It is said that combining one’s passion with one’s vocation is the recipe for assured success. Hence, when Mitali Gogoi Dutta from Guwahati felt the need to be financially independent to raise her daughters well, she relied on her culinary skills and launched baking classes under the name ‘Food Sutra by Mitali’ in 2015. Being an entrepreneur was not the goal for her, yet with consistent efforts and an understanding of digital marketing skills, she soon became a name to reckon with. Through this venture, which continues to thrive today as a digital platform, she teaches the nuances of baking to bakers and enthusiasts alike.
Her work was noticed by people in the right circles and before long, she was approached by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) for a unique project. She explains, “Culinary practices have always fascinated me. I have learnt a lot from my mother about food, special ingredients, and their preparation, and have always wanted to spread this love and knowledge.
So, when I was approached by WWF in 2017 to train the women of Karbi, Missing, and those that belonged to the Bodo tribes located in various rural areas of Assam like Sonapur, Natundanga Village in Kaziranga, Barengabari in Manas, and Karbi Anglong, I jumped at the chance. I was asked to coach the local women in the basics of hospitality and presentation skills, with a focus on cooking for tourists. Till then, the main livelihood of their husbands had been illegal poaching, but with the intervention of WWF, they are now working with forest authorities for the conservation of ecology and wildlife.”
Dutta wanted to help these women understand the value of the naturally rich environment that surrounds them. As communities that are highly dependent on their natural habitat, their traditional cuisines are exquisite and unusual, with most dishes using locally available herbs and greens. Dutta shared theoretical knowledge about local ingredients and combined it with practical knowledge of the aesthetic preparation of food being served to a large number of people.
Additionally, she taught them the basics of hospitality, shared a code of conduct, imparted valuable presentation and plating skills as well as eco-friendly waste management techniques. This helped these women set up their enterprise, which they named Gungzema Kitchen, that has hosted several guests from across the world. Dutta prides herself on making a meaningful impact by offering these women an alternative and sustainable source of earning their living.
The success of this scheme encouraged her to enlarge the scope of this idea by setting up FSM Foodtrails in 2018. “My second venture FSM Foodtrails is completely focussed on training the rural communities of Assam to bolster local culinary tourism. I want these talented women to gain more exposure and become aware of the treasure they are custodians of—their local food and recipes. This is only possible by offering them a link to the global market through means of digital marketing. Our pilot project was with the women who reside in Manas National Park, which attracts national and international tourists in droves. Travellers have the unique chance to experience the lifestyle of this ethnic tribe, learn about their rich habitat and their traditional cuisine.”
As part of FSM Foodtrails, Dutta trains the local women in the basics of hospitality such as how to follow a code of conduct and cook for a global audience with minimal wastage.
Further, she personally accompanies travellers on these culinary tours so they have a first-hand experience of sourcing raw ingredients and materials, learning about them, cooking traditional meals with the locals and dining in a rustic setting.
Manas National Park is the first operational tour site, where she works with the communities living on the fringes, most of whom belong to the Bodo tribe. The food served here includes traditional Bodo delicacies cooked using locally available and fresh produce, such as herbs and vegetables exclusive to the region which are difficult to find elsewhere. Menus change depending on the seasonal availability of natural ingredients.
The next edition of the culinary tours of FSM Foodtrails is due to begin in autumn, when Manas National Park reopens to travellers from around the world. Dutta also plans to include more locations on the list of her FSM Foodtrails gradually. Till then, she enthusiastically invites travellers from all across the globe looking for an offbeat travel experience, to explore her beautiful state, its wildlife, rural lifestyle and of course, its rich food culture.