Serving her dreams, hot and fresh

The aroma of freshly-baked chocolate cupcakes fills the dreamy kitchen as Harshita Mirpuri hurriedly decorates them with truffle cream and chocochips for her order from Food Palatte. Her nose is screwed up in concentration as NDTV Good Times’ “highway on my plate” plays in the background on the 44-inch Television screen.

The kitchen is huge, blending granite countertops and marble flooring with glass and wood cabinets and one end of the wall designed in posh off-white- coloured tiles. Mastering the art of cooking under the medium-sized chimney in the kitchen, Harshita now gets orders for starters and appetizers from popular cafes in the city like Backyard. While she enjoys cooking Italian, her personal favourite is Chinese. “Cooking Italian is a lot of fun. I experiment the most with Italian dishes and it feels warm and good,” chirps away this twinkle-eyed chef, as she alternates between attending her phone calls and arranging the cupcakes in a tray before leaving it in the refrigerator. The way she swiftly decorates each cupcake is awe-inspiring.

When this 23-year- old opened her home kitchen, about 18 months ago, her client base was mostly acquaintances who already knew her personally and she felt it was more an obligation for them to place orders every time there was an occasion. But in the matter of three months, “word of mouth” favoured her as new sets of people placed orders for different events from college fests to birthday parties. “Acquaintances who liked my food told their friends and family and gradually, my customers increased. Today, I put up stalls at beach parties and supply about 100-150 lunch boxes for stall holders in different exhibitions,” she says with pride, adding that she enjoys the professional definition she is associated with.

The latest development in her growing food business is her entry into Food Palatte, an app that allows people to order from the available menu. “I ordered snacks like potato wedges and brownies for an event at office. I was so impressed with the taste that I’ve become Harshita’s regular customer now,” says Rajiv Nanda, manager at a corporate and Harshita’a regular customer from Food Palette.

Harshita recollects her first cooking experience as she gives orders to her two helpers who arrange the cupcakes in tiny boxes for delivery. “It was the summer of 2008 when I started cooking. I made sandwiches one afternoon and experimented with different stuffing and toppings like cheese, Maggi and mushroom. I didn’t mind having just sandwiches every day because that was my only reason to get into the kitchen and cook. I was too young for my parents to let me use the stove. This was easy,” laughs the bubbly chef, dressed in her white apron and hair neatly tied up.

Growing up, Harshita would often try her hand at various basic dishes like dosa and pasta. But she never restricted herself to one particular recipe and tried something different every single time. “My creative best is at cooking. I’ve literally tried almost all kinds of toppings like Molga podi, cheese and onions and schezwan flavours. My family and friends have loved each one of them. I think that’s when I considered this as a career option.”

Calling it a very spontaneous decision, Harshita explains how things worked out in favour when she decided to give Hotel Management a shot in 2012. “At the end of class 12, I started looking for colleges that had an integrated course. I wasn’t very keen on moving out of Chennai, especially because I was not sure about the course itself.” Despite seemingly unplanned culinary path, Harshita graduated from the Institute of Hotel Management, Chennai, with a five-month internship at ITC Grand Chola.

The testing time in her life was her internship at ITC, where she had to stand up for herself and demand for things that ideally, she should’ve received. “I was supposed to be allowed to work in each department for one month. But because I belonged to the generic batch of the college, who specialised in every field, I wasn’t allowed in the department of cooking, the kitchen.” She knew it wasn’t justified and thus, approached the trainee manager, asking him to give her a chance at the kitchen too.

After a few arguments and phone calls to her professors, she was allotted a 15-day period in the sandwich section of the kitchen. It seemed to her like things were back to square one when she found herself making sandwiches again. At the hotel, she didn’t have much freedom to put her creativity to use and instead, was ordered to follow the recipe told to her by the chief. “It was quite depressing. They had too many restrictions on the recipe and I think that is how giant corporate in the food industry work. I think that is exactly why I enjoy the freedom in my business right now.”

Since her admission into a hotel management college, Harshita has dreamt of opening a chain of restaurants across the country where she could use her creative freedom to prepare a varied list of items that teases the taste buds of the customers. Her home kitchen is only the start. “I want people to be able to have access to the kind of food they see on their TV screens.”

For the immediate future, she plans to have her kitchen on Swiggy and Zomato, online food retailers in India, through which people have larger access to check her menu and order food.

The oven dings and Harshita rushes off to plate an order of lasagna that will now be devoured by a bunch of college kids throwing a farewell party.

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