By Kinjal Dagli-Shah, Womens Feature Service
The last thing one would expect when a financial analyst and a travel agent get together is a cooking show. But that’s exactly what Hetal Jannu and Anuja Balasubramanian produced when they combined their culinary interests to launch, ‘Show Me The Curry’, an online guide to South Asian cooking. Through about 320 audio and video podcasts on their website – and on Youtube – the Texas-based duo of Indian origin, has garnered a loyal audience. And for good reason. “We got into the game at the beginning of the ‘video revolution’ and were one of the first websites to have Indian recipe videos. From the beginning, we strived to make our show professional – not someone hovering over their stove filming with a camcorder,” says Jannu, 39.
Her cooking partner, neighbour and friend, Balasubramanian, 41, adds, “Our biggest differentiator is that we ‘show’ a step-by-step recipe with exact measurements. How many blogs or cookbooks give you the exact measurement for the water that goes into making dough for ‘chapatis’ or ‘paranthas’ (Indian breads)?”
They credit Jannu’s husband, Shrikant, for bringing the idea to the table. “We were at similar stages in our lives, having had children and not wanting to go back to working full-time. We needed a business where we could be there for the kids once they got home from school and the flexibility to call our own shots. The investments were low and it was a gamble worth taking,” admits Balasubramanian. The gamble paid off, and the two run a successful business from home, while often getting recognised in public. “‘Show Me The Curry’ has been a blessing. It allows me to be the full-time mom I always wanted to be but at the same time gives me a tremendous sense of self-worth and accomplishment,” says Jannu, a mother of two.
The curry chefs aren’t the only ones becoming successful online. With South Asian cooking now enjoying a new visibility and popularity, many self-styled chefs are surfacing on the Web.
At 61, Manjula Jain didn’t think she was going to embark upon a new career. But hers is a name and face many recognise, even if they have never met her. “I was born into a vegetarian family in North India. When I moved to America with my husband 42 years ago, we remained vegetarians, and that’s how my recipes came about,” says Jain, who has three grandchildren. She credits her husband, Alex, for helping her start ‘Manjula’s Kitchen’ (www.manjulaskitchen.com). “He is the inspiration behind it, and has been recording, editing and uploading the videos since 2006, when I put up my first video on Youtube,” she says.
For Jain, the podcasts are as much a new lease of life as they have been for Jannu and Balasubramanian. But it’s not a mere pastime, as Jannu explains. “‘Show Me The Curry’ may appear to be domestic because we work and cook in our kitchen. However, at the end of the day, it is still a business. We have the responsibilities (financial, marketing and technical) that any other business entails, but our business allows us an extremely flexible work schedule that fits around the needs of our children and families,” she says, adding that they have also learnt a few skills along the way. “We have been able to expand our knowledge base and core skills by learning about filming, lighting, movie editing and working in front of a camera.”
Balasubramanian, too, has positive things to say about their venture. “I have become more aware of the foods, the tastes, the smells around me. I have learnt so much from Hetal, the viewers and from the whole experience. I want to do better all the time and improve myself, whether it is in my style of speaking, make-up, dress sense, or cooking.”
Little wonder then, that ‘Show Me The Curry’ attracts a whopping 620,000 views a month for all the videos, and ‘Manjula’s Kitchen’ is now turning into a cookbook. “We are fortunate to have a graph that’s steadily on the incline. That’s because we regularly release at least two videos per week. We film two to three days a week and edit on the remaining days. Answering viewer comments and questions and other routine maintenance is done on a daily basis,” says Jannu. Quite a load, but it’s all in a week’s work for these curry chefs.
Their fan following is testament to the quality and popularity of the podcasts. Lajja Chande, a 25-year-old analyst in New York, found the duo while surfing the Internet for a coconut chutney recipe. “I’m addicted to their website. I don’t need to call my mom anymore for recipes, especially since I’m a bit of a novice,” she says, proud of the eggless date cake she made for her brother recently.
In fact, smiles Chande, it’s her mother who now turns to her for recipes and, as she is the first to admit, it’s all thanks to Hetal and Anuja.