BENGALURU: Mrinal Das Vengalat remembers going to the movies with his parents as a young boy. His mother would carry banana chips, which she would give him in instalments during the film. Das was so scared of the darkness inside the theatre that he would concentrate on eating those chips to overcome his fear. This anecdote speaks volumes about what food means to this restaurant consultant and food blogger who has worked with over a thousand restaurants around the world and has 86,000 followers on YouTube and counting.
“I am from an average happy Indian family. I grew up in a small town near the Kannur-Kasargod border. My parents and grandparents introduced me to books. That was in the early 1980s. Back then, there were no gadgets or the internet, so reading was the only activity. As I grew up, everyone wanted me to be an engineer. I thought I would be good with technology. I was good at studies and got into a reasonably reputed college. After a couple of semesters, I realised that what I was being taught was completely useless. Though I completed the course, I was disillusioned with it. I knew engineering was not the right path for me,” says Das.
Born into a family of good cooks, food was always there, actively present in Das’s life. “My family members are not only good cooks but they also appreciate food greatly. My connection with food also comes from reading Vaikom Muhammad Basheer whose books are littered with culinary references. In N S Madhavan’s Lanthan Batheriyile Luthiniyakal there is a whole biryani recipe. I would imagine what a date fruit looked like by reading fantasy adventure stories of the Arab world,” says the 36-year-old.
Admission into the University of Leicester for an MBA programme took Das to the UK. Passing out with a scholarship led him to start a premium spice import business, but the rarity of finding Indian cooking essentials meant that he and his wife had to shift to Dubai. “We moved in early 2013, and soon after, I met Gopi P, the executive director of Calicut Notebook restaurant. They only had one branch and were looking to expand. He asked me to join him. I took the role of CEO and in three years we launched five new branches. I stepped down in 2016 and started a hospitality-focused management company,” notes Das.
Blogging was a chance experiment encouraged by his wife and friends. Little did Das know that his comparative review of five eateries (kadas) in Kozhikode or the one in which he interviews an old lady running a small eatery in Tamil Nadu would go viral.
“I have made 175 videos so far. I haven’t earned a single penny because I don’t monetise my videos. In fact, I have spent more than `15 lakh on blogging since I started a little over a year ago but I love what I do, it gives me happiness,” he says.
Having travelled across the globe, Das is erudite on contemporary cuisine. He has a list of amazing eateries at the back of his head. “I don’t know what’s in store but people have started to appreciate me for my blogs. A prominent Tamil director, whose films I grew up watching, called to congratulate me. That was a special moment,” concludes Das.