Mohammad Bhol, co-founder and co-head, product development, speaks about their unique tech-enabled, direct-to-consumer venture aiming to deliver high quality, modern yet authentic Indian flavours through their offerings of biryanis, kebabs and rolls.
Unlike most other nations, India is a country that boasts many cuisines – each delectable in its own right. However, if you ask an Indian to name a dish whose love unites us all, the answer is most likely to be Biryani. This was the reason that three friends from Mumbai – Anurag Mehrotra, Krishnakant Thakur and Mohammed Bhol – decided to join hands and launch Charcoal Eats in 2015. In a candid chat with Sunday Guardian, Mohammad Bhol, co-founder and co-head Product Development, speaks about their unique tech-enabled, direct-to-consumer venture aiming to deliver high quality, modern yet authentic Indian flavours through its offerings of biryanis, kebabs and rolls.
Q. Please tell us about your entrepreneurial journey so far?
A. In 2015, Charcoal Eats began operations in Mumbai, with six popular Biryani flavours on the menu. Soon, our bold flavours and freshness began to make a mark across the metropolis. In 2021, Charcoal Eats has become a pan-Mumbai Biryani behemoth with additional presence in Pune and Jammu. We currently have a total of 31 outlets.
We pride ourselves on the fact that Charcoal Eats offerings are prepared in modern, hygienic kitchens, using the best ingredients, without any preservatives, artificial flavours, artificial colouring or MSG (Ajinomoto).
When we started in 2015, the idea was to make Charcoal Eats the ‘Dominos of Biryani’. This is to indicate our scale ambitions as well as our goal, which is to bring Biryani under an organized umbrella on the same scale as Dominos has done with Pizzas in India and overseas. And we are proud to say that we are on track for that!
Q. How did you enter this profession?
A. I am a chef by profession with experience spanning over a decade at Michelin starred restaurants across Europe. I have also been involved with the development of multi-array cuisines in India. I graduated from the prestigious institute IHM – Aurangabad, and followed it up with a Masters Degree from Thames Valley University in London.
Q. Why did you decide to make a Biryani chain?
A. Biryani to us is a melting pot of traditions, cultures, and preferences. There’s a symbolic notion of how it connects each one of us. This belief led us to experiment with different flavors which resulted in a wide range of delicious recipes. We also pride ourselves on being thought leaders in the market, as we are the first ones to introduce plant-based biryanis and innovative products and flavors that include the likes of Afghani Biryani, Truffle Biryani, and others.
Q. What is your signature dish and why do you think it is popular?
A. Our signature product is definitely our Afghani Biryani. It is a truly innovative product as it is a biryani, even though it does not utilise any of the ingredients that go into making a traditional Biryani. Our Afghani variation focuses on flavors, minimalism and uniqueness whilst exceeding the expectations of those who love Biryani.
Q. How is your process of cooking different from others?
A. ‘Dhungaar’ is a cooking process of smoking the food to let its flavours shine. We slow cook the meats and use charcoal smoke to add a distinctive taste to our gravies and chicken before the dum, hence the word ‘charcoal’ used in our name describes our very essence.
Q. Has the pandemic influenced your decision to make plant-based goodies. If yes, why?
A. There is no denying that the pandemic has led people to become aware of the consequences of their choices on their immunity, health, and mental and physical well-being. Our unique and healthy offerings tie up to this belief.
Q. What do you have planned for the festive season?
A. We have recently introduced Jackfruit Biryani and Haleem followed by Mushroom Truffle and Plant Based Vegan Biryani. These are all exclusive offerings launched to liven up any festivity or occasion.
Q. Please share some of the most rewarding moments of your professional journey so far?
A. The most rewarding part of this profession is to be able to collaborate with the best and brightest in the industry. It is especially satisfying to see our ideas come to life. Further, it is immensely satisfying to be able to create products that are consistent in their quality and taste. Most importantly, the love we receive from our patrons truly keeps us going.
Q. Is it challenging to create a healthy food brand? If yes, what are the challenges?
A. I believe getting the taste right can be challenging. Plus, we have to ensure that the prices don’t climb through the roof while we make the products. It is a common perception that healthy products are not tasty, and they are also expensive for the masses. However, this isn’t true – I urge people to come and taste our Biryanis and they will realise the difference!
Q. Please tell us about your unique offerings – the Truffle Biryani and Plant-Based Chicken Biryanis?
A. Truffle, also called the ‘diamond of the kitchen’ is a rare edible mushroom that is highly prized for its unique flavour and aroma. Traditionally grown in southern France and northern Italy, and extremely hard to cultivate, truffles are highly desirable and expensive. Truffle species are prized as food items, and are used in French, Italian and other haute cuisines. Charcoal Eats is the first brand in India to use truffle oil as an ingredient for biryani.
Our most unique item on the menu however is the Vegan Chicken Biryani, which is made with a 100 percent vegan (plant-based) alternative to Chicken. This is aimed at discerning consumers who love the taste of meat, but want to consciously cut down on their meat consumption for ethical, religious, environmental or health reasons. The offering is also to encourage vegetarians and vegans to experience the taste and texture of non-vegetarian food, without having to eat an animal. Further, given the fact that the majority of people who eat plant-based meats worldwide are not vegan or vegetarian, this Biryani allows omnivores who want diversity in their diet to enjoy vegan options without compromising on the taste or the texture of non-vegetarian food.
This exquisitely flavoured biryani has the taste, texture, feel and bite of a ‘real’ chicken. Plant-based ingredients are a rich source of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, and research also suggests that they may help prevent various health issues, such as hypertension and cardiovascular diseases – all without compromising on the taste and the experience of non-vegetarian food. Plant-based meat could also be a sustainable answer to global food security and it addresses environmental concerns about consumption of animals. In short, plant-based meat is an idea whose time has come, and is here to stay.
The interviewer pens lifestyle articles for various publications and her blog www.nooranandchawla.com. She can be reached on [email protected]