FnB columnist Riccha Grrover in conversation with Chef Swati Bhalotia, a London-based private home chef and foodpreneur, on her venture Swati’s Spice Journey that she set up during pandemic lockdown times-an exclusive for Asian Lite International
Chef Swati’s food journey as she describes, is a function of her ancestral roots in Rajasthan and Kolkata.
The City of Joy, like London, is a melting pot attracting immigrants from far and wide through the ages. Beyond the native Bengalis, there is a large Marwari community (to which she belongs), a vibrant Chinese & Tibetan population that gave rise to the famous Indo-Chinese cuisine, the Bangladeshi community that brought yet another flavour profile & the Anglo-Indian community that have all contributed to the richness of flavours and cuisines of this incredible city.
Talking about her journey as a chefpreneur she said “My inroad into the food business was a happy accident! In spite of my deep love of food and cooking, this was for the longest time, a labour of love that I performed for family and friends only. It started with a school fair stall where my dishes drew a long queue much to the pride of my daughter. I did this a few times a year and the love and support of complete strangers completely bowled me over and inspired me. Then things happened organically. A friend suggested we run some cooking classes & I went along for the experience and that business took off!
Covid-19 lockdown was the turning point for my home catering business. With most eateries closed, I started to receive requests from friends & their extended network across London. One thing led to another and before I knew it, I was cooking for hundreds of people and my social posts & networks started to fill up with recommendations and reviews from my patrons…
RICCHA GRROVER: Tell us about your venture Swati’s Spice Journey. When did you set it up and what was your motivation?
SWATI BHALOTIA-My whole life I have enjoyed cooking Indian food for my family and friends. Some friends started asking me to create pastes for them so they could recreate some of my flavours at home. Others asked me to cater for their small events and Swati’s spice journey grew organically out of these requests. I now make food and pastes for hundreds of customers in and around South West London.
RG-Tell us about the concept of your home cooking concept. What are the main items you cook? Is it for collection and delivery both? Do you take catering orders as well?
SB-I create a diverse variety of curry pastes and chutneys that people can easily use to make quick mid-week meals at home for their family. They include; chickpea curry, cashew curry, coconut and peanut curry, spinach curry, Nyonya curry (the most popular) coriander and mint chutney etc. All my pastes come with easy to follow instructions on how to bring the dish together and can be served as vegetarian dishes.
In addition to this, I have a broad menu of traditional and regional dishes that people can order and collect or I can deliver if within a five mile radius. These can then be easily heated before being served. I use fresh produce and a high quality selection of spices for all dishes and I can of course cater for milder tastes as required.
I can also cater for larger group events, provide handpicked spice boxes as gifts and also love doing cooking lessons in my home kitchen.
RG-Does the menu keep changing too as per different diners requests or is it a fixed menu? Do you cater to dietary requirements?
SB-Alongside the fixed traditional and regional menu that people can order from I also can create a bespoke menu which may include, low spice, no dairy, no onions etc.
RG– What are the top five dishes that you love cooking and would recommend someone to try?
SB-My favourite dishes are Pav Bhaji, Masala Dosa and ma ki daal (black daal). They are all extremely tasty vegetarian dishes that are unique to Maharashtra, an area of Western India. People are always impressed with them when I make them and both are relatively easy to recreate at home. I also adore sabudana khichdi and would like people to try Rajastani gatte ki sabzi.
RG-Tell us about your bottled pastes and chutneys. How long do they last?
SB– These can last up to 2-3 weeks long in the fridge or many of my clients freeze these and they can last in the freezer for us to 2 months. You can learn more about how to use these pastes to drum up a variety of versatile dishes in no time whilst being reassured that these pastes are lovingly home cooked with the highest quality ingredients – just the same as I would for my closest family!
RG-What keeps you inspired?
SB-I genuinely love the feeling of people enjoying my food and I thrive off introducing new customers to the exciting flavours of Indian food.
RG-What is your vision for the future for your home cooking project?
SB– I don’t actively plan for the future, instead preferring to flow with the tide and let the food and the opportunities take me where they will. But my mission is to ensure that everything I dish out is authentic and infused with passion and is a source of joy and happiness to people.
One day I would love to see my pastes available in the supermarkets and would love to widen the audience on my home cooked Indian food. Other visions include giving group and individual cooking lessons and supper clubs at home.
RG-What words of inspiration would you give to aspiring foodpreneurs?
SB-Never give up, ask for help when you need it. Use local marketing channels to spread your message! And as the saying goes, if you do a job you love, you’ll never have to work a day in your life!
Chef Swati signed off by saying “ I have always wanted to get into every dish and create a story or drama around it. What inspires me is just the sheer breadth and richness of flavour spectrum within the Indian subcontinent. It’s more than the regular curry-rice fare you find in your neighbourhood Indian takeaway here in London. And even though some of these are quite authentic, for me it has always been about introducing my British and sometimes even Indian friends to something a little off-the-beaten-track, something authentic to offer both a new flavour experience but hopefully also a sense of discovery.”