Mathew John was a history teacher at the high school in our village. With his fruity language and fair looks he had the better of attention from kids during our time. In the misty fragrant mornings we saw him with his colleagues Raj and Diwakar in the pool next to the temple, at our teashop for breakfast and again for lunch later in the afternoon.
After three decades, school days and teachers are far away in our everyday thoughts and life has changed totally over the years. I met Mr Mathew in London last week on the queue at the restaurant to get our lunch box. As we greeted and revitalized our recollections of that wonderful episode, I saw tears in his eyes as he looked at me. “This meal takes me back to the most wonderful time in life and your tea shop at the village centre, may be those meals really inspired our days in the school” he said holding the box.
It was an exciting research ten years ago to come up with a meal that could replace the boring lunches and how it could have changed people’s days. I observed our advertising friend Steven from Saatchi’s nearly everyday hurrying to the café opposite us around 1 pm, grasping a sandwich he walked back and every time he bit into his lunch I looked at his face. I felt he had no emotions or you wouldn’t even feel that he was eating something. We deliberated why people don’t eat Indian food during lunch times unlike evenings when it was already a habit in Britain.
We understood the concerns after speaking to numerous people who worked around our restaurant. Lunch wasn’t perceived as a planned meal, nobody wanted to spend more than what would cost for a sandwich, still fancy variety and it had to be healthy and comfortable to carry too.
Taking in to account all those expectations, we created our first meal box for Londoners at work, to make them look forward to a glorious lunch which would bring happiness to their afternoon. Initially the dream was to make people eat our meal once a week but it’s incredible to see lot of regulars live on this Indian lunch, sometimes all five days of the week.
This meal box has been more than just a lunch, we envisaged something very special, by understanding someone’s emotional hunger as much as physical. We felt it should be as good as what you would eat at home and bring a lasting memory of taste, similarly to reinvent the magic of a village teashop.
In India as our mission gets appreciated, a lunch meal transformation is seriously possible. We feel the young population of the country work too hard for themselves, for the future of the country and of course for India’s image in the world. The task on each individual is already too high, on top of it it is impossible to think enough about personal health, happiness and good food.
We believe an imaginative meal box could change their work and behaviour in a profession. Even though every company makes an effort to feed their people well, most people are unhappy with the food they eat in work places.
How about having your lunch cooked by passionate cooks with organic ingredients and nicely packed in a beautiful box? Our idea is to make healthy lunch available at a fair price by way of an everyday surprise. Microsoft and other companies take good care of their staff meals by changing caterers often. Also it’s interesting that the delegates of employees association choose the company and negotiate the menu too.
Borrowing Mr Mathew’s words, “Ultimately that taste of everyday lunch and care lasted out longer than the career itself.” Every time you touch a meal box like this, you are already supporting a bunch of traditional farmers, exciting underprivileged kids from shelter centres, that’s where bulk of our team comes from and above all the future of good food in the world.
The author is a London-based restaurateur who owns the Rasa chain.