First there were the humble breadmakers, then came the pastry chefs and now we have the home bakers. The latter category is an expanding community thanks to a sustainable business model offering an affordable alternative to existing cake shops. The past couple of years has seen a number of professionals and home-makers alike taking to baking and enrolling for certificate courses while some even quit high-paying jobs to follow their passion.
Around the same time, Chennai resident K P Balakumar launched the Home Bakers Guild to celebrate and promote the cause of the home baker”.
According to Balakumar, it is fair to call the group a Bakers’ Wikipedia, a knowledge centre where experiences, ideas and learnings are shared among a close knit community. What started as a Facebook group in May 2012 with just about 100 members has snowballed into a 14,200 member-strong community today. “The community was created so that bakers could feed on each others’ experience and also share problems,” says Balakumar. Bakers, baker bloggers, cake artists and baking accessories/inputs suppliers are all part of this community which has grown beyond a virtual existence. While the proliferation of baking was contributed to largely by the internet, taking baking offline has given home bakers, who are mostly women, “an opportunity to be financially independent and yet stay at home while they earn.”
“The signature event of the group is The Baker Showcase, which is currently held in Chennai and Bangalore,” says Balakumar. According to him, this three-hour event is unique especially because “having competing bakers cooperate and participate together is a novel approach that no one has done before.” This event that brings bakers together for a bake sale like none other is a great place for home bakers to network with clients and other bakers, showcase their repertoire and gain retail experience.
“The response to each event has been phenomenal, with every single one of them being a total sell out. Imagine four thousand pieces of desserts and savouries being sold in three hours. It gives you an idea of the scale of success. On average around 12-15 bakers participate in each event which is attended by over a thousand walk-ins,” he says.
With six events behind him, Balakumar has now brought home chefs under his wing, giving them the opportunity to be a part of this unique model. Balakumar’s showcases feature recipes that have been tried and tested by members themselves, making it more attainable for the lay cooking/baking enthusiast. The Home Chefs Guild recently hosted the Kitchen Chronicles: Rise of the Home Chefs, which showcased the culinary skills of 10 specialised home chefs.
Both cooking and baking have no entry barriers and enormous number of enthusiasts sign up for a membership and a spot in the showcase. “In the first showcase we could not personally check the quality of bakers and depended on feedback from clients and the pictures that the bakers had sent in,” says Balakumar. Now, though, he organises bake-offs to shortlist candidates. The participants need to register by booking a stall at about Rs 2,000 per stall, “this is just to cover expenses such as the rent for the space”. The participants end up making Rs 20,000-30,000 during such a showcase and they get to keep all the profits. While the Guild does not control the prices of the products sold, participants are adviced to keep their prices competitive and offer something for every customer segment. “The only reason home bakers are preferred over large bakery chains is because customers have quality assurance with regard to home bakers,” says Balakumar.
An All-India Home Bakers Conference is only the cards, says Balakumar, adding this will be one of a kind in India.
■ KP Balakumar (37) is a stock market trader by profession. He also runs a office that looks after his family’s interests in equities and rubber estates. Balakumar undertakes the duties of the Home Bakers Guild in his spare time