Archana Baikadi – Revival Artist of Traditional Cuisines


For this interview, we go Down Under to chat with Archana Baikadi, who runs the food portal Hebbar’s Kitchen with her husband, Sudarshan and her friend Shreeprada. Hebbar’s Kitchen is all about cuisine elements from South India and Udupi – we’re talking about authentic, traditional, vegetarian fare.

Archana tells me that she’s from a small rustic town in Udupi District in Karnataka. Hometown to her brings back memories of a tiny population of friendly people, charming temples, and an unlimited repertory of food ideas.

Udupi is known the world over for its distinct and unique flavours, also made popular by restaurants going under the “Udupi Hotel” banner.

“The whole idea behind our portal is to share a little tradition and history through recipes handed down generations,” says Archana. “We have translated cooking methods to a simple, step-by-step format. Believe me, if you have the right ingredients you could be cooking something special in minutes.”

Q – Before we get to the other questions, how do you really explain the huge following on your facebook page and website?

There’s probably a very simple explanation. Our blog is a lifesaver for Indian expats abroad, and a good destination for tried and tested vegetarian recipes. Especially for the younger generation of housewives, and motivated young husbands.

Hebbar’s Kitchen now has a wide global appeal and we seem to be on a high when it comes to authentic Indian recipes. At this point, we have 3,555,457 followers on Facebook, around 150,000 on our YouTube channel, and over 80,000 on Instagram.

Last year a report was published by analytics and video intelligence company Vidooly, relating to Indian channels and videos on Facebook. Vidooly ranked us Number 5 overall and Number 1 in the Health & Lifestyle category. For us, this is not just a numeric high, but a growing indication of following and support from our readers and viewers – and we owe a lot to them for this achievement.

Taking this forward, we decided to launch a mobile app version for both iOS and Android, to keep our readers connected with updates posted regularly.

Q – Now, getting back to the question I wanted to start with, how early did you start cooking?

Most people find it hard to believe that I actually got around to serious cooking after I got married. And all those years before I got married, my cooking skills did not go beyond rice, rasam and dal – all because my mother would spoil me pretty with her wonderful cooking. And dad would always be supportive, “If you can make authentic udupirasam, I’m sure you can make anything.”

Like most young girls from my part of the world like to say, my mother was my first teacher – and dad was the other keen team player in the kitchen. He was patient, understanding and helpful. As a small child, I sat on the kitchen counter and watched them cook with a unique chemistry that was magical when it came to the senses – aroma, taste, colour and appetite appeal. My mother brought in the art of cooking, and dad brought in the science. Looking back, I think it was an amazing partnership.

Q – Was it plain survival at first in Australia? Did you like cooking 24/7?

When we initially moved to Australia, my husband Sudarshan would look longingly at images on facebook – of recipes and food from Udupi. And that got me thinking – how could I recreate that for him eight thousand miles away?

I’m a Software Tester, which is light-years away from traditional cooking. I also have a tough and hectic work day and am constantly looking for ways to de-stress after working hours.

And then I discovered my comfort zone – my kitchen. I soon found that one good way to unwind was change roles, and wear an apron. I also found I began to enjoy hearing the sizzle as it happened on my gas hobs. Cooking the kind of food we enjoy has a calming effect on me – and even though it seems like an extension of my work day, I really enjoy every single moment.

Q – How much do you identify with “Udupi” in terms of cooking styles?

To answer your question, we work hard at translating traditional Udupi vegetarian recipes and cooking methods – in a manner that the new generation will like and relish. While I do experiment with other regional cuisines, I always come back to Udupi food, because it’s so familiar and comforting when you’re thousands of miles away from home.

Luckily, we manage to get all the ingredients you need at local supermarkets, or at one of the Indian kirana stores. But a lot of our utensils came from India – there are some things in the kitchen that you just cannot replace, or swap.

Q – Do any of your relatives own or run a Udupi restaurant in India or abroad?
Do you think you will start one sometime – in the years to come?

My grandfather used to run a popular Udupi restaurant in Guntoor, in Andhra Pradesh for more than three decades. His restaurant, called Sri Rama Vilas was a family-run business, and in the heart of the city. And later in Vijayawada (Andhra Pradesh) my uncle continued the tradition for another decade with his hotel Sri Rama Lunch Home. Though these ventures were managed by the family, the prime movers behind these businesses chose to head back and settle down in Udupi.

And the answer to will I start an Udupi restaurant in India? I have always been asked this question when people follow my blog for a while. My eyes twinkle at that prospect, because this is in my blood if you can see what I mean. Sometime in the future – can’t tell you when – Sudarshan and I might just start an Udupi restaurant in India. And if that happens, you know what we might call it: Hebbar’s Kitchen.

Q – You and Sudarshan seem to be a great team on the project

Well, the good thing about the way Sudarshan looks at food and the way I have learnt to cook, is that there is a comfortable meeting point. We’re always speaking the same language when it comes to food, or most things that we want to do in life. What has probably helped here is that we have a lot in common in terms of traditions and background.

There’s also a thin line between us when it comes to the way we approach each day, the way we plan things for the week, and the way we have been looking at the future. Strangely (and easy to see) food is a key ingredient in all of this.

Q – Your visual representation of food is really slick – how did do you guys tackle food styling and photography?

We are not professionals in food styling or photography. My husband and I spend a lot of time reading articles online to implement newer ways of doing things. My allocated department is recipe development, while my husband works on technical aspects such as web design and all the back-end work that keeps the electrons buzzing on our blog. Completing our team is Shreeprada, who handles content and manages our facebook page – she writes key articles, cooking tips, and all the health capsules you see on Hebbar’s Kitchen.

At the end of the day, it’s a lot of work – we’re often short of time but not short of ideas as you can see.

Q – Have you found instances of people ripping off content and images from your site?

Along with success and popularity, I guess you’re bound to face other challenges. I find people reproducing our effort – recipes, images and videos – on their own blogs, and claiming it as their content. While this is not unheard of on the Internet, it needs to be addressed and tackled.

We are making some very concerted efforts to tackle this menace, with legal opinion and robust online measures that will take these offenders to task. This will be on our priority list, and we are committed to getting to the root of the problem.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Blog & Social Media Links
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Hebbar’s Kitchen ranked # 5 in Vidooly’s Top 10
(Based on number of video views on facebook)
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –