Italian cuisine

I got through COVID-19 serving Italian food in my Indian town

After losing my dream job at a top Italian restaurant in Mumbai, I started my own takeaway business serving pasta with an Indian twist in my parents’ kitchen.

By Bhargav Joshi

MUMBAI, Dec 22 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – I never thought I would start anything on my own until I lost my job as a kitchen clerk at a top Italian restaurant in Mumbai during the COVID-19 lockdown. 19.

When I got the job making thin-crust pizzas, my parents, both cooks, were thrilled.

I had grown up watching them cook and serve regional dishes like flat beans with fenugreek dumplings at our roadside restaurant in the small town of Valsad in the state of Gujarat.

When I was 22, I had completed a culinary management course and joined my parents who worked in the kitchen.

But I was hungry for a new experience and was thrilled when I got a call from one of the best Italian restaurants in Mumbai.

The interview was intense. I had to answer questions and cook food to order but performed well and was thrilled when they asked me to join a team of talented chefs from all over India.

So I slept less and worked more. I had crazy hours, and at one point I almost gave up, but I knew I didn’t want to miss this opportunity.

Every few months a chef would arrive from Italy to set the menu and check all the dishes prepared. It was an amazing experience for me.

When a lockdown was announced in Mumbai in March, the restaurant closed. I stopped working but continued to receive a salary.

Then in July, I was fired.

I had become one of countless young Indians seeking employment in a hospitality industry hit hard by the pandemic.

What future for me and my career?

I returned to my hometown and found my parents struggling to pay their bills, their restaurant closed.

It was a friend who suggested that I use my parents’ kitchen to start a take-out business serving authentic Italian food.

In August, I used my savings to start Bela’s Cucina, a take-out pasta business named after my mother.

Local tastes are different and people in my town love their dhokla (steamed snacks made from gram flour and yoghurt) and pav batata (mashed potatoes seasoned with bread) served with chutney tomatoes and green peppers.

What I serve is unique; a menu based on the local palette.

My fiery Arrabiata pasta, for example, with a little cheese and a dash of my homemade sauce is spicier than the authentic version – garlic, olive oil, tomato and basil – which my customers would find bland.

I use fresh herbs and vegetables from the garden and the locals are willing to try it although it is so different from anything they have eaten before.

On a good day, I receive more than 10 orders, otherwise an average of four.

It’s been five months since I started. I managed to break even and that is a great accomplishment for me.

My priority has always been to find a job since I was in a learning phase of my career. But I realize whether or not you have a job, you keep learning all the time.

I was earning 22,000 rupees ($297.87) a month in Mumbai, but I was working for someone.

Running a startup now means my income fluctuates from month to month, but I have the satisfaction of running my own business.

I might apply for a job if an opportunity arises at a good restaurant, otherwise I will continue this take-out adventure and make it a permanent install or take Bela Cucina to a nearby town.

($1 = 73.8570 Indian rupees)

(Reporting by Roli Srivastava @Rolionaroll; Editing by Tom Finn. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers the lives of people around the world struggling to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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