 45th birthday... so it was special,” says the young chef, whose customer base is really diverse. “When I started out, a lot of home-makers would come to buy my cakes. Now, I see a steady rise in younger buyers, millennials, teenagers, and senior citizens, who want to try our desserts,” Shripriya tells us. “You need to be in the kitchen every single day. I’ve noticed some of my peers from the food industry have become business owners, and stopped being chefs. You need to be hands-on, you have to experiment. I think pastry is science,” says the baker, who trained at the institute run by Australian pastry chef Kirsten Tibballs, and considers her an inspiration.
Nitya Bangur, Ice-O-Metry
Nitya Bangur’s dessert joint, Ice-O-Metry, which re-imagines the Softy ice cream, is the talk of the town. Nitya, who used to be the vice-principal of a Montessori school, is a self-made woman, and she tells us that she works everyday to not be taken for granted. “I was an academic for a decade. Getting into this area, meeting vendors, making contacts, handling machinery and transportation, I would say it has been a learning experience,” says Nitya, who owns two outlets of Ice-O-Metry in the city. “When I was starting out, most people assumed I was just a rich kid, trying out something new for fun. In fact, I still go through that. I had to work very hard to convince people that I was serious about this,” adds the innovator, who thinks aspiring entrepreneurs need to believe in their products and work towards making it better. “My family has been immensely kind and progressive. I lost my dad to cancer four years back, but he was the one who taught me to dream,” says the entrepreneur, whose alcohol-infused Softies are quite a rage among the city’s gastronomes.
Saloni Jhunjhunwalla, The Salt House
Journalist-turned-restaurateur Saloni Jhunjhunwalla always wanted to do something on her own. A chance meeting with like-minded people gave shape to her dreams, and Kaos Gourmet came into being in 2014 as a part of Kaos Gourmet, at Shakespeare Sarani. In 2018, it came in a new avatar as The Salt House, and since then, this state-of-the-art fine diner is synonymous with good food and great style. The gourmet diner also doubles up as a space for cooking workshops, yoga sessions, children’s camps and pop-up markets during the non-business hours. Having no formal degree in business posed an initial obstacle in Saloni’s path to success. “I had no expertise in running a restaurant. Besides, I had my second child around the same time, and it was difficult to manage both, but we all worked hard towards a common goal,” says Saloni, who is an avid photographer and loves travelling.
Rashi Kedia, Naariyal Paani
An event manager by profession, Rashi Kedia’s love for cooking made her participate in MasterChef India, and ultimately open Naariyal Pani on Alipore Road, which offers South Indian cuisine with a lip-smacking twist. “I am the only one to bring a dash of molecular gastronomy to South Indian cuisine. At Naariyal Paani, you can get a Bubble Dosa, Jalebi Cavier, Coconut Idli and more. There a lot of drama in our food, hence the tagline ‘nautanki’,” explains Rashi, a single mom, who earned a degree in fashion from NIFT. A hard working woman, Rashi never shied away from challenges, whether personal or professional. “I work hard to achieve my goal. A major challenge was the recent collapse of the Majerhat bridge, which hindered our business to an extent. Also, within a few weeks of Naariyal Paani’s opening, the entire staff was weaned away by rivals, and I had to slog it out at the kitchen, apart from managing the place,” says Rashi, whose says that her biggest source of emotional strength is her seven-year-old son.
Sneha Singhi, Paris Cafe
Sneha Singhi was just seven years old when she declared that she wanted to be a chef. 19 years later, she is the owner of six outlets of Paris Café, a patisserie that’s popular among the youth of the city. “When I decided to be an hotelier, I went to Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. A chance course on patisseries brought more focus. I love butter and chocolate, and to see them meld into something delectably beautiful fascinated me,” says Singhi, who started her flagship store in Ballygunge in 2012. The toothsome red velvet cake, colourful macaroons and other desserts on offer soon became the city’s favourite sinful delights. The 26-year-old Singhi informs us that the menu at all the outlets is different and keeps changing frequently. Her upcoming seventh outlet will offer good wines too.