There are two ways to truly sample the best of this country’s flavours, as overwhelming as the sheer size of the challenge seems. Either you activate the hyper-extrovert in yourself and make friends with as many people from as many different places as you can in the hopes that you’re invited over for a hearty, home-cooked meal. But that involves a fair bit more energy, not to mention the unpredictability of the outcomes. What if that friend from Calicut conveniently forgets his manners just when his mother’s cooking up a glistening beef fry with those hints of fried coconut you love? For those of you who aren’t ready to take that risk, there is an alternative route and that is Authenticook.
A food start-up, Authenticook is a platform that lists hosts and a variety of local food experiences that they offer, making them widely discoverable through its website and partner channels. They currently operate with 55 cuisines across 30 cities including metros like Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore, New Delhi, Gurgaon, Chennai and are continuously growing.
Authenticook exists at a unique intersection of food, commerce, culture, lifestyle and identity. To understand a culture, you need to taste its food and everyone at Authenticcok takes that rather seriously. In fact, this is the reason this venture began in the first place.
When three friends Priyanka Deshpande(31), Ameya Deshpande(34) and Aneesh Dhairyawan(34) went on a trip to Ladakh, they realised that there was easy access to restaurants serving westernised cuisines (pasta, pizzas and burgers), but a limited chance of trying out the local food of the region. This got them thinking.
There is so much diversity that India has to offer but limited avenues to experience the same. Social dining is the oldest form of social interaction and cultural exchange. As the millennial generation is more explorative and open-minded, it is perhaps the right time to re-introduce the joys of the same, taking them beyond a meal and giving them an immersive cultural experience – which is what Authenticook strives to do.
In this spirit, Homegrown spoke to Priyanka Deshpande, co-founder of Authenticook to understand more about the venture and about the power of food in creating cultural awareness and encouraging communal fraternity.
Homegrown: What inspired the idea of Authenticook? When was it set up?
Priyanka Deshpande: “After our trip to Ladakh, we realised that our experience even trickles down to our daily lives in cosmopolitan cities like Mumbai, Bengaluru, Delhi etc. Here you have people from various parts of India and the world coming and living together. However, the food is limited to mostly commercial international cuisines with very little authenticity.
We understand that not all local cuisines may be commercially viable to set up restaurants around, but they still get made at the homes of people, so what better way than to open up homes for social dining experiences.
With this thought, we started Authenticook in 2015 as a pilot, understanding the modalities of business through social media channels. We finally launched our website in 2016.
We are backed by Booking.com through their accelerator programme, Booking Booster that supports start-ups dedicated to sustainable tourism preserving cultural heritage and strengthening the local economy. Today, we are a small team of 6 based out of Mumbai and have 5 community managers in different locations helping us develop local markets.”
HG: How do you think food is a manifestation of culture and identity?
PD: “Food being so intrinsic to our core, often becomes a mean to retain our cultural heritage and identity. We see this in our home-chefs who are proud ambassadors of cuisine and culture that they have learned from their mothers and grandmothers.
Food is their way of sharing their heritage with others before its completely lost with time and age. We believe that food is a religion that transcends boundaries, regions and prejudices and helps one appreciate and respect another culture.”
HG: Tell us about your own memories with food?
PD: “I fondly remember celebrating festivals as a kid with certain dishes. For instance, I keenly awaited Holi and Navami so I could eat Sindhi Gheeyar (sweet) and relish the delicious chana, halwa and puri. I have travelled to various places in India and abroad with a single-minded focus – to explore local food. From Amritsar to Kochi, Tokyo to Budapest, I take immense pride in having experienced hidden culinary gems that do not make it to the TripAdvisor of the world.”
HG: Take us through the operations of Authenticook?
PD: “All the food experiences in various places are listed on the website and can be discovered on the basis of certain filters like city, type of experience (i.e. veg or non-veg) and cuisine. Each experience listing has complete details pertaining to what to expect, location (we don’t share the exact address upfront, as these are private residences of our hosts), menu, pricing, amenities, pictures and rating & reviews left by previous diners. We also have pretty robust SOPs in place for on-boarding our hosts to ensure a seamless experience.
A local or a traveller can book an experience on a date that is scheduled/available on the website or request a date of their choice. Once a guest makes a booking on the website, they receive a confirmation voucher with a summary of the booking and a unique confirmation code (which could be a fun Marvel or DC comic character or something fun rather than an airline-style PNR). That’s it, they are all set to enjoy the experience!”
HG: Tell us about the different cuisines you have featured so far?
PD: “On the platform, we have listed about 55 different cuisines, but we feel we have only scratched the surface. In a country where the dialect, language and cuisine changes every 50 km, we have a lot more to discover, experience and showcase.
Most of our cuisines are unique, given that most of them are not available in restaurants. Some cuisines that are quite sought after are the Koli, Bohri, Bihari amongst others. Even within a particular state, we have multiple cuisines. We have 9 different cuisines from Maharashtra itself.”
HG: What does an Authenticook food pop-up entail?
PD: “An Authenticook pop-up is a fun way to experience a new cuisine or relive childhood memories, learn about different customs and traditions and make new friends. Our hosts are people from all walks of life – home-makers, professionals, doctors and professors.
On the other hand, one can expect to meet working professionals, students, home-makers, travellers, foreign nationals as fellow diners. An Authenticook pop up is not only about the food, but also about social interactions, understanding another culture and learning something new.”
HG: Given the kind of communally fueled political climate we live in, how do you feel food could be a uniting factor and a way to spread awareness about the cultural diversity that exists in India?
PD: “Authenticook allows for different communities to dine at the same table. We are creating a platform for equality.
In a diverse country like ours, with 29 different states (more like 29 different countries) with different cultures, belief systems and languages, how does one experience this diversity? Food is the common denominator. It is easy to connect with people over food.
One can understand the history of the region and the various cultural influences it may have had. For instance, Pondicherry has had French, Vietnamese, Chinese and British influences which are evident in its local food. One can only understand these nuances only when they sit with a local, experience what is made at their homes and hear stories of a bygone era.”
HG: Could you share your favourite anecdotes/stories/memories of an Authenticook experience?
PD: “While there are many heartwarming instances, one of my favourite moments was during the “Lost Recipes of Kannauj” meal experience that we did in Mumbai. We had 2 separate set of diners; the first group was of 4 young guys in their early 20’s and the second was an elderly couple. As it turned out, the senior gentleman was an alumnus of IIT Bombay from the 1966 batch and the 4 youngsters were from IIT Bombay’s batch of 2014 batch. 48 years apart but the enthusiasm with which they spoke about the campus life, professors etc. was fun to listen to. It was great knowing that there are always ways to connect with people.”
HG: What is your ultimate aim with Authenticook?
PD: “We want to harness the knowledge of cuisines that different households have and make sure those cuisines are never forgotten. We have been able to create an appreciation for the long forgotten cuisines in this era of fast food. Our aim is to impact more than 1 million women, enabling them to feel empowered and have a source of income. Beyond the locals taking pride in their own food, we also want to introduce India as a global culinary hub. Frankly, if anyone deserves to be the global capital of food, it has to be India.”
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