How an Instagram page is curating regional home recipes from around India, recreating them as slick recipe videos that add glamour to household staples
For artist Aarushi Kumar seeing a favourite family recipe, her mother’s chicken tikka masala, being brought to life from scratch on the Instagram page ‘foodlooking_familyrecipes’ was an “amazing experience”. The artist, who divides her time between Jaipur and Goa had been missing her mother’s cooking, especially this signature dish, which is a must-have whenever she is home. “I am a Punjabi and food is a big deal; chicken tikka masala is my favourite. Though my mother is not on Instagram, she felt happy seeing that the making of it had been so beautiful,” says Aarushi.
A short note on the dish and what it means to Aarushi along with the list of ingredients, accompanies the ‘making’ video. It makes the post personal, not only in this case, but for each of the home recipes shared on the page. Every week one or two recipes are posted on the page; the contributor can be a family member or a friend of the person behind the recipe.
The page has been posting for close to a year, curating them from entries sent in from across the country. Rasam from Tamil Nadu, Indore’s Indori shahi shikanji, aloo poshto from West Bengal, raw mango fish curry from Kerala, shrikhand from Gujarat are among the 150-odd recipes that have been shared. “Rather than chef-driven content, we wanted to make it ‘democratic’— driven by everyday people,” says Ashraf Abbas, founder of Foodlooking, which maintains the page with a following of 14,000 plus.
Ashraf has been part of the core team that launched Sanjeev Kapoor’s channel FOODFOOD, and is the creator of shows such as Raja, Rasoi Aur Anya Kahaaniyan that streamed on Netflix and other networks. “Having worked in this genre for over a decade, what we bring to the table is a comprehensive understanding of how food and food content is consumed across the country” he adds. With close to a thousand recipes already in their bank, this could be among the largest curated collections of family recipes.
“Unique and distinctive recipes can be found not just in communities, but also in family kitchens. . Some of them are confined to that household, and others could even be lost. We aim to put all of them together, and also give recognition to the home cook who preserves them,” says Ashraf.
The pandemic put a damper on the company’s plans to launch a food content ecosystem, with an app and a presence across social media platforms. It, however, gave them a chance to test the idea on Facebook and Instagram. “The pandemic turned out to be an opportunity to know first-hand what the digital consumer wants. We picked a few recipes from our 1,000-odd bank and put them out to see how the idea worked. The feedback gave us confidence,” Ashraf says. In the beginning, recipes came from friends and family and their friends.
Unlike usual food videos, the focus is not only on the cooking but also the look, feel and the “food’s emotion,” Ashraf adds.
The ‘kitchen’ is a compact studio space in Mumbai. “This genre doesn’t allow you to spend a lot of money, so the challenge is always how to produce the best looking videos while keeping costs low. Our set design is Lego-like. We have about 12 tabletop options such as vintage teak, driftwood and stone, six-odd window options, multiple units and cabinets and several sets of velcro-backed tiles which we keep changing to create different kitchens,” he states. Although the format now, due to the pandemic, is to film in a studio, once the situation eases the contributor will be filmed cooking in their own space.
Not all recipes are picked immediately. The process includes the four-member team of in-house chefs cooking and the team tasting a dish. “We also rely on the judgement of our ‘food’ team, who are not only chefs but an eclectic mix of tasters — filmmakers, designers, writers, artists and home cooks. This cross-section of food tasters helps us tackle the subjectivity that is inherent to food,” adds Ashraf.
They also get in touch with contributors to know more about the recipe, including its story and emotional connection. “These make it special, plus there is a lot more than the recipe!” says Ashraf.
In the long term, the intention is to build a community of home cooks who will interact with each other and share recipes on the platform. As Ashraf puts it, “The attempt is to inspire and empower the home cook, not only by being a tastefully curated resource of food ideas, but also by giving them ‘shoppable’ ideas to help them to upgrade to an aspirational and happy kitchen.”