Entrepreneur Hari Ghotra is on a mission to share her fabulously fusioned foodie upbringing and show the UK how easy it is to cook good Indian meals. We catch up with the cookery teacher on her fast-paced journey before her next stop, the London Produce Show and Conference 2015 (LPS15)
Warm and welcoming, Hari Ghotra is just the kind of person you’d like to teach you in an Indian kitchen. Knowledgeable yet understanding, passionate but patient, Ghotra is following her culinary dream by taking Indian food viral with ‘smart cooking’ on HariGhotra.co.uk.
It’s hard to believe that a little over a year ago, Ghotra’s website was simply an information resource for her in-your-own-home mobile cookery classes, when today its recipe bank features well over 150 ideas from starters to drinks, a healthy blog and links to numerous step-by-step cookery videos on YouTube.
But let’s start at the beginning. An ex-Tesco marketing manager, Ghotra is certainly a product of her upbringing. Ghotra’s parents emigrated to the UK in their teens and as a result she grew up very much in an Indian home within Wolverhampton, where food was the main link to her parents’ birthplace – her dad especially, she recalls, wouldn’t eat anything unless it had chillies in it.
“My sister, brothers and I were brought up in a very Sikh household, where food and eating together play a huge role in your life,” explains Ghotra. “We would all eat together at the end of the day, we would all cook together and we would all make a contribution to the meal, although it was predominantly my mum’s area. But from a very young age, I remember standing on a stool and stirring the onions to make the masala sauce. Everything I learnt in the kitchen was through mum – she is the best cook I know.”
Sharing the joy
Education, however, was the key to Ghotra’s family and a career in food just wasn’t the strong, solid job she had been brought up to aspire to. A scientist by trade, Ghotra did a degree in biology and then went into marketing, but her real passion was sharing the Indian food she made. Six years ago her husband took matters into his own hands by making her Christmas gift a Mac and a pack of business cards, all made out ready for Ghotra to launch herself as a mobile Indian cookery teacher.
A long-held dream, this new venture was a hit pretty much straightaway and soon the busy, working mum was teaching every weekend and a good deal of evenings too.
“When you are in someone’s home, you are within their comfort zone, so they are more likely to relax and learn,” explains Ghotra, who has travelled all over the UK to people’s homes for hen and stag dos, foodie dinner party nights, birthdays and anniversaries. “And, crucially, for successful cookery lessons that people will think back to again and again, the food is created with their own utensils, using their own ovens and kitchens, which shows they can achieve it themselves. Some 90% of sessions were bought as presents, so it turned out to be an interesting and original gift for food-orientated people.”
“People are generally terrified of spices,” continues Ghotra, who will be demonstrating her step-by-step Indian cookery with a vegetable feast at LPS15 this June. “There is still quite a lot of mystery surrounding spices and the quantities to use. With my spice masterclasses, I bring my spice tin and let everyone have a taste first to work out the balance, and the difference, between, say coriander seeds and fresh. It empowers people to use the spices themselves. Then I break down the recipes, taking a few ingredients at a time with a little of the method. This can make seemingly complicated recipes, like biryani for example, very simple. People get put off by recipes with really long ingredient lists and unnecessary culinary language.”
In preparation for LPS15, Ghotra made a trip to New Covent Garden Market to see what was on offer for her business and style of cooking. “I’m not a member of the trade, so it was a really interesting experience for me,” she points out. “The traders are so knowledgeable and there is such an array of fruit and veg out there. I have been working on sending out a box of ingredients for the Curry Club cookalongs I do online and I was considering working with some of the big veg box companies, but the visit [to the market] made me realise there are other opportunities out there.”
The Hari Ghotra project
In 2014, and after 14 years at Tesco, it was time for Ghotra to quit and literally live the dream, taking her business full-time. This move was led by digital marketing agency Jellyfish’s CEO Rob Pierre, who just happened to be one of Ghotra’s regular cookery class attendees.
Pierre took Ghotra’s website and made it fully interactive with Google Plus live ‘Curry Club’ cookalongs, where Ghotra instructs and cooks with people at home in groups via a Skype-style portal. The site also features step-by-step videos that you can access at anytime.
Now Ghotra’s days are filled with filming videos, photo shoots, developing new recipes in the kitchen, planning for a big year ahead and blogging. Soon she will send out her Curry Club boxes to participants so they have all the ingredients at their fingertips for the cookalong. “Cooking with people is where the magic happens,” says Ghotra, who sees social media as the way forward for “foodie interaction”. “In Indian families, they say that the personality – the laughter and chatting – comes out into the dishes, so no two dishes are the same. Dishes look different at the end and who says what is right or wrong, as long as you enjoy cooking and eating it.”
Launched in May 2014, HariGhotra.co.uk aims to be the number-one website for learning how to cook authentic, healthy Indian food. “We want it to be an informative and interactive resource, but to stay simple, user-friendly and true to Indian food,” says Ghotra, who admits that being in front of the camera was quite challenging at first since she is “a bit of a free spirit” in the kitchen.
“There is a lot of intrigue in Indian food to tap into in this country and I want to share my experiences with food with those people, by guiding them through it, like my mother did with me and I do with my two children now. Indian food isn’t hard to make – it is easy when you are shown how.”
Register here to see Hari in action in London, on June 4. All fresh produce buyers get free admission.