Archana Baikadi – Revival Artist of Traditional Cuisines

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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.

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Blog & Social Media Links
http://hebbarskitchen.com/
https://www.facebook.com/HebbarsKitchen
https://www.instagram.com/hebbars.kitchen
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http://vidooly.com/blog/rise-of-facebook-video-publishers-india
Hebbar’s Kitchen ranked # 5 in Vidooly’s Top 10
(Based on number of video views on facebook)
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https://www.facebook.com/bigontalent

Riya Patel – foodie, blogger & aspiring chef

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Riya Patel is the tiny, shy girl behind Yummy-Inside-My-Tummy – a blog for food enthusiasts, from Mumbai to Mantua. She was nominated for the category of Best Debut Blog and Best Restaurant Review Blog at the 2015 Indian Food Blogger Awards. At 20, she’s among the youngest food bloggers in town.

Riya likes cooking, baking and dining out – not entirely in that order. She is a huge fan of Italian cuisine – loves her pastas and pizzas more than anything else in the world. She calls herself the ultimate Dessert Queen because of her weakness for anything soft and sugary.

Currently a third-year Mass Media student at Sophia College for Women, Riya says that life in Mumbai has been a truly amazing journey, but Bangalore will always be home for her.

Q – You’re so passionate about food and food writing – did you have any other career in mind?
It now seems strange that not too long ago, I visualized doors opening for me at a lawyer’s office – I had seriously considered life in a black tux. But I guess my love for writing and describing food overtook my interest in the legal profession. And when the time came for the big move, I headed straight to Sophia’s in Mumbai for a degree in mass media. This was my calling – to take it to the next level and express my love for writing, and eventually writing about food.

Q – This is interesting – where do you draw your inspiration from?
I do not come from a family that has a food or hospitality background but both my mother and grandmother are great cooks. So from the age of 8, I’ve been immersed in pots, pans and the sweet aromas of cooking. I remember the first thing I tried out from this kids’ cookbook was “fish cakes” – a project completed with help from my dad’s mother. Later on, she helped me bake cupcakes and brownies for my school bake sale – she has so much patience with me. And always being around her and seeing how much she enjoys cooking has been very, very inspiring.

My mother on the other hand is a natural cook and believes in quick and easy recipes. I am invariably her official ‘taster’ giving her my little comments and feedback. She is a real superwoman and works late in the kitchen – till the last dish is washed, dried and put away. I don’t know where she finds all that energy, but can always make cooking to be fun and relaxing. (And that’s a useful thing to remember when you’re writing notes to yourself.)

Q – Do you have any famous chefs in your follow list? What do you admire in them?
My follow list is awe-inspiring and includes names such as Heston Blumenthal, Jamie Oliver, Marco Pierre White and Nigella Lawson. These are masters of the craft and names that truly are up there. My idea of ending a hard day’s work is relaxing on my couch and watching their shows – and what they can do is like poetry in motion. Even though I’m still early in the curve, I guess I can chart my own path and destination – because I hope to explore the far corners of the world – in search of authentic cuisines that made way for modern interpretations.

Q – Doing a food review and getting your hands greasy are on opposite sides of the table – where would you rather be?
Doing food reviews at restaurants is one aspect of the kind of work I currently do, in addition to giving kitchen crews some very useful feedback – on aspects like taste, discernable flavors and how food can be served in an interesting way. I also like sampling food experiments at the kitchens of friends in my foodie circle who are serious about cooking. All of this can be tedious but it keeps me on my toes and helps me track the latest trends.

At the end of the day, I love being in my own kitchen – this personal space is my biggest stress buster and has a calming effect on me. I feel like a whole new person in my kitchen and love getting my hands messy trying out new cooking styles. I also love being creative and experimental with flavors, and can come up with the most randomly creative dishes you could think of – my Fusilli-in-Curry is nice I must say, with generous toppings of potato crisps, herbs and cheese.

Q –Did you ever think of food styling as a professional interest?
Today’s career seeker in food styling has two avenues – food styling for photography, and food styling that ends up on your plate at a restaurant. It’s all about looking good. But I think I might explore the path of styling food that looks good on your plate. You’re working with real ingredients and not cosmetic sprays – you’re also working at making something truly appetizing.

I am a perfectionist and for me, everything has to look good and taste great. That’s why food styling is a natural extension of my love for cooking – I also have an eye for detail and sprucing up. If the right doors open for me in food styling I wouldn’t mind taking it up as a career – it’s hard work, but there’s a creative element out here.

Q – You’re aspiring to become a chef, food writer and critic? Where do you go from here?
I graduate in a few months, and working for a year or two will be nice. I might also want to do my masters in journalism, along with a few certified culinary courses. I would have never imagined following this path before I came to Mumbai. This city has taught me a lot and given me wings. I now know what it means to be independent and forward-looking – with a focus on what’s on your plate.

The one thing that never stops me from doing what I want to do in life is my heart and soul. So don’t be surprised when I send you an invite to the opening of my own little bistro – that’s another dream in the making.

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Riya’s Chorizo Noodles – A fusion of flavors with hakka noodles, smoked pork,red pepper and paprika – usually served with an authentic Mangalore curry and coconut milk.

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Riya’s blog & social media links
http://www.yummyinsidemytummy.wordpress.com
http://www.facebook.com/yummyinsidemytummy
http://www.twitter.com/msyumtum
http://www.instagram.com/msyumtum
http://www.zomato.com/riyapatel
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https://www.facebook.com/bigontalent