This article is part of our series ‘The Reinvention’ about women who adapted to the ‘new normal’ during the COVID lockdown and took a new direction in their career during this challenging period.
By Kaveri Jain. Photography by Ananya Jain
While packing lunch for my mom, who was in hospital for a surgery, I murmured to myself, “If only I had a smaller sized papad, I would fit it inside this lunchbox.” A minute later, I came up with the solution: I cut the papad into half, and made it into a little cone that fit perfectly.
“What amazing food you’ve been sending for me! All the nurses would wait for me to open my lunchbox the moment your dad came in carrying that cane basket.” That was the first thing mom said to me the day she got back from the hospital. I was 16 and I had just discovered my first and lifelong love: food.
I constantly annoyed my grandma and her old cook with my endless questions, always poking my fingers into the paratha dough. One day my pokey finger got what it probably deserved: I put my hand into our ancient masala grinder and my poor finger bled like a tap.
In a deja vu incident, on the day India went into lockdown, the same finger again went into the grinder, though this time by accident. An hour-long surgery, 14 stitches and a broken bone later, I was once again poking around the kitchen. I don’t need a perfect finger to cook amazing food; all I need is lots of love.
Everything about food has always been exciting for me: discussing the menu, collecting the right ingredients, finding the perfect plates and bowls to serve in and of course the actual process of cooking it. For years, my goodnight prayer has included one line, “Thank you god for giving me a house full of loved ones, noise and laughter, and a kitchen full of food.”
Over the decades, my romance with food has taken different turns, and grown stronger. Today in this period of lockdown, I am happy to say that, with the variety and quality of the cuisines and dishes that are cooked in my kitchen, no one at home misses going out or ordering takeaway food of any kind; be it chaat or a fancy meal.
Over the past few years, I have been documenting my food journey on Instagram @OnUrTable and in eShe. More recently in my journey, I have discovered my intense love for breadmaking, specifically the process of sourdough. Sourdough is made by the fermentation of dough, using naturally occurring lactobacilli rather than cultivated yeast.
It is simply a combination of flour, salt, water and a lot of handmade love and labour. Improved digestion, regulation of blood sugar and being good for gut health are just some of its many benefits. The unique taste, textures and aromas are unbeatable and a result of what is a long, diligent process.
For years, talks about my opening a restaurant have been at the forefront of our family conversations. Despite that, I just never took the step. With two kids to raise and a family business to support, it was my personal decision to leave that aside for the time being.
Yet, life has ways of working its magic. With the lockdown, the frequency of our home-cooked family meals went up. Everyone suggested that I should take this time as an opportunity and start putting my food out there for people to relish.
I remember my daughter exclaiming, “Mom, you’re happiest when you’re in the kitchen, despite the heat.” She was right, I thought to myself; the kitchen is my kingdom and cooking is meditation for me.
Finally after much persuasion, we all put a menu together for my new venture OnUrTable. The orders came instantly and have continued to pour in since that day. Our products are innovative; we use only the best quality ingredients and give the packaging a personalised touch.
In seven weeks of being in business, we have sent out hundreds of breads, and an unaccounted number of sweet treats, including our famous brownies and loaf cakes.
Food is much more than just taste and aromas; it is something that makes a difference in people’s lives. A sad moment can turn into a happy one just by eating something you love, a stranger becomes a lifelong friend just because you happened to order the same food at a takeaway joint. Apologies become easier when you take along cupcakes instead of a sorry card. Celebrations become larger when the food is served with love.
I live to eat, cook and make everyone around eat! Love and food – who needs anything else?
Place orders at +91 98188 68816 (delivery in Delhi only)
First published in eShe’s August 2020 issue