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Cooking up success

Margao resident, Sarita Chavan’s achievements are inspiring. Her journey from selling masalas to becoming one of the few women caterers of Goa, is the story of entrepreneurship, discovers   Serilda Coutinho

Entrepreneur Sarita Chavan is on a high these days. She was recently selected as the best businesswoman of Goa by winning the late Amol K Morjkar Udyogini award. The award given by Goa Rajya Mahila Sahakari Audhyogic Sanstha Maryadit, an  organisation promoting  women entrepreneurs in the state is in recognition of her feat of single handedly turning a home based enterprise into a full-fledged catering unit.

Chavan is also one among nine chefs across India to be recently selected by the Indian Federation of Culinary Associations to participate in the Uthopian Gastronomic tour in Spain.  Busy before travelling to Madrid to participate in the six-day tour, Chavan gets talking about  her transformation from a housewife without any prior experience of cooking in large quantities to running a catering service.

An energetic personality with hands in several pies, she says, that she learnt the art of cooking due to the unforeseen events in her life. “I came to Goa in 1980 after marriage and started reading cookery books as my husband would motivate me to cook until I would perfect the dish”.  She adds that, he was from the management line and observing him work systematically made her chalk out a weekly food menu for the family.

To cultivate cooking as a hobby Chavan also started her own cookery classes for beginners. “I would get students including working women and housewives enrolling in the classes,” she explains.

Speaking about her transformation from a housewife to become a breadwinner for the family, Chavan says “I used to sell readymade masala paste door-to-door in Margao, Panjim and Vasco”. Revealing the details of the incident that changed her life completely, she continues, “In 1994 my husband quit his job and was later bedridden due to illness and I was forced to take up cooking to earn for the family.”

Her daily budget requirement was Rs 200 per day that included the medicines and groceries and she had to make sufficient sales to meet this target. The financial condition of the family became so bad that to purchase the ingredients for the masalas she had to sell her mangalsutra. However an opportunity came her way during this time from a tiffin box order for a neighbor. “I started providing him home cooked food at Rs 300 per month. He liked my food so much that he recommended my tiffin to Titan Company, Verna,” explains Chavan.

Her first bulk tiffin order was to cater to 45 people at Rs 14 per plate. Having no prior savings to start working on the order she borrowed Rs 4000 from her dad to purchase the utensils and equipment needed for cooking in bulk.  Soon the popularity of her home cooked meals spread through word of mouth and orders started coming in from industries such as Siemens, Coca Cola, Finolex and Cipla as well as individuals.

“My food was in high demand and slowly most of the companies in the Verna industrial estate started ordering from me.” The tiffin service grew so big that Chavan was providing food to 1,200 people per day. Staff had to be employed to manage the kitchen work. “I hired staff of 22 people on salary basis who would assist me with chopping, par boiling and keeping the ingredients ready to cook.” But running the tiffin service had its share of hassles. Some clients would not clear the dues on time and large records of lump sum credits had to be maintained. “Even if I would not get my payment on time I had to clear the salary of my staff. That put me in debt situation so I had to stop the tiffin service.”

That is when Chavan decided to start a catering business beginning with orders for birthday parties and housewarming ceremonies as the returns were higher and payments came in advance in the catering line. Simultaneously, she started a food joint, Homeland, in Gogol that served burgers, pizza and sandwiches with homemade stuffing.

“The business was doing well and attracted a lot of kids however making enough sales to cover the rent was a struggle, so I had to shut it down.” Post the closure of her food joint Chavan made up her mind to dedicate her entire time and skills to only catering orders.

“These are usually wedding orders and I have an advance payment in hand. It provides me with the finance needed to start working on the orders. Also I can hire a team of helpers on per day basis depending on the number I have to cater to.” The catering business boomed and Chavan never looked back.

She reveals that, the secret of being an all rounder cook with the ability to master all regional cuisines is reading recipes and experimenting with new dishes for her family. “I do not have a pre fixed menu for my wedding clients to choose from. Instead I talk to them and understand their likings to be able to suggest a menu of their choice.”

To maintain the consistency of flavors in her dishes Chavan cooks herself. “I have a team to assist me but I don’t allow anyone else to cook the as commercialized bulk cooking without understanding of the desired taste takes away the beauty of the dish,” says the lady.

Running a catering business is hectic but as a go-getter businesswoman, Chavan also hosts Goan food festivals in five star hotels within and utside the state. “My aim of holding these food festivals is to promote Goan Saraswat cuisine and recipes that are less known to food lovers.” She adds that, she wants to help widowed women become independent and start their own business.

“The two most important things to run a successful business in the food industry is the location of the restaurant and the taste of the food served at that place,” believes Chavan. “It is possible to earn around Rs 25- Rs30 lakh annually through a catering business,” she says.

With a knowledge of catering built up over the years, Chavan also helps smaller restaurants in Pune, Kolhapur as well as Goa  in kitchen management towards reducing the wastage of ingredients, etc. “It is only when the cooks are trained to make optimum use of the ingredients and these efforts reflect in their salary will be reduction in unnecessary wastage,” she says. The kitchen management advisory has helped restaurants save up to Rs 60, 000 on a monthly basis, she claims.

Disclosing her future plans, she says, “I want to recover the lost recipes from each state and serve them at my restaurant so that guests get a homely experience even while eating out.”

A busy personality, Chavan is currently excited about the trip to Madrid where the gastronomy tour will be conducted by Quique Dacosta, a three star Michelin, Spanish cook. “He will be teaching us techniques of new age cooking based on his research,” says the lady entrepreneur who looks ready to add to her store of skills.

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