Restaurants have new competitors on the food scene in the from of aspiring home cooks, who are putting up impressive menus for a fraction of the cost, promising an authentic experience in the comfort of their homes. It's a win-win situation for both guests and hosts according to Ranjith and Sheetal Bhonsle Rajasekharan, the duo behind Once Upon My Kitchen. Ranith says, "When my wife Sheetal was abroad, she would dine out with friends at different restaurants, but the one thing that kept coming back to them was the realisation that no matter where they went for a meal, no eatery could produce the kind of food and experience that a home-cooked meal leaves you with. It's something that stayed with her, and when we wanted to start something of our own, we revisited the idea, and that's how Once Upon My Kitchen was born. The site was officially launched in February this year. And since then has grown. Ranjith adds, "Initially, we were a bit skeptical about the economics and numbers, but the site is doing well. Currently, we have around 160 registered hosts. The idea is to transform the home kitchen into a revenue generating unit and provide a platform so that people can meet and interact with each other and at the same time enjoy cuisines that are not always available at your favourite/neighbourhood joint." From Mumbai, Delhi and Pune, Ranjith says they now plan to also go to Kolkata, Bangalore and Hyderabad.
Been there, done it
While Once Upon My Kitchen has completed a month, it's not the first to dabble in this a concept. A year ago, a similar site, MealTango, the brainchild of husband and wife Saket Khanna and Neeta Valecha, was launched. MealTango was born when the couple realised that their friends enjoyed Indian food at their London home far more than at any Indian restaurant in the city. They came up with a site that gave both travellers and local hosts a platform to get to know each other, and get access to a home cooked meal. Local cuisine scored, whether it was steaming appams or a crispy dosa. Launched in India in July 2013, Meal Tango has its presence across India and globally too.
What's in store for guests and hosts?
Renee Mitra, an advertising professional, says, "I enjoy eating out and wanted to try something different. I found the concept of Once Upon My Kitchen and the meals offered very unique. It's hard to find authentic Assamese food in the city. So, when a host offered to prepare this meal, I went ahead and signed up for it. I got an opportunity to meet a fantastic cook, who dishes out a yummy pork pickle. I also got to know that people from this region have a lot of pickles on their meal. I payed about Rs 1,800 for the experience and it was totally worth it. I am considering this as an alternative to eating out."
Richlyn Daniel, who recently hosted people in his home adds, "I love cooking and meeting new people. I have done my course in catering and enjoy trying different cuisines. Recently, I prepared a six course Greek menu. It was priced at Rs 1,300 and I got a great response for it."
From the TV screen into your drawing room
While the virtual and the real come together on these sites, this concept was also explored on TV and made for interesting viewing. Come Dine With Me, a popular show in the UK sees four or five amateur chefs competing against each other hosting a dinner party for the other contestants. Each competitor then rates the host's performance with the winner winning a £1,000 cash prize.