What is it like to operate a delivery kitchen during lockdown?

Updated: May 16, 2020, 09:09 IST | Phorum Dalal | Mumbai

From strict all-round controls and practices across prep time to safeguards with packaging, staff and restaurateurs share how ground realities have changed forever

Vishal Bobade (left) and Bharat Bora of The Baker's Dozen package bakery products
Vishal Bobade (left) and Bharat Bora of The Baker's Dozen package bakery products

Last year, Aditi Handa of The Baker's Dozen moved her central plant from Mumbai to Kheda, near Ahmedabad. Spread across 25,000 square feet, all their products are made in the central kitchen and delivered to Mumbai, Pune, Bengaluru and Delhi.

In the wake of the pandemic, in the first week of March, she had a group meeting with the team. Dhuleti holidays were cancelled; new hygiene rules and regulations were put in place. With an inventory of two months — some of it got stuck by the time the lockdown was announced — they decided to continue baking. Vishal Bobade, production supervisor at the plant has been with the company for three years, while head chef Bharat Bora has been overseeing production of cakes, pastries, cookies, breads and puffs for the past seven years. When we speak to the two of them, they say they are only making the essentials. "In breads, we make multigrain, loaves, and only two types of sourdough."

The medical and travel history of every worker is noted at entry, and the staff count has been cut to half. "Most members who used to come from the city have been asked to stay at home and maintain social distancing. We have two shifts: 8 pm to 4 am for workers from nearby villages, and the ones who still report from city, come from 8 am to noon," Bobade says.

Sanitation has a new meaning in the plant. Instead of washing hands every hour, now it is after every step in the process, and addition of alcohol-based sanitiser has become prime importance. "We spread out and work and each one has a work station. Where workers used to sit in one room and work, now we are divided. For packing, we wear gloves and our uniforms are cleaned every day. Nails are checked, and shoes are cleaned too. We are working with 25 per cent less staff," shares Bobade.

'Chefs are thick-skinned, like rhinos'

Chef Amninder Sandhu handles most of the cooking alone at her  central kitchenChef Amninder Sandhu handles most of the cooking alone at her central kitchen

I have days when I cook 10 kg nalli, 10 kg mutton biryani, 20 litres of dal, 12 kg of biryani rice and 20 kg of butter chicken and 5 kg of chana by myself. I get intermittent help from the other two staffers but they have to pick up orders and prepare portions. So mostly, I do it alone. We started Iktara delivery on February 22 and also cook 100 relief meals for feeding the needy. On a lighter note, my arm game is strong.

In the early lockdown days, the aggregator apps sometimes turned off their services due to a lack of manpower. If we have taken orders, we don't cancel. I make deliveries in Bandra as it is on my way. In these testing times, I have found support in my younger brother Sobhraj. A dentist by profession, he drives me to work and back, and helps with deliveries as well as chores in the kitchen.

a staff member carefully seals an item
A staff member carefully seals an item

Four of our cooks sleep in the dining space at Magazine Street Kitchen because they want to continue cooking and not be a threat to their family. There is way too much paranoia, and many small and medium-sized restaurants will not open even after the lockdown is lifted. Of course, there will be others who will promote menus that boost immunity; however, not too many kitchens understand nutrition well enough. But, that will happen. Kitchens will be run like labs.

As a chef, I will tell you one thing: We are thick-skinned like rhinos, and we will survive this too. A chef is always fire-fighting in the kitchen and we have seen the worst. We will only rise from here.

Amninder Sandhu, chef partner, Iktara

'In my 10-year career, this is a first'

Sharma makes a dosa, mask  and gloves intactSharma makes a dosa, mask and gloves intact

Main 10 saal se industry mein hoon, aisa time nahi dekha. Most of my friends from Garhwal and Bengal who work in hotels and restaurants in Mumbai have gone to their village. This means they have lost their job. I have been staying at the Bandra restaurant along with my family. Neeti [Goel] has made all the arrangement for us.

My hometown is Mathura and after working for Future Group, Wankhede stadium, I joined her as sous chef in 2017. We are five people in the team. Since the lockdown, hygiene has become an even bigger priority. Now, after our usual morning cleaning, the space is sanitised thoroughly. Alcohol-based sanitisers have become our best friend, along with gloves, costumes, hair nets and shoes.

Bhupendra Sharma, executive chef, Madras Diaries

How will the industry change?

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The pandemic will lead to many fundamental changes in the way the F&B industry operates. At the back end, hygiene, safety and cleanliness of manufacturing, workers, etc, will become a must-have rather than a good-to-have. Also, hygienic and tamper-proof packaging will be more in demand. On the front end, contact-less deliveries are here to stay. Brands will also have to focus on both dine-in and delivery menus with equal importance. Going forward, there will be specific dishes which are delivery friendly in terms of customer experience, packaging, spillage etc.

Aditi Handa, Baker's Dozen

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When restaurant operations resume, things will not be the same as customers will be extra careful about stepping out and maintaining social distancing. Kitchens will look like an operation theatre with staff having to be sanitised, checked for temperature, and wearing gloves and masks. To keep ingredients fresh, kitchens will prep only the amount of food that will get consumed on that very day. It will take time to get the full workforce in place as those who are back in theirvillages will not return until things are absolutely safe again.

Neeti Goel, Madras Diaries

Open for delivery

Perch

Along with their limited menu, they are offering pre-mixes for cocktails, such as coffee sangria premix, watermelon-basil shrub with tonic kit, and lime and cardamom cordial soda kit.
Log on to Scootsy

CinCin

Ready-to-eat pastas along with lasagne trays for two and four people along with pasta kits and pre-mix cocktails.
Call 9820320842 and via Scootsy

Ether Chocolates

DIY kits priced at `1,500 will let you make goodies like Persian love loaf (rosewater, almond and cardamom cake) and malted chocolate fudge cake with peanut butter frosting (eggless).
Call 99200 16906 and via Scootsy

Gustoso

The Kemps Corner outlet is delivering signature dishes like Italian arborio rice croquettes, French fries powdered with parmesan and truffle oil, soups, pizzas, pastas and tiramisu.
Log on to Scootsy

Kitchen Garden and Suzette

Almost the entire menu is available for delivery from Juhu to Colaba. Get salad dressing, roasted veggies and breads from the deli menu too.
Log on to Scootsy

Theobroma

South Mumbai folks can order breads, tea cakes, cookies, brownies, and cakes available for takeaway and delivery from their Peddar Road store.
Log on to Zomato, Swiggy, Scootsy

Nair on fire

Home-style Kerala tiffin for one or family of up to four priced at `400 onwards.
Call 9324059522

Uncle's Kitchen

Get your fix of VFM Chindian fare from Orlem's old favourite in Malad.
Log on to Swiggy

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