I often wake up thinking about food. And it’s not just because I’m hungry. I am not a happy person in the kitchen, and anxieties about putting food on the table not just once but several times a day have beset me for as long as I can remember. So the menu I’m planning for the day takes up the first ten minutes of my morning — which says something for experience, because I do remember a panicked time when I would spend the entire day wringing my hands, taking hours to plan a single meal that involved two basic ingredients, rice and curd. I did finally graduate from complete food paralysis into a kind of joyous phase of discovery where I experimented constantly with recipes from cookbooks subjecting, one memorable time, my new spouse to around five litres of a ginger rasam that tasted and looked like ditch water. He manfully slurped it down mealtime after mealtime making the right appreciative noises, though I have no doubt he ate many a despairing meal outside the house in those days. As did I, on the sly.
What brings enjoyment is when you cook food for your family and it brings a smile to their face.
While the doughty cookbook is still as popular as it ever was, given the number of them I see on shop shelves, it has, for me at least, lost its appeal though I know a well-written cookbook can be as enriching as any piece of literature. I now go to my favourite websites for recipes to refresh and add to my repertoire. Archana’s Kitchen (www.archanaskitchen.com) is one such haunt I came upon by chance. I love that they have vegetarian versions of many popular dishes — there’s plenty for the non-veg palate too — but I imagine that different people go there for different reasons, not always related to the occasional recipe hunt alone. For example, drop down menus list anything from weekly meal plans (a blessing for the working professional) to food recipes for toddlers and babies; there are lunch box ideas, dietary information for the health conscious, and recipes for festival goodies if you’re tired of shop-bought sweets and are yearning for the flavours of mom-made food.
Archana Doshi founded Archana’s Kitchen in 2007 and you can read more about that on her website. In this interview with Rotary News, she talks about her abiding love for food and what has made her project famous as ‘India’s leading recipe and food discovery website.’
What made you decide to make food your business?
I was a software engineer and when I had my children, I decided to take a break to spend time with them. I realised I did not want to get back to engineering as it would take time away from my children.
Friends and family told me that I should write a book on food as I was very passionate about it. And this idea made me get online and build a website where I could share this passion with the world. And gradually, as I received a lot of validation, I made this my business.
We have such a complex relationship with food. There’s food we love, food we hate, food we can never forget and food we can’t wait to forget. But no matter what, we’re thinking about food all the time, and what we’re going to eat next. So what happens when food becomes work and consumes you, instead of the other way round? What is your relationship with food?
When I started Archana’s Kitchen I shared my thoughts about the food I loved and my favourite recipes. As it grew into a business, I began to think about my users.
With millions of users visiting the website every month, our aim is to help everyone who wants to cook feel confident and accomplished in their kitchen. For that, the recipes have to be so well-written that even a person who is new to cooking is not intimidated to give it a try. This drive to help people and reach out to them so they can become confident cooks is what keeps me and my team going strong with the work we do. And when we hear feedback from users about how much they love what Archana’s Kitchen gives them, it makes us work harder.
The above is my relationship with food at work.
My relationship with food at home is to cook for my family. I get immense pleasure and joy cooking and feeding my boys at home, and I am blessed to have a family that loves what I cook.
We share recipes from around the world keeping in mind ingredients that can be bought easily and made with ease in one’s own kitchen.
Food, what we eat, how we prepare it, has changed so much over the last couple of decades. Not only is there an availability of a huge variety of cuisines from around the world, but almost everyday there are new ingredients in the market, imported and exotic, often pricey. Food shows on TV have popularised the idea of cooking your own meals to suit your palate, even transcending socio- economic and socio-cultural barriers so there’s something for everybody. How much pressure is there on websites like yours to constantly keep innovating so that fans keep coming back for more?
Food trends keep coming and going. Trends don’t determine everyday cooking. But what brings enjoyment is when you cook food for your family and it brings a smile to their face—this could be something as simple as rajma chawal or rasam sadam.
At Archana’s Kitchen, we believe that food has to be made simple, elegant, and cooked in a healthy way using local ingredients. We share recipes from around the world keeping in mind ingredients that can be bought easily and made with ease in one’s own kitchen.
With due respect to the TV shows, while it is wonderful to see people getting interested in eclectic cuisines, only a small handful might try plating something as exotic as what is shown on TV. The majority only watch such shows for entertainment.
How do you find the balance between experimenting and innovating, and at the same time trying to draw on traditional recipes that people can identify with?
It’s not difficult. We never forget the roots of regional cuisines from India and around the world. We focus on keeping our basics strong, we are constantly listening to our users to understand the kind of food that they like to cook and share recipes accordingly.
When it comes to festivals, we share traditional recipes from various regions. We also focus on seasonal recipes and at other times we innovate by tweaking exciting recipes that focus on special diets so that we can offer variety to our users.
How do you navigate the notions of gender that are attached to the ideas of cooking and household responsibilities? I notice that all (but one) of your contributors are women. Was this a conscious decision you took — to keep men out of your kitchen?
I was born in a family where my dad made lunch on Sundays, and my brother is a super awesome cook who used to run a gourmet restaurant in D C while holding down a daytime management consultancy job. That’s how inclusive my family is when it comes to food. And as much as I would love for the website to reflect this quality, no men have volunteered to write for us. So through this interview, I call upon men to write in with their favourite recipes.
What is Archana’s real kitchen like?
It’s simple, super organised, spanking clean and well-stocked, so much so that I can cook any cuisine any time based on my mood and the seasons.
Do you enjoy food more when you cook yourself or when someone else does the cooking? How do you keep yourself excited about food?
I love the food I cook and enjoy eating it as much as I love making it. I enter my kitchen, pick up my knife and chopping board, and the excitement begins. And this is an absolute truth. This love existed even when I lived alone when working as an engineer. I truly believe the food we eat and our lifestyles make us what we are.
I hate letting my kitchen sleep but I do it once in a while … when I go to a good restaurant to dine with my family.