In the third episode of our series: "What is cooking ?", we are curating the journey of a mathematician turned foodpreneur. A Mumbaikar by birth, Alpa Bhatt is a mathematician who had taught mathematics to students of classes 11th, 12th and CA entrance students for 15 years. In her own words, teaching has been her first love. From classroom to kitchen, this is an awesome journey!

Let us hear from Alpa herself about what made her life take this unexpected turn.

Petpuja: Welcome to our series - "What is cooking?" ! Mathematics and cooking appears to be a very unusual combination. :)
Alpa: I have two major passions in my life - teaching and cooking. I was married at 23 and shifted to Ahmedabad. For almost a decade, due to my husband's transfers, I have lived in many cities. Now I am back to Ahmedabad. In the year 2014, my son was born. It was a difficult pregnancy. Teaching students of classes 11, 12 and CA entrance was very time consuming and demands lots of hard work. I wanted to give undivided attention to my son. So, I stopped teaching and cooking came to fill that void. At that moment, my son was my priority. In the best interest of my son in particular and my family at large, I wanted to stay at home. We are a nuclear family. I wanted to be my own boss as it's easier to manage time when you are not reporting to someone else. It's easier to manage food enterprise in comparison to teaching students in the career making years. So, with the support of family and friends, I started "Aarambh - tiffin and catering" from home in July 2019.
Petpuja: I understand that you have opted for this food business as you wanted to be with your son in his early years. Also you are fond of cooking. Have you taken some professional training in cooking?
Alpa: No, I am not professionally trained from any cooking school. As I mentioned, I love cooking and used to try different recipes. Anyone who had tasted my food always appreciated me. This appreciation from friends and family, my keenness to try new recipes and birth of my son created this opportunity to turn my passion into profession.
Petpuja: Venturing into something unknown is not easy. Did you have any goosebumps or fears while taking that proverbial first step?
Alpa: Yes, I had only one fear that how would I manage this venture as a professional along with my little son. At any cost I didn’t want to disturb my son’s childhood. I was lucky as I have got good helping hands from the start. , so the journey till now has been smooth. I know an entrepreneur's journey is never easy but since now I have boarded the bandwagon, I will make every effort to make it successful story. 
Petpuja: What is the USP of "Aarambh"? 
Alpa: My food has the feel of hygienic homemade food. I have a different menu for each day. I do not cook routine food like dal, rice, sabji, roti everyday but different varieties like veg cutlets and veg pulav or an idli platter. We use our home made spices and standard raw material to prepare food. I try to give the best deal to my clients without compromising on quality and my profits.
Petpuja: Alpa, we would love to know about your journey as a foodpreneur till now?
Alpa: I started "Aarambh tiffin & catering service" in July 2019. I was contemplating about it for some times. With motivation from family and friends, I did it without any elaborate planning. I live in an apartment society having more than 500 flats. I found it as an opportunity and had my initial focus on serving my society only. I created a whatsapp group, where I post my daily menu . I started getting orders from day one. Any one who tasted my food became my advertiser. By word of mouth , my business started growing. I really started on a very small scale but with in no time, I was getting orders for catering too. I did many catering orders range from 8 people to 40 people. I have done many customized and special request orders too.
Petpuja: What kind of people generally order their food through Aarambh?
Alpa: Students staying away from home, working couple, senior citizens are my regular customers. Many a times, bored housewives who want to keep their kitchen close for a meal also place their orders. My menu is more than routine dal rice sabzi roti meals, so people who want something different and unique also come on board to order.
Petpuja: What kind of cuisines you are well versed in?
Alpa: I am well versed in Gujarati, Punjabi, Kathiyavadi, South Indian and Maharashtrian cuisines. As they say, travel is a good way to learn. Since I have lived in many cities due to my husband's transfer, I have learnt the local cuisine from the local housewives to have that authentic taste. The learnings of those times is coming handy now to make different cuisines.
Petpuja: What are your future plans about your business? 
Alpa: As of now I am working from my home kitchen. I plan to rent out a place in 2 to 3 years time. I want to empower more people who are passionate about cooking. In the times of technology, I eye on making an app so that people can place order with ease. All this future planning is in sync with my son's growing up.
Petpuja: Any memorable experience which you may want to relive through this blog.
Alpa: Yeah, I would like to share a very interesting and motivating experience. I had a catering order for a wedding for a small group of people. Everyone liked my food. The host was so happy and sent a note - " Getting your number was pure coincidence. Trial tiffins were liked by everyone in the family. My family has very varied tastes but everyone liked your food. Your food tasted so good not because of the recipe but due to your passion, creativity and love for cooking. It's very rare to find people who do not follow a recipe but follow their heart. It has been pleasure knowing you. Whenever I will have any function in future, big or small only you will cater to my taste buds. "
That was a big motivation for me.

Petpuja: We know, that it's not easy to satisfy all the clients. How do you take the critical feedbacks?
Alpa: I took every feedback very seriously. I always analyze every critical feedback and try to make an improvement. Food is very customer centric business , so ignoring a customer's feedback is not the right thing to do.
Petpuja: Would you like to share some of your favourite recipe with our readers?
Alpa: Most gladly. I am sharing an interesting recipe of “South Indian Khichdi (Khara Pongal) with Tomato Chutney”. It's very tasty, easy to make and my comfort food.
Recipe of Khichdi:
1 cup – Rice
1 cup – Yellow moong dal
Handful of Cashews (Optional)
2 slit green chillies and some curry leaves (Kadipatta)
1 tsp – mustard seeds (Rai)
1 tsp – white udad dal
½ tsp – chana dal
¼ tsp – asafoetida (Hing)
½ tsp – turmeric powder (Haldi)
2 tbsp - Ghee 
Salt as per taste

Pressure cook rice and moong dal with haldi and salt upto 4 to 5 whistles. Let it cool down and add water to maintain medium thick consistency. Keep the prepared khichdi on medium flame by mixing every 2 minutes, for 10 minutes. Simultaneously prepare tadka of remaining ingredients. Add this to khichdi and mix it properly . Serve hot.

Tomato chutney: 
4-5 chopped tomatoes
coriander powder , jeera, garlic cloves, oil, rai, curry leaves.
Chana dal - 1/2 cups or katori.
In a Pan take 2 tbsp oil, add 1 tsp coriander seeds, 1 tsp Jeera and 4-5 garlic cloves. Saute till garlic gets light brown. Add 4-5 chopped tomatoes and salt. Let the tomatoes cook till they become mashy. Now add 5-6 dry red chillies, 1/2’ ginger and tamarind paste of the size of a small lemon. Mix well and switch off the flame. Let the mix be cooled completely. Rast 1/2 cups chana dal and grind it well. Mix it with tomatoes.
On it pour tadka/ tempering of oil,rai, curry leaves and hing. 
Gujarati traditional Sweet - Mohanthal
200 gm Besan
150 gm Sugar
100 gm Pure Ghee
65 - 70 ml water for sugar syrup
2-3 tsp water for soaking 10-12 kesar strands
1/2 tsp cardamom powder
4 - 5 tablespoon fresh milk cream
3 tsp warm milk
Grated almonds for garnishing
Soak kesar strands in warm water.
Mix warm milk and 3 tsp ghee in a bowl.
Take besan in a bowl and add milk - ghee mixture. Mix thoroughly by rubbing between hands.
Now sieve the besan mix through a normal atta siever. This is to remove any lumps.
Heat the remaining ghee in a kadhai and add sieved besan mixture. Roast on slow to medium flame till light brown and whole kitchen is filled with an aroma.
As the mixture is roasted, it becomes light and fluffy.
Simultaneously heat water and sugar in a vessel for sugar syrup. Stir thoroughly till syrup becomes thick. To check if syrup has reached the right consistency, put a drop in a plate. If it does not move, syrup is ready.
Add cardamom powder and kesar mix in syrup.
Add the sugar syrup to hot roasted besan. Mix carefully. No lumps to be formed.
Add cold fresh milk cream. Keep on mixing till it becomes little thick. It should take 10 to 15 minutes.
Remove in a thali. Garnish with grated almond and pista. Smoothen the top surface with a katori or spatula.
Keep aside to set. Cut pieces in your choicest shape and serve.

Petpuja: Thanks for sharing such easy to make recipes.Kichadi is one complete wholesome meal. Mohanthal is my favourite sweet. I never knew, it's so easy to make. I need to try this. :) Moving further, since you are planning to expand, are you aware of the importance of FSSAI certification? Have you taken it?
Alpa: Yeah, I know about FSSAI and it's importance. We are in very nascent stage of business. I will definitely apply for it in coming years.

Petpuja:What kind of support do you get from your family? 
Alpa: I am very lucky to have very supportive family, friends and neighbours. My husband is state sales head in a well known corporate. He handles the marketing and sales of Aarambh. Whenever I need extra hands to manage a large order, I find him with me at every step. My parents and my younger brother are always there to support me in any and every way. As they say, friends are relatives we chose. My friends played a catalyst in starting this enterprise. They liked my food and always joked that I should be chef of a five star hotel or tell me to  start my own restaurant. Jokes apart , such conversations were a great moral boosters. The moment of reckoning came when my friend Bhavana Arora came up with the name "Aarambh" and told - Bus ab shuru ker lo. Another close friend and great motivator, Vaishali Vaishav has truly handheld me during my starting days. Without them, it would not be possible to take that proverbial first step. 

Petpuja: Alpa, you are really blessed with true friends and a very supportive family. What do you want to say to women out there, who may be thinking of starting a food business?
Alpa: Maintain quality of food with taste, success will fall in place automatically. Keep patience and stay positive. wishes Alpa and "Aarambh Food and Catering Service" a great future ahead! Alpa serves in all areas of Ahmedabad. She can be contacted on 9029613225.

All photographs by Alpa Bhatt.


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