India's premier luxury lifestyle women's magazine
Wine & Dine
October 23, 2020

Currently Open For Delivery: Goa

Text by Joanna Lobo

The lockdown has seen a new kind of dining experience emerge in the state: meals cooked by home chefs who are eager to showcase their kitchen skills and family recipes

Last month, for my sister-in-law’s birthday, I had wanted to send her something special as a gift. I was focused on satiating her sweet tooth, and it took me two whole days to sift through menus of Goan home bakers and finalise my order.

It was a problem of abundance that I hadn’t anticipated, but wholeheartedly welcomed.

A positive outcome of the lockdown in Goa has been the rise of a new kind of small business: home chefs. In the months since April, people across the state have opened up their kitchens to strangers, offering a taste of their homes.

While the concept is not new to big cities like Mumbai and Delhi, I can count on my fingers the number of times my family in Goa has ordered food from a home chef. They prefer doing takeaways from restaurants or street food vendors. In fact, most of the Goans I know are the same way. Deliveries are rare and restrictive: Zomato and Swiggy are recent additions and have fixed zones, public transport is infrequent or too expensive and villages don’t feature on anyone’s delivery radar. It’s not the ideal scenario for a home chef.

But things changed earlier this year.

It appears that every second personal kitchen has now turned into a mini-restaurant; some are doing it out of necessity, others as a passion. “People are putting out their home recipes, which is something you didn’t see before. Earlier, they were just cooking for themselves. This year, they had the time and wanted to showcase their skills,” says Hansel Vaz, owner of Cazulo Premium Feni. Hansel has been testing out all the new gin brands in Goa, and he regularly orders food (including a whole roast pig for his parents’ anniversary) from different home chefs. “It isn’t about serving cheap food [it’s not], but it’s a matter of pride.”

A glimpse of this trend is visible in the Facebook group Goa Menus, which was started in April by Frederick Noronha. He says, “There were two pressing needs during India’s ultra-stringent lockdown – the need for food and the need to find buyers for food. People were asking about where particular food was available. At the same time, many restaurateurs and home cooks wanted outlets to sell.” Goa Menus helped both groups. With over 5000 members, the community is an interesting peek into the variety of what’s available, including traditional Portuguese desserts.

The options are dazzling, the cuisines diverse and the home chefs, familiar. These are friends and acquaintances – people we’ve worked and grown up with. My family’s phones blow up almost every day with messages from friends who have food services and want to spread the word. In the last few months, they have ordered out at least twice a week, eating everything from momos to chorizo and beef lasagna, and I get constant updates about the latest home chef business.

As my brother puts it: “Everybody’s doing it.”

A whole new enterprise
India’s lockdown affected every business. In Goa, too, restaurants and hotels shut down; street vendors disappeared people working in the events and entertainment space found themselves out of work. Cruise lines and ships docked and sent people home without pay. Stuck with no income, many began searching for other options.

“There was no support from the government; people didn’t have savings, and they had to sell their cars and equipment for money. When you don’t have money, you will do whatever you can,” says Afroz Sayed of Afroz’s Kitchen in Porvorim.

After three months without a job, the DJ found himself breaking into his savings. “I started looking for alternatives.” At the time, he had been on a diet and would share photos of his meals among his friends. On a lark, one of them created a poster announcing “Afroz’s Kitchen”. It got him so many queries that he decided to turn it into a reality, roping in his mother. Afroz’s Kitchen sells biryani, some Mughlai dishes and Chindian fare.

In Pilerne, another DJ was facing a similar dilemma. “I didn’t know when the situation would end, so I started looking at different professions,” says Roydon Agnelo Dsouza. Confronted with many long, empty nights, he dipped into his late mother’s recipes and YouTube tutorials and started cooking. The plan was to run a food truck, but he didn’t have the funds. His father Remegieus, a former chef, stepped in, and they started The 2 Chef’s Kitchen selling Goan food, Indian curries and comfort fare like sliders, burgers and hot dogs. “We are doing really well. We kept prices reasonable, so people don’t hesitate with trying a new space,” he says.

While the #WFH directive gave people like Roydon the time to practice their cooking, it forced others to change their business model. Hansel mentions how wedding caterers, the popular Jimson Caterers, saddled with unused inventories and cooks with no work, decided to accept orders. “Earlier you could only eat their food at weddings. Now, it was coming home to you,” he says.

Anjuna-based couple Anuj and Priya Shah started Sappadu in June “Our house-help’s friend Gauri was out of work, so we took her in. She helped with our garden work, but one day, she prepared this fantastic Tamilian meal for us. It was so good, and we thought of selling her food so that she has a good source of income,” says Anuj. Sappadu does midday meals on Wednesdays. On Sundays, they do a pop-up, inviting people to their balcony for a sit-down meal on banana leaves. Sappadu is doing so well that the Shahs are getting calls from people with requests for a daily tiffin service or changes in timings.

The success of the home chef model depends on many factors: lower overheads, full control over the cooking, the promise of hygiene, and zero advertising costs. “People are working from home and have time to be on social media. Home chefs use these platforms to advertise themselves. They are piquing customers’ interests and offering a variety that normal restaurants don’t have,” says Rinton D’Souza, who launched Big Fit Bowl, a small cafe in Panaji that sells healthy bowls, in February. After he shut its doors in March, the DJ began taking orders from home and also advertising on social media.

“There are few restaurants around that are preparing very authentic food, and that helps the business,” says Anuj. “All the home pop-ups are cashing in on the lack of diversity, a steady and good supply and good demand.”

Timing is everything
Felicia Gomes had dreams of opening a cafe that specialised in burgers. But life had other plans. In June this year, the snacks she had made for her son’s birthday sent family WhatsApp groups a-twitter. Her husband, Alister, suggested that she should begin taking orders, and so Feli-cious Food was born. They started with just snacks but now have burgers, breakfast items like pancakes and Goan food. There are plans to introduce Keto and vegan fare too. The couple has overcome problems with vendors, delivery hitches and well-meaning copycats of their food to reach a stage where they usually sell 95 per cent of their products.

Alister has friends in the industry who have started their own food ventures, and he regularly orders from them. “We know the situation we are in. We want to show our support.”

Like the Gomes’, there are others who similarly revisited suspended projects. Prasanna Pai’s The Coastal Rasoi had been in the works for a few years, and this year, she had the time and the backing of her daughters to finally start selling her food, which includes Mangalorean dishes like ghee roast, urval and sukka, and some Goan dishes. Brothers and dancers Josinho and Shawn Fernandes utilised their free time to realise the dream of owning their own place. They started Chef Seralins selling snacks, special menus featuring Goan, Italian and pan-Indian food, and even full meals.

Home baker Azelia Fernandes launched Avois! Homebaked in July “not for money but to keep my passion for baking going”. First came a box of donuts, and then sourdough – including the bestselling choris sourdough. “The question to ask is, how long will it last?” says Fernandes. “The first month, there was a lot of interest. As things have been opening, the interest has been a bit tepid.”

The foreseeable future
Goa is now open to tourists and visitors, and the beleaguered hospitality industry is inching its way back to normal. In the touristy pockets, restaurants and cafes are doing steady business owing to out of state visitors. The event space is opening up too. Can this have an impact on the home chef’s market?

“The success of any business is its adaptability. When the opportunity initially presented itself, people grabbed it. Now that things have changed, many home chefs have gone back to their original jobs and don’t have the time to continue,” says Vaz, adding that he thinks 99 per cent of these businesses won’t survive.

Afroz has started getting event gigs again, and he is currently working out how to continue with his food venture. Roydon is tweaking delivery timings and looking into employing delivery people to continue The 2 Chef’s Kitchen. “We are here to stay. Not everyone will survive till the end,” maintains Alister. Big Fit Bowl is open for business. Rinton has seen both sides of the coin: selling food from home and his cafe. The struggles for home chefs in the future, he says, will be figuring out deliveries and procuring licenses.

Being niche is one way to stand out. Gopika Khanna’s four-year-old boozy ice-cream venture, Hice Cream, did very well during the lockdown. Her neighbours in Assagao, craving something different and facing limited options, were ready to buy her chemical- and preservative-free ice creams. “I’ve seen a lot more ventures coming up in the market in these last few months – home food and a lot of baking. I don’t know anyone offering products like mine, so it hasn’t affected my delivery,” she says.

Restaurants may have opened back up, but many patrons are sticking with home chefs and home deliveries. Goa Menus is still going strong. My family’s eating habits have certainly changed, now mirroring mine in Mumbai.

Hansel sums it up: “I have never called up people before and said, ‘I want your sorpotel’. This year, I did.”

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