HYDERABAD: I started Escapades Culinary Studio in 2007 offering comprehensive well-designed classes and have trained several hundred home bakers for business. I had students coming to my studio from all parts of the country and had huge plans for a scale up and certified course launch in 2020. It was going to be the year when I finally put all my expansion plans in action and work was underway on this front. Then Covid-19 happened and the first two weeks were an unexpected break. As an individual owner driving a small business, the stress is unchecked and I had not switched off for a single day in the last five-six years.
The first phase in March, I slept, cooked in my home kitchen and fiddled around with my phone making small videos for Instagram. I was on a holiday. By the middle of April, the constant dread that I may lose everything I had built was very real. The rent was bleeding me. My business is based on people physically showing up. I knew I had to take a tough call, lots of work on paper, exploring various options and making financial calculations that did not add up. I decided at the end of April to close my physical studio. There was no other way. A 13-year journey came to a grinding halt, not because I did not work hard or did not have the skill, but because the pandemic swallowed me and my studio.
As the packers packed up all the kitchen equipment, ovens and furniture, to place them in storage while I thought of something to do when things get better, my grief at losing the physical space was tremendous. I took a couple of weeks off, to centre myself. Being around my two dogs helped a lot. However, in today’s world, you can’t be grieving forever. Tentatively, at the end of June, I explored online teaching which I had resisted for years. I enjoy the physical rush of people around me, the wafting of aromas when you’re baking and sharing the joy of unmoulding a fresh cake with my students.
Online robs you of it. It’s been just over a month and I am still settling in. I am learning to be less camera shy and prepping for a class means checking for light, sound and ensuring all my devices are properly charged, just not class notes and ingredients. I’ve tried to retain the format that made my studio number one — small groups, extremely detailed information, hand holding and encouraging students to bake along. I am thrilled with how seamlessly participants are baking with me during the class. It is as if they are right there in front of me. If anything, the last month of classes has reinforced my faith in my skill and ability to teach well. It has made me look towards the future with hope and promise.
The pandemic robbed me of my physical space, but I am very grateful about the opportunity to take my brand and my studio online and create a lasting digital experience. As I move ahead and learn to adapt, I realise that nothing can rob me of my skill, the form factor has and will change, regardless of whether I approve or not. Till it is safe to open another physical address, I will continue to teach online. Who knows what the future will bring? To be in the moment, and make the most of it, is the hope which keeps me going these days.
— Arundati Rao, owner, baker, slave, Escapades Culinary Studio