Meet the people who curate everything from food to holidays

Sep 08, 2013, 09:00 IST | Deepali Dhingra

What's the first word that comes to mind when you think of the term 'curating'? Art, right? But these days, more and more enterprising people are coming up with ideas for curating everything from chocolate and dinner to holidays and even gifting options. Deepali Dhingra speaks to individuals for whom curating is an extension of their passion

Kalyan Karmakar was happy walking down the streets of Mumbai, tasting various cuisines from local eateries to high-end restaurants and writing his blog on food until some of his friends and acquaintances encouraged him to organise curated walks for others interested in food. And that’s where the idea of the Finely Chopped Walks was born. Last December, he did his first walk around the Bohri Mohalla, which was very well-received. “The walk allows you to experience what you’re reading in my blog.

(L to R) Curators Kalyan Karmakar, Insia Lacewalla, Manjari Verma and Avani Patel exchange food and travel stories at Carter Road, Bandra. Pic/Atul Kamble

It’s not meant to be an encyclopedic walk that would answer all your questions about the history of the place and the food, but a journey where my experiences of eating at these places comes alive,” he says. A consultant with a research firm, Karmakar is among the growing breed of curators, who are passionate about bringing their subjects of interest closer to others around them. And while food is definitely amongst the foremost topics that demand exploration, curators are not limiting themselves to anything, be it fashion, tea, travel or even curating gifting options.

Avani Patel, Kalyan Karmakar, Insia Lacewalla and Manjari Verma love what they do -- curating interesting experiences for others in various fields

The concept is not new to the city. In fact, art curators have been around for the longest time. Tea sommelier Snigdha Manchanda who runs Tea Trunk and, needless to say, is passionate about tea, believes people have been curating experiences in other fields too since the last few years, but it’s only now that she’s seeing an increasing audience for it. “One of the reasons for that is people are getting more experimental with their experiences,” she says.

Snigdha Manchanda conducts a chai walk in South Mumbai. Pic/Atul Kamble

Passion perfect
When Janice Shah and her friend Himanshi Vora returned from abroad after their graduation (and some great food experiences), they realised that although there is a great variety of food products and brands available in our country, it can become too overwhelming for people. Gourmet Box -- an effort to take quality products to consumers -- was born out of their collective passion for food. “I studied marketing and finance and my partner was a business consultant. But after working for a couple of years, we realised that our passion for food was more important for us,” says Shah. Recently, the 28-year-old and her partner have started curating themed boxes for their patrons. “The boxes are priced at Rs 1,250 including delivery charges, but the actual value of the products is much more. So it’s not about making money but to extend an experience of what we love to people who are passionate about similar things,” adds Shah.

Kalyan Karmakar loves sharing his food journey with others

A love for craft was on Natasha Bohra’s mind when she decided to start her ‘Do it yourself’ workshops. Bohra, who runs Chromakey Designs, hopes to teach people the finer nuances of making utility items and then retailing them from her store. “The idea is to teach people how to make quality products and then take these great designs directly to the buyers,” she says of the workshops that she plans to start soon. The same can be said about Manjari Verma and Avani Patel, friends-turned-business partners, who quit their respective jobs as copywriter and marine biologist, to turn their collective love for travelling into Broken Compass -- a venture that helps people plan their trips across the globe.

Radhika Batra Shah conducted a tea ceremony at St Xavier’s college fest Malhar this year

And they’ve managed to extend their passion for exploring places to others as well. “When we make a travel plan for people, we urge them to not only explore new places but different aspects of their personality that they have not yet discovered,” says Patel, adding how they once got some people who have never trekked, to go for a trekking trip. “After making them comfortable with the idea of trekking, we had to make sure that even the smallest detail was worked out. At the end of the day, they are going on a holiday. You want to leave them with good memories,” she adds.

Keepers of traditions
For most curators, doing what they do stems from the love for their subject, as well as a need to preserve some of the rich traditions our country has. Chai Walks focuses on making people aware about the iconic tea places of Mumbai -- not just the popular ones, but even small tea stalls. “Tea is one of the oldest traditions we have, so it’s a wonderful thing to make people aware of their rich cultural heritage,” says Manchanda. As curators, she feels they need to keep exposing people to a wider canvas of experiences and culture.

One of the trips Broken Compass curated was a trip to Valley of Flowers in Uttarakhand in August 2011 

The love for tea also inspired Radhika Batra Shah to open her tea boutique Teacup in 2006. “Ours is a tea-loving nation, yet we are not aware of our Darjeeling and Assam teas. All big plantations cater to international countries. Curation helps making people aware of their culture. Every country has its tradition and that’s what I try to emphasise through my tea ceremonies,” she says. Her elaborate tea ceremonies have seen her doling out her knowledge of tea to corporates, at college festivals including Mood Indigo and Malhar and even the derby. “It was so exciting to see people trying out my tea amidst all that alcohol!” she laughs.

Your own boss, and slave!
Insia Lacewalla started out finding food stalls for music fests. Since food was her forte, the 26-year-old realised that she would be good at doing food and beverage consultancy for restaurants and others. This May, Small Fry was born, where she offers consultancy for events, and organises baker exhibitions. And it’s a job she absolutely loves doing -- even though, at times she finds herself sending emails at three in the morning. “People think that when you’re running your own company, you’re the boss. While that might be true, it’s also true that you’re the slave as well!” she laughs.

Verma and Patel, too, often find themselves in this situation, especially when one of their clients is on an international vacation. “We work round the clock. Our clients can call us up anytime, so we have to be hands-on,” says Verma, while Patel adds, “But we enjoy doing what we do, so it’s not stressful. It doesn’t feel like a job.” So the next time somebody uses the term curator, know that it’s not necessarily connected with art!

Deep dive
The foundation for any kind of curation is to find one thing and follow it with discipline. One should know about that topic inside out.That’s when you will have the know-how and expertise to curate something. Only when you dive deep into the ocean of knowledgecan curation come naturally to you.
Snigdha Manchanda
Tea sommelier

Personal touch
The main thing that helps any curator stand out is personalisation. There is a lot of information available on the Internet already, so it’s the personal touch that brings alive the experience.
Kalyan Karmakar
Conducts Finely Chopped Walks

Know your customer
When you’re doing something for someone else, it’s difficult to step out of your own shoes. So it’s important to understand the client’s personality and requirement, when you’re curating something for someone.
Manjari Verma and Avani Patel
Founders of Broken Compass 

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