Indian food culture is vivid and filled with recipes that can satiate the appetite of any food lover. While cooking was looked at as a chore, times have changed and so have people’s views on cooking. This art form is often considered sacred and holds a special place in desi hearts. An everyday need, a passion, a skill, and even a business, the art of making food plays a variety of roles in the lives of different people.
And, it’s played a pivotal role in the life of the founder of Sharing Cooking Secrets, Manju Sethia. She talks about the early beginnings of her venture, gives advice on how to monetise your passion for cooking, and shares ways you can upskill to create your USP and brand.
1. What’s your educational and professional background?
I was educated in a private school in London. After completing my ‘A levels’, I was packed off to India to get married. This was in 1979. As a young child, I loved baking and cooking trying to emulate my mother, who is as all moms are, a fabulous cook. I would say I’m self-taught with the help of the hundreds of cookbooks in my collection. The internet taught me a lot and I was lucky to have access to a computer and an Internet connection! I seriously learnt a lot. And now the internet has no end in learning mediums.
2. What prompted you to start Sharing Cooking Secrets?
I realised I had God’s gift of teaching and I loved to share my knowledge and ideas. Once I found that foolproof eggless cake recipe, I decided to share it with young girls who really wanted to learn. So I started my day-long hands-on classes which was quite a novelty 25 years ago.
3. Did you always know you wanted to work in this space?
I was always passionate about food in general and eating cakes and chocolates was in our daily diet. When I mentioned and shared my dream of having a bakery, as an innocent 12-year-old to my dad, he reacted in such a way that I dared not mention it again. It was like a forgotten dream in the back of my heart.
4. What was your first work milestone and how did you get there?
I would say my first milestone was the opening of my store in a well-known mall. Due to my popularity and recognition, I earned goodwill from my students and my store became popular pretty soon. Hours and hours of solid hard work was one of the reasons for my success. Also, I made a great effort on creating all my cakes, bonbons and bakes to perfection.
5. How long did it take you to monetise your venture? What was the turning point?
My cakes and cake decoration classes became quite a hit within the first year and I introduced several other courses too, which were equally popular, so monetarily it was great all along as I was working from home.
6. Do you market online/offline? What works better for your business?
Well, these days it’s all about social media. But there’s nothing like word of mouth, recommendations and returning customers. So I guess while I market on line, I get business from a lot of offline mediums as well.
7. What are your tips for an aspirant who wants to turn their passion for cooking into a business?
It’s simple, really! If you want to achieve heights in whatever you are passionate about you have to give it all you got, and there are no two ways about it. Sacrifice and hard work are the keys to super success.
8. Are there any online/offline courses you would recommend that could help bakers enhance their cooking or business skills?
In today’s world, it’s important to be trained professionally in specialised cooking institutions. There are quite a few very good institutions in India which are as good as the world-famous Cordon Bleu. Academy of Pastry and Culinary Arts with their flagship school in Malaysia is a wonderful institute. They are in Mumbai, New Delhi and Bangalore. Lavonne Academy of Baking Science and Pastry Arts is also recommended. They also invite world-famous chefs for demo classes. There are also a few excellent chefs who give specialised training in baking like Rumana Jaseel.
9. Which networking groups and showcasing events could help an aspirant meet the right people and generate monetising opportunities in this field?
There are a few huge bakery events held every year and one could participate in those. Also, you should join relevant social media groups and post your work on those as there are lakhs of members in each group. But having said that, your work should speak for itself. You have to be perfect or have something unique about your work as there is so much competition out there. The bakery business has exploded in India. A profession which was once looked down upon has now become a very profitable business.
10. What are some investments one should be ready to make when turning their passion for baking into a full-fledged business?
The basic ovens, freezers, and mixers are important tools but nowadays you need to have the latest moulds, decorating edibles and most importantly, the packaging. Packaging sells enormously. And you need to upgrade yourself every year. As in the bakery business, the trend changes very fast. You have to think very much out of the box. One also needs to upgrade oneself about the latest techniques regularly.
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