Abhilasha Jain from Gurgaon is a culinary entrepreneur whose incredible journey towards financial freedom began with a post she made on Facebook 5 years ago. It was a Facebook group where she wrote “I am going to prepare dal-baati and choorma, a traditional Rajasthani dish on Sunday. Let me know if anyone wishes to order.”
To her delight and surprise, her message vent viral and she received 40 orders in the span of the next 24 hours! Over the course of time, the orders kept piling up on her, and so to keep up with the huge demand, in 2014, she started a home-catering business. It is called “Marwari Khana” and Abhilasha offers customers the rich aroma and taste of authentic home cooked Marwari food.
Method to the madness
Abhilasha is 44 years old, she is married and has a daughter. However, she manages to juggle work and home duties very efficiently. She calls her journey “genetic” and gives credit to her mother for imbibing in her their expertise, culinary skills and spirit of entrepreneurship.
She says,” I was born and raised in a traditional household in Bhilwara where preparing a meal is considered a combination of science and art. Women in the household treat the process with the utmost love and care. Naturally, I was drawn to the delicacies. Meanwhile, the Marwadi business blood in me helped me build the enterprise.”
Cut to today, Abhilasha caters to 100s of people for daily meals. In order to make the process of ordering and delivering hassle free, she has a website where her customers can place their order 24 hours in advance. This gives her ample time to conjure up mouth-watering dishes that never fail to draw appreciation and praise.
Besides preparing daily meals, Abhilasha also makes traditional snacks and sweets and these are very much in demand during weddings, festivals and also social gatherings. The success with which she has managed to deliver to customers the authentic tastes of Rajasthan has made her financially independent.
A journey of a mile begins with a single step
Abhilasha’s love affair with traditional food began when she was young. She identified the kitchen with magic, and would hunt for excuses to enter it when her mother and aunties would be cooking.
She says, “As a child, I thought that the process of food making was mesmerizing. It was hard for me to look away from all the chopping, blending, stirring, and everything my aunties and mother did to prepare food.”
She was a fast learner and had a keen sense of observation. Soon she began to master one dish after another. Her family members, including her mother and father were very encouraging and this gave her a huge shot of confidence. At that time she was not thinking of making a career out of her cooking.
According to family traditions, she got married after her graduation and was quite content with her role of a homemaker and a mother. Even after her first Facebook post, she took a while to realize her true calling even as praise poured in from all quarters. She got a lot of requests from friends and even strangers. In the beginning as even today, she was more excited about sharing the tastes of Rajasthan with other people.
Abhilasha received unconditional support from her husband in her venture. However, it took her a while to convince her father that she was cooking in order to give wings to her dreams.
She started her business based out of her house, and unlike other food joints, she did not have to struggle to establish a loyal customer base. The majority of her customers are recurring ones and they serve as effective marketers for her too. She did not have to spend a chunk of her money on advertising; social media and word of mouth served as effective marketing forces.
With the increase in the number of customers, working out of home was no longer feasible, and so she moved out of her house last year in 2019 and rented a kitchen with a floor area of 1000 sq.ft. She has a dedicated team of four people who help her cook, cut, bake, garnish and pack the food.
Keeping intact the heritage of Rajasthan
Rajasthan happens to be a virtual paradise for lovers of food and it is characterized by immense thalis, spicy and tangy gravies, ghee heavy dal and choorma and also lip-smacking desserts.
Marwadi Khana’s menu has over a hundred dishes from Rajasthan including Bikaneri paratha, gawarfali dhokla, kadi kachori, baked boondi, gulab churma, moong dal barfi, besan ladoos and gujiyas.
Abhilasha uses the exact same techniques of preparing and cooking her food as in tradition heavy Rajasthan and each of her dishes bears the influence of the arid land of Rajasthan. She explains,” For example, the Marwad region where I grew up, has a harsh climate, including the perpetual problem of water scarcity. So the lack of vegetation pushed the locals to invent sabzi alternatives such as gatte, raabori, pittod and mangodi, ker sangri and dried lentils. To ensure that there is adequate nutrition, there is an inclination towards ingredients like beans, gram flour, millet, corn, bajra, barley bread and dairy products. I have kept these intact while cooking.”
Another trick that she uses to make her food taste heavenly is to use freshly ground spices like turmeric, chili and different dals. She makes all of these at home and this has lent an unmistakable signature to her dishes.
This philosophy also spills over into the dishes that Abhilasha makes; no food or dish is kept in the fridge overnight, they are all freshly prepared. “Rarely do we use the fridge to store the raw ingredients such as flour, sabzis. My mother taught me that to maintain flavor and quality it is best to make every item fresh. To avoid wastage we prepare food strictly as per the order.”
Abhilasha’s cooking techniques might seem strange. Instead of using regular cookware, she puts her trust in earthen apparatus like tawa, handi and the kadhai which are made from brass, clay and copper. This lends a smoky and savory feel to the cooked food and leaves customers licking their fingers.
Putting her best foot forward
Abhilasha is the recipient of numerous awards and accolades like ‘The Best Home Chef of Gurgaon’. Her penchant to solve even the smallest of hiccups has been instrumental in her success as an entrepreneur. She says, “There is a huge difference between setting up a business and running it. It took some time for my losses to translate into profits. The problems have made me stronger and I think I am ready to take on the next step.”
She intends to collaborate with restaurants and hotel chains in the future so that Marwadi food is popularized across the length and breadth of the country. She is currently looking to increase her presence and participation in food festivals where she can showcase Rajasthani food and make it popular.
Even though she had humble beginnings in her kitchen and started her venture with her husband’s money, Abhilasha has come a long way since, and 6 years in the driver’s seat has made her pragmatic as well as optimistic. She signs off by saying, “I want to touch every soul through food and want people from all walks of life to bond over authentic Marwadi recipes.”
Abhilasha Jain stands as a huge source of inspiration to countless women who want to become financially independent through their culinary skills.
Image Source: Facebook