Visited a global food solution establishment that specialises in recipe blends last week. “We are the people you need for industrially modified support system,” said the gentleman, pointing at many exhibited food tins and sachets. Sitting in this corporate kitchen overlooking a busy highway, I felt dizzy and somewhat in pain.
He continued, “Once given your recipes, most of the work could be done from our kitchens and you can run your restaurants from anywhere, even with people who have no idea about your food, you will mint money.” Hey, that sounds tantalising and resounding.
In the last 20 years I have come across circumstances when people have quizzed my objective in doing business. The world has altered much in these years, not people’s hunt for easy and fast growth. Nonetheless, you can see a glimmer of hope in some communities with appreciation for good food and campaign to get people towards agriculture for direct access to source. On the other side, multinational companies stimulating fast food, ready meals and easy cooking options apply more powerful pressure.
Abdul Haque, a restaurateur, took us for a tour of his kitchen in 1997 and later it became our Rasa Travancore. He gave an insight on how Indian restaurants performed in the UK; kitchen shelves were packed with ready-made masala mixes for every dish on the menu. Holding a bottle Abdul said, “This’s the best thing that has happened in food industry, we can easily make anything without much effort and you don’t necessarily need a chef!”
He was striving to influence me about readymade pastes and disclosed some tricks to make dishes look different using the same masala! Abdul wasn’t impressed when I explained our approach of cooking, “every dish individually” as opposed to their way.
A major supermarket chain once approached us to give a presentation on our pickles and snacks. There was an offer to collaborate and make Rasa pickles on their shelves. We politely refused the idea by explaining, “our pickles and snacks are special to our customers and to maintain quality, our restaurants make them on each premises.”
The most captivating encounter was with our Iranian friend Hossain who made his fortune by supplying naans to supermarkets; he gave me clear options and guidance. An engineer by profession, he created his own machinery to cook breads in thousands and made millions. Hosssain wanted to go further, his plan was to design a ready meal combo and talked about our dishes to match his naan.
Hossain taught me precision about mechanised cooking and said, “If you like to remain passionate, being close to your patrons, you shouldn’t go this way. Instead, if your idea is about making big money and stare at big factory vessels in isolated warehouses, you may follow me.”
Abdul had no knowledge about culture of cooking; no education of catering business, moreover it was 17 years ago. Now our friend whom I mentioned in the beginning is a valued product from a reputed hospitality institution and he represents global food market today but has absolutely the same attitude. The only difference is the use of science and technology to make his money.
In a modern society, we have been championing short cuts and compromised on quality for convenience. Lot of hotels, restaurants and even high profile food courts rely on these pre-cooked pastes and masalas to run their busy establishments. It’s a prevailing system in the west, but emerging new world of youth is already breaking away from this spoiled lifestyle and started to demand quality.
Prosperity and new eating out habits have enhanced massive growth of food business in India too and there’s a definite chance of misuse of supply chains. We could easily resist comprehensive damage, if we educate the public about their role in controlling the food industry by insisting on freshness and legitimacy.
The author is a London-based restaurateur who owns the Rasa chain