A finalist on Masterchef India, former chef at popular eatery Indigo Deli and Kenilworth Hotel, and proprietor of her one-of-a-kind bistro in south Goa, celebrity chef Megha Jhunjhunwala has made a name for herself in a highly-competitive industry. Having graduated from Le Cordon Bleu, she firmly believes in constant innovation. Thus, the driving force behind her home-catering business ‘Hearth & i’, is to find and recreate truly unique flavors from around the globe, with most of the ingredients being organic or consciously grown. In a conversation with G20, Chef Jhunjhunwala talks about the prospects of the food industry. Excerpts:
Q. From being a finalist on Masterchef India to running a successful and innovative home-catering business, please tell us about your journey in the culinary world so far.
A. My journey began quite early- I started cooking around the age of seven, over the fire. After graduating from school in Kolkata, I went to study fashion in London at Central Saint Martins, and eventually, life led me to Le Cordon Bleu in Paris in 2010 where I studied Cuisine and Patisserie.
After returning to India, I worked at various restaurant kitchens in Mumbai and Kolkata. Running cafes in Goa and Rishikesh, and teaching at the Apeejay Institute of Hospitality in Navi Mumbai, were some of the exciting food-related experiences I have had. Masterchef India Season Two was also one of them, and it was a rewarding experience. I never lamented the loss of the title, and I am grateful for everything I gained through that platform.
My first venture dedicated purely to the culinary arts was called Pepperstar, a home-catering service. When marriage brought me to Delhi, I started my new brand, ‘Hearth & i’ last year. Cooking has always been and will always be the truest expression of myself. My love for travel has further aided me in honing my craft, allowing me to keep learning along the way.
Q. What is the philosophy behind your brand ‘Hearth & i’?
A. Having discovered the magic of cooking with fire at a young age, I was awestruck by its power. Eventually, it also served as the inspiration behind the brand name. The hearth is the belly of the fire and I am smaller than its immense power, living in consonance with this element of nature.
‘Hearth & i’ is an expression of my soul. It is built with bricks of great love and a foundation of deeply rooted ethics, with an in-built philosophy of sharing love through food and culture. We never compromise on ingredients, strongly focussing on using organic materials whenever possible. Further, we aim to provide healthy food for everyone and are always experimenting with delicious meals for different dietary needs. We have achieved only a tiny fraction of our eventual goal, but we are progressing towards it steadily, by taking baby steps.
Service or the Indian concept of ‘Seva’, is a huge part of our in-built belief system, and we hope to build something truly meaningful and uplifting through our brand.
Q. Do you believe the reason for the success of ‘Hearth & i’ lies in your unique offerings, such as 7-course meals and DIY kits, that set you apart from other catering services?
A. I believe the prime reason for the growth of ‘Hearth & i’, lies in the ethical code of the company, as we insist on using the best ingredients. We never resort to cutting corners in any way. The variety of the menu and the authenticity of the flavours also play a key role in making the brand a success. Our 7-course meal concept and DIY home cooking kits have helped in making us popular as well. Sticking to our inherent brand philosophy has always defined us and will continue to set us apart from our competitors moving forward.
Q. What have been the biggest challenges you faced in growing your home-catering business?
A. The biggest challenge has been working the extra-long hours. Currently, I am doing all the cooking for ‘Hearth & i’ myself to ensure complete sanitation and safety. It is undoubtedly the biggest challenge for me, yet is also a blessing in disguise! I have come to realise my potential and how much I can achieve if I just set my mind to it.
Q. How has the pandemic and lockdown affected your business. What methods have you employed to meet the challenges you faced?
A. Since the lockdown began, my food studio has become my home and my hours in the kitchen have easily doubled. I have met these challenges head-on by resorting to regular meditation. I find myself meditating more and sleeping lesser. The business has seen an upsurge, as people want access to safe and sanitary home-cooked meals. We were well-placed in the market after the pandemic hit us, and the tremendous success of the business has confirmed my belief in innovation and sticking to my inherent values. The core strength of ‘Hearth & i’ has always been catering to closely-knit gatherings and offering customized services, and now the entire world is turning to these concepts. I love this shift in perspective and strongly feel that this culture is here to stay.
Q. What is on the cards for the future of ‘Hearth & i’? Are there any plans to expand or introduce new verticals?
A. We have big dreams as a company and are currently just at a fraction of what we want to achieve. Our next step is to move to a larger space and eventually be closer to nature as well. Another vision we strive towards every single day is building a more sustainable company. We are compositing all the organic waste and thoughtfully segregating the rest of the waste for responsible waste management. I hope to build on this and my other core values as the business grows further.
The interviewer is a lifestyle columnist and blogger at www.nooranandchawla.com. She can be found on Instagram @nooranandchawla.