Watch Now: A Home Cook’s 5-Step Guide to Up-scaling Their Business & Consumer Base

Food has the power to ignite all our senses and take us down the memory lane. The sizzle of butter on a hot pan, or the warm toasty smell of freshly baked bread, even the taste of the zesty lemon soda on a hot summer afternoon, can evoke a sense of nostalgia. Nothing can compare to our childhood memories of food and ‘Mummy ke haath ka khana’.

In the age of packaged food and ready to eat meals, we cannot help but crave for homemade food, even if it is a simple dal-chawal. Keeping the essence of home-cooked meals alive is a passionate cook who can create anything from traditional lime pickles to gooey chocolate eclairs and unique rum butter! Her passion for cooking has made her proficient in cooking almost every cuisine, so much so that people are surprised to know that she is not native to their state/town.

The Queen of Pickles and a ‘nani-dadi’ of her customers, Inderpreet Nagpal loves nothing but cooking and is happiest when she gets to play in her kitchen. In a fun tête-à-tête with Siddhi Gandhi, she talks about turning her passion into a meaningful venture, conducting cooking classes and her dream of spreading joy through food.

What inspired you to start Rummy’s Kitchen?
Rummy’s kitchen is born out of my passion for food. I feel relaxed when I go to my kitchen and start cooking. I love experimenting with food and trying different recipes. One day, I just thought of having my brand, cooking something delicious and delivering it to others who want to eat home-made food but cannot. I told my husband about my idea, and that is how it all started. I was clear about the name Rummy (it is my given name at home) and with my family as my best critics, I decided to pursue my dream of Rummy’s Kitchen.

Please take us back in time to the little Rummy experimenting in the kitchen with her mother? Family seems to be an important part of your food journey.

Rummy's Kitchen Inderpreet Nagapal

Inderpreet with her 50+ year old Sil Batta

My mum is an amazing cook. She always says that I started cooking when I was five years old. I used to put a sil batta ulta in the kitchen and stand on it to cook, as the platform was very high. Even after I grew up, I used to use it at times, as I am not very tall. A few years ago my mom gifted me that sil batta saying ‘this is yours, keep it’!

My mother-in-law, too, is an amazing cook. Both sides of my family are huge foodies, so that also inspires me to keep on cooking. My husband and my daughters give me tasks! They try new dishes outside and task me with recreating them. They are foodies and huge critics and they bluntly tell me when they do not like it, or if the flavour was lacking. These criticisms at home have helped shape me as a cook. 

What was the beginning of your home chef journey like?
I started by organising and catering to small parties and groups. Simultaneously, I started teaching young girls how to cook. My husband had to move to different cities due to the nature of his work and we moved along with him. Whichever city he moved to, I used to start my food dream there. It has been like this for 15 years now. Before Mumbai, we were in Hyderabad, Bangalore, and Pune. I never let the change in the area affect my dream.

Rummy’s Kitchen was not born from a desire to grow big or make huge profits. For me, it is all about enjoying the work I do and making others happy with my food. I think of food even when I am asleep. A lot of times I can be found in my kitchen because some new combination popped in my head or I saw some good ingredients in the market. Sometimes the recipes flop. But most times, they turn out to be good. My kitchen is my play area.

Can you talk about your experience, handling the entire supply chain process of preparing and delivering food to customers? Has it changed from when you started to now?
It was difficult in the beginning. I am not tech-savvy, but my daughters helped me. There are many small tasks involved in the process, from taking orders, cooking, buying ingredients and packaging material, packing, and sending it.  Delivering is another story, Sometimes it is through delivery guys, at times the customers prefer to pick their order up. A lot of communication is required. Then there are social media postings, too. I typically take up to 10-15 orders a day. It is not easy to refuse extra orders, but many times I would have to request people to schedule it to the next day.

That was then. Today, I am more comfortable handling the process. The COVID pandemic has been the biggest change. People are not going out, so they have started cooking at home. However, everyone is tired of cooking at home every day, because maids are not there, and it is difficult to manage both household chores and office work. With more people searching for homemade food, many home chefs who were not on social media have joined in and started seeing the business opportunity. Also, earlier when I asked customers to pick up their orders, I could lose 5 out of 10 orders. Now, many delivery companies cater to ventures like mine, so the mode of delivery has also changed. Now, I do not have to refuse customers because I cannot deliver. I just book a delivery service and send the food.

Your passion reflects on your social media as well. It is so vibrant and showcases a huge variety of food products. How helpful has social media been for Rummy’s Kitchen’s brand building?
Social media helps a lot, especially in the home chef food business. You make the recipe and you post it. People read and engage and sometimes it is like a meeting. People now know that this is my business. That I am a home chef and I sell food. So, whenever I post something, they comment or DM me if they can order it. Sometimes, they also make suggestions for my weekly menu. That also is a very good encouragement from people and gives me a boost to do a whole lot more. 

There is a saying that you eat with your eyes first and then you put the food in your mouth. When people see the food on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, and if they like what they see, they place the order. You get their review on the taste later. And, if one person out of ten sees it on social media and likes it, he’s going to go and tell ten other people. Word of mouth, through social media, works best when the food is good!

Instagram stories are also a great way to engage people and increase visibility. Once you start a story you will keep on going to the other one after the other. It doesn’t stop on its own unless you stop it or click on the CTA or go to the original post or video. A video story allows you to break one dish/recipe into ten videos and create clips. As it is part of the story, people will watch it without losing interest.

You also conduct bread making and cooking classes online. Please tell us about your experience of conducting virtual classes?

Inderpreet Virtual Cooking Class

Teaching the Art of Cooking

I used to take cooking classes for bigger groups at home. After shifting to Mumbai, it became difficult. The kitchen in my current house is small and cannot accommodate big groups. So, I started taking customised classes where the student could choose the dishes they wanted to learn. I love taking cooking classes because I feel that it is a huge learning opportunity for me as well. Talking to the students, answering their questions also gives me new ideas for recipes. 

I take virtual classes on Instagram but I miss the interaction. The questions are there in writing and one-on-one interaction is not possible. Also, they can only see my dish, so it is difficult to judge the taste or tell them what else they can do or other variations with the ingredients at home. It is like watching a YouTube video. That said, I still enjoy taking virtual classes. They are fun and a good learning opportunity for both students and me.

The idea of customising classes according to students is very innovative and not something we normally hear of, especially in the case of cooking.
Usually, students are taught from a set menu. But in personalised classes, I ask them to decide what they want to learn. There are so many dishes in our mind that we would like to learn, but others may not be interested in learning them. Everyone does not want to learn how to cook sushi, so if I’m taking a sushi class I may not get many students. Learners today know what they want to learn. Sometimes we bake 5-6 desserts in a class, other times it is a full course Thai meal. A majority of my students come to me to learn basic cooking, like simple dal or a chicken dish or even simple masalas. These are things which are not taught often and difficult to learn just by watching videos. I have had girls and boys who are going abroad to study, come to learn cooking, as they will be staying alone there and do not want to eat outside all the time. The first time I got an inquiry for basic cooking classes, my first question was “This you can learn at home from your mom. Why do you want to spend money on this?” But I have realised that certain things cannot be learnt at home because you take them for granted. It is different when you spend money and attend a class.

What are some of the skills you have picked up personally while conducting classes and building your brand?
I have learnt a lot. There were many things I did not know when I started the business. I used to tell my family that I can cook, I can’t sell. Now I am good at selling what I cook. I learnt how to use Instagram for my business. I can now make videos, design posts and make them engaging.

Also, it was difficult for me to stand in front of the camera and talk, the virtual classes taught me that. Every Monday I do a one-hour live session with the Food Bloggers Association on Instagram. I take one ingredient and talk about it. I am also learning new things from watching other people cook on social media or live classes.

I understand that you would like to remain boutique and not mass-produce food. Please share your thoughts behind this decision. 
Running a business involves a lot of small processes. You cannot skimp on them, even if they are difficult or tiring. There are times when I just want to cook and not do anything else, but the management and production process is part and parcel of my business. Typically, I start preparing my weekly menu on Wednesday. Mondays are my day off and I conduct classes on Tuesdays. 

But I get orders every day, sometimes even party orders! If I feel that I can fulfil the order, or if it is from a regular customer, I won’t say no. I try my best to not refuse customers. My daughter always tells me, “Mom, there is a word called no”. I sometimes feel the effects at the end of the day. But when people see my weekly menus or my social media posts and call me to give suggestions or they leave messages – it gives me happiness and presents me with a challenge. Happiness because they trust me. And challenge because I get to try something different. If the customer feels confident to give me a task, I take it up. Those are the times when I cannot say no. Whether it is a small, big or extra order, I take it.

People are all praises about your food. And the fact you have been able to outgrow your kitchen so quickly is a huge feat. Can you share some of the customer stories or experiences?

Traditional Pickles

(L to R) Dry Mango Pickle, Hing Pickle, Punjabi Mango Pickle

There is a long tradition around food. Especially with pickles, I make many traditional pickles that are not available in the market or people have stopped making. And people like my pickles not only because they taste good, but because they are healthy and preservative-free. 

Once I got a call from a pregnant woman. She was craving the dry dates pickle that her mom made when she was a child. No one makes that pickle now. I also did not make them, but I knew how to make them, so I prepared some for her. And my God, her reaction! She was so happy! She called and told me that “It tasted exactly like my mom’s. You made my pregnancy so good. I’m so happy… I was craving this for a long time.” The happiness that you get to hear such things!

Lime pickles have been popular since generations. The lime pickle I make requires two to three years to mature and then you sell. I have a jar which is 25 years old, and you can also store them for a hundred years. It tastes better the more it matures, it is like gold! But, traditional lime pickles are rarely made now. Once, an old man called me. He had lime pickles at his house that were made by his grandmother. He had one last piece of the pickle remaining. His son had shown him my page, and he saw that I had black lime pickles, so he wanted to order them. I was fascinated! The man was old, and he had the lime pickle that was made by his grandmother! I immediately sent him the pickles I had made. And he was so happy! He was reminded of his grandmother.

A lot of people that eat my pickles and jams say that it reminds them of their mother or grandmother. It is so rewarding to hear that. My husband often tells me that I have become sabki nani-dadi. But that gives me a lot of happiness and validates what I’m doing is right. At times my customers call and recollect their childhood memories. They remember their grandmother making the same pickle. 

These stories boost my confidence. I started my food journey with the very traditional pickles like mirchi, lime, and mango, very traditional Punjabi style. Then slowly, I started experimenting with other vegetables, fruits, meat and seafood. Now I have more than 100 varieties of pickles.

Same with food. Many of my customers share their reviews on social media or send me a message. And I love to get feedback, whether it is positive or not. It helps me grow as a cook and as a person. If I do not get feedback, I feel that I may have gone wrong somewhere. Whether good or bad, feedback always helps!

What has the COVID-19 pandemic meant for you and the business? 
It was a challenge initially. It was difficult to get the food items I wanted to use. Sometimes, I used to get orders for a particular dish, but the ingredients were not available. At the same time, I’ve seen a lot of places, a lot of vendors that were previously not in the market but have suddenly shown up. Searching Facebook, WhatsApp led me to many new vendors. For example, there is a new vendor who brings basmati rice from Amritsar. The vendor I used to buy disposable utensils and boxes from had to shut the shop because of COVID.  But he shifted online! He has started taking orders via WhatsApp and delivers the materials home. In a way, COVID has opened new avenues for businesses. It has made it possible for farms to come to your table! Even seafood comes right from the dockyard. Some vendors put up a list of ‘Catch of the Day’, which makes it easier to pick the seafood you want.

The only downside is that earlier you would know what is going to be available beforehand and pick it up. Now, you do not have a choice. You cannot be sure that the ingredients you want will be available. It makes planning the weekly menu difficult. Once, I saw that plenty of jackfruits are available in the market, so I decided to add jackfruit sabzi to the menu, but the day I went to buy it, they were not available. It has been difficult, but yes, people are adapting to the situation now, so it is getting simpler.

What is in the future for Rummy’s kitchen?
Lots of things! Rummy’s Kitchen is my dream and there is so much more I want to do to make this vision a reality. I used to have a set menu with 10 to 20 items, but I always wanted to plan a menu that changed every week. That part of my dream is fulfilled as I have a weekly menu and I try to make something different every week and feed people and be able to see their reaction. During Onam this year, I created Sadhya meals. It turned out so well that the people were convinced that I am from Kerala. They were surprised to know that I am a Sardarni!

My aim now is to have my food place, not a restaurant, where I can organise parties or small get-togethers, conduct weekly menus or even do some pop-ups. I used to conduct pop-ups at my house but had to stop because of COVID. I want to invite a few people and cook different cuisines. My ultimate aim is to have space with a small library, create a nook for kids where I can teach them cooking, have cooking interactions and game sessions. Basically, have fun with food!