Updated: Jun 11, 2019, 13:44 IST | Suman Mahfuz Quazi | Mumbai

Mumbai-based chefs, culinary vendors and aficionados are leveraging Facebook and WhatsApp groups to further their business and exchange notes

Munaf Kapadia
Munaf Kapadia

Roughly two weeks back, Munaf Kapadia, founder of The Bohri Kitchen, a home-dining experience, was struggling to get in touch with the folks behind Jaffer Bhai's Delhi Darbar. He put up a Facebook post, and within four hours, he was speaking to the owner's son. Such is the power of social media.

Members of HCR leverage it to network and procure vendor information 

Unlike your typical family WhatsApp group — where a handful of members are active, primarily spamming you with forwards — foodie groups that have emerged in the city are a minefield of tête-à-têtes between members. Whether it's exchanging notes or contacts, these groups on WhatsApp, Facebook, and Telegram are arming Mumbai's gastronomes with knowledge. And that, as we know, is power.

Members of this group discuss interesting finds and pork dishes exclusively

In 2015, when his venture was still new, Kapadia started a WhatsApp group called Home Chef Revolution (HCR) in a bid to aggregate all those working in the home-dining space. Since then, HCR has blossomed into a community unto itself comprising 66 active members. While exchanging contacts and vendor information is an obvious facet of such a collective, members have now started leveraging it for direct business opportunities. "Let's say a Parsi home chef gets the chance to cater to a Pathare Prabhu event. Since they're not equipped for the job, they post it on the group and pass it on to a Pathare Prabhu chef," he explains, adding that one of the primary benefits of these groups is that it allows new players to connect with experienced ones and tap into their repositories of information. Thereby purporting a consolidation, which is helping boost the niche food market.

Suprio Bose 

And if home chefs are converging on HCR, gastronomes with a love for travel are exchanging notes, pictures and knowledge on The Nomad Foodie (TNF), a Facebook group with a current total membership of 3,342, which includes city chefs like Prateek Sadhu and Paul Kinny, and food chroniclers like Kurush Dalal. Suprio Bose, a foodie and the Trade Commissioner for the Government of Catalonia Spain, calls it a twist of fate that his vocation marries his passion.

The group holds engaging activities like, quizzes and interactions with experts 

"While travelling, I would often ask my friends for tips on where to eat and I realised that I wasn't the only one doing this. There are a number of people seeking suggestions while travelling, but the only sources that they had were user-based platforms like Trip Advisor, or previews or blogs that offer a one-dimensional perspective of what food should be," he tells us, speaking about how the group started in 2016 and where many people come together to share their experiences.

While other groups focus on recipes, TNF is more about what people are eating. So, whether it's chef Vicky Ratnani posting about an octopus he prepared or chef Rakesh Talwar sparking off a debate around black garlic, this community is more interactive than instructive. But the primary objective behind the group was to encourage people to explore food. "When Indians travel abroad they have a lot of restrictions. So, you'll see that they carry things like Maggi and thepla. This happens because they don't know what to order. So, I have tried to share information about food that is acceptable to Indians. For example, when I got the opportunity to interview chef Joan Roca [one of the best in the world], I got him to speak about vegetarian food," he elaborates.

Rhea Dalal

Meanwhile, there's The Porkaholics, another FB group that has been around since July 2012. It caters to a niche crowd of pork lovers and began when Rhea Dalal, a city-based caterer, tired of the judgment around beef and pork, wanted to create a safe space for pork lovers. "I never imagined it would have so many members, we're nearly at 10,000. Over the years, I have seen many people gain the confidence to go commercial with the pork they cook at home," she shares, adding, "Social media has provided a free platform for many home cooks. Now, these groups have evolved in a manner that allows group owners to engage in commercial activity, like accept paid promotions from members and allow them to advertise their products, pop-ups and workshops on the page."

And then, there's Dahanu Farmer, a WhatsApp group for organic produce that has been around since 2017. And Shahzoor Kasnavia, its co-founder, is not only leveraging the group for his business, but also to share information about Parsi food. "We have attended Parsi food festivals and distributed pamphlets in Irani colonies across Mumbai, but perhaps we haven't spoken as much about Parsi recipes as we should have. I guess that's because we don't want to be an over-active group that posts irrelevant things. It can be quite a nuisance and not everyone can deal with the incessant pings," he shares. Now, if only everyone on the family group understood that, right?

"If done appropriately, a virtual group of people can add value to each other as well as the industry at large," Sameer Malkani, founder, The FBAI.

Members speak

Subhashree Basu, caterer

Being part of WhatsApp groups has been a blessing. I have used them for various purposes, from announcing events, answering queries about sourcing of ingredients and packaging products to procuring industry contacts. When I expanded to a commercial kitchen, others in the group, who were ahead of me, gave me advice and confidence.

Perzen Patel, Parsi food blogger

These groups are fabulous because they allow a quick exchange of knowledge and contacts for reliable suppliers or possible employees. When members have faced the same issues, we have lobbied to the bigger players, like food aggregators, and got them to revise their policies.

Rushina Munshaw, home chef

I like that I am a part of Porkaholics and enjoy attending their meet-ups. Since I grew up in a vegetarian home, I did not know how to cook meat. So, this serves as a great place to find out where I can get delicious pork dishes and prepare them, too.

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