A popular Bengali saying is: Je Radhey Shey Chulo Bandhey, which translates into a woman who cooks, can also dress up. This proverbial saying is an ancient colloquial phrase that signifies the multifaceted role that a woman plays at home and the society at large- the modern ‘work-life’ balance. A perfect example of this would be the IIM Calcutta alumni and founder of the path-breaking food tech app ‘Nanighar’- Debjani Mookherjee.
We all have personal stories of the culinary feat that our grandmothers possess, something that is unachievable even in a Michelin star dining experience. But the modern lifestyle and work demands have taken us far from home and dependent on ready to eat meals. But saving our health, diet, and taste buds is this Kolkata based food app- Nanighar.
Debjani Mookherjee, a feminist and champion of women empowerment herself, started this initiative, strives to empower women and ‘mom-chefs’, a workforce that is massively talented but extremely underutilized. Housewives have the job of running a household, not a mean feat, but now they can earn while doing something that they are passionate about but often taken for granted. Nanighar also has their cloud kitchen- ‘Nanikhazana’ under the mentorship of Chef Debasish Pal and provides learning opportunities. This unique startup also helps in upholding the lost recipes.
The Voice of Woman presents to you the story and journey behind Nanighar and its dynamic and feisty founder Debjani Mookherjee. Be inspired by her initiative and if you are in Kolkata and place that order for some lip-smacking Ghar ka khana.
From being a marketing executive to a woman entrepreneur, what made you take this decision?
I started my journey as an entrepreneur back in 2014, with another women empowerment initiative Kulupananda- it is a boutique that is run by women and for women. So, being an entrepreneur is nothing new, it has been a part of me for a long time.
In every interview that I have given in my professional capacity of being associated with Accelerada Urbana, I always say that I am an entrepreneur.
Women entrepreneurs often need a male co-partner to get adequate financing, do you believe this to be true?
This question doesn’t apply to me. Till date, I never needed any man in my life to support me financially; rather it might be the other way round.
I feel women have more power, and it is not a recent phenomenon but they have always had more strength since ancient times. If you go see even our grandmothers, that whenever the man of the house needed some funds, she was always ready to help!
Women don’t need anyone’s help.
What was the idea behind starting such a unique startup concept like Nanighar?
Nanighar is a concept that is attracting a lot of women, especially housewives, who are the most latent workforce in India are often underutilized. So, Nanighar was started to tap into this hidden potential that often lies hidden behind the four walls of a home.
You are empowering women from the comfort of their homes and creating independent entrepreneurs- how has the journey been so far?
The journey has been very challenging till now but it has also been extremely rewarding. Currently, we have over more than 150 ‘mom-chefs’ and home chefs associated with us, it is not necessary that everyone is a mother per se.
These chefs from their home using their culinary skills and from their kitchen are striving to provide healthy food to everyone. Our clientele includes senior citizens, working mothers with young children who look for healthy and homely food.
The concept behind Nanighar was to cater to these people. As a working mother with three daughters, I felt the F&B sector was lacking something like this. When I come back home after a tiring day, I often don’t feel like cooking and restaurant food isn’t healthy for everyday consumption.
That’s when this idea struck me, that if there are mothers out there who are at home and whose talent isn’t being utilized properly, then they can provide nutritious food for a mother like me and my children.
Nanighar is a platform that helps in connecting two mothers- the ‘mom-chef’ who is working at home and the mother who has to step outside!
How important is it for women to be financially independent in today’s world?
It is extremely important to be financially independent for everyone. Nobody asks a man if they have to be independent financially then why is it asked for women. If it is independence is there any clause that only men can be independent and women can’t be.
Being independent and free mentally is the most important thing, then financial independence will follow. Everyone should be independent financially and it is also applicable to teenage children- he/she should also have a certain amount of financial independence.
Every human being should have this right and it’s not only women because we aren’t a different creature.
Professional kitchens are dominated by the male chef, whereas at home it’s always a woman’s job, why is there such a gender disparity?
I feel this is the area, where things finally get equalised. The women of the house, especially the mothers, dominate the kitchen. This is the only domain across the world, where women rule in supremacy. It is the woman who decides on what to cook, the menu of the day and what goes on the dinner table.
Professionally, in the kitchen of renowned hotels and restaurants, the kitchen is dominated by men. I believe there is this gender disparity because the workforce of India who are left under-utilized but are superbly talented, the housewives- who are tending for their home and families! That is the primary reason why we see more men in the professional kitchen arena than women.
The traditional cuisines, the family recipes are losing the battle to western delicacies and the latest diet fads- how do you feel we can preserve our food heritage?
Nangarhar not only strives to empower women but also to keep the food heritage intact. I am a true-bred Bengali, I miss traditional delicacies like Chital Maach’r Muthya, Hilsa Biryani, Taale’r Bora, Taale’r Kheer, Malpua, and others. I believe that not many from this generation know how to make these items anymore!
These mom-chefs are upholding the food heritage and keeping the food culture intact. At Nanighar, we also provide the necessary training. It’s not possible to know all the recipes and techniques that are there. Our platform currently has over 200 associated chefs and we encourage them to learn from each other.
Maybe someone doesn’t know the recipe for Thor (Banana Stem) Pulao but someone else knows it very well, so we encourage a transfer of knowledge- an exchange of notes and techniques. This is a platform that not only strives to empower but also spread happiness, encourages, and creates an environment that is inspirational for everyone associated with us.
Healthy eating is of prime importance- can you please share a few tips with us?
Something that we all have learned since our childhood from our parents that to have a healthy life it is important to have discipline in life and healthy food habits. Discipline is an important factor in every aspect of our life whether it is the way we lead our life or our eating pattern.
You can eat out but don’t make it a regular affair. Always eat a balanced and nutritious meal. Incorporate seasonal fruits and green leafy vegetables. It’s not important to be skinny but to have a healthy lifestyle.
The new normal is going to change the way people used to dine –out, are food delivery apps the future of the F&B industry?
Yes, the new normal is here, and even 6months ago what was unheard of, is happening now. We have 5-star properties like Marriott, Hyatt, and Taj Bengal home delivering food. They have modified their al-carte menu and the packaging that they are providing is fabulous and top-notch- this is a testament to how the F&B industry is changing.
Everybody is welcoming this change, people are ordering food from all these places. I am very happy that the industry is still working even during this pandemic situation.
Please share a message for our readers at The Voice of Woman.
Each one of us is extremely talented and it is not necessary that everyone has to be a very good cook. You can be talented in any field- some are excellent painters, writers, but you may have given up on your passion, I would request every woman to pursue their passion.
As women, we should remember that there is a life beyond children and husbands, and the daily sacrifices that we undertake for the sake of our families. It’s important to have some time for yourself and to take care of yourself. It is essential to be a happy human being!
Please try to live for your passion and yourself!