Born in Chandrapur, a small town in Maharashtra, most of Rizwana Yusuf‘s childhood included a lot of moving around as her father was on a transferable job. Staying in different cities and experiencing many cultures was par for the course. Today, this Pune-based home chef is much in demand for hosting pop-ups for Bohri food. Rizwana calls her venture Bohri Zaika.
“Before I decided to pursue my passion for cooking, I used to design lampshades and kurtas for women and participated in various exhibitions. But I always preferred working for myself over a full-fledged job,” recalls Rizwana. The home chef curates thaal experiences for Puneites who crave homemade food as many of them are from other cities.
How cooking happened
“About two years ago, my parents’ health deteriorated quite a bit and I devoted more of my time to take care of them. During that time, I began experimenting with Bohri food. I decided to start a small catering business and started spreading word of mouth amongst my friends and neighbours,” said Rizwana.
“I concentrate on living up to the expectation by preparing tasty meals and being a good host. I started in Feb 2017 and within a year have hosted about 14 meals. These have increased the number of my catering customers as well”
Cooking As A Pain-healer
After her parents’ demise, Rizwana found solace in cooking. “I was grieving and found that cooking helped me distract myself from it. So I decided to devote myself to it and frankly, it has helped me quite a bit to move my life forward.”
In the beginning of 2017, I came across Authenticook and contacted them. They have really given a great boost to my career and provided a platform for my passion.
Being Home Chef Is: Cultural Relativism
Rizwana loves hosting people at home and introducing them to Bohri cuisine and culture. “My husband, who is also a very good cook, helps me prepare the meals as well!” she said.
“As of now, I am very happy hosting people at home. I would like to host more people in 2018.”
Recently, Rizwana served people at an event at Tvum restaurant in Pune and learnt a lot about cooking in a professional kitchen. “My husband and I have always wanted to open a restaurant that serves Bohri food, so we would like to work towards fulfilling that dream,” the passionate cook said.
Support from family
Her family has always been very supportive of all her decisions. “My husband, my daughter and my son are always enthusiastic about my meals and help me in hosting my guests.”
Rizwana attributes her love for cooking to her my mother. “My mother used to be an amazing cook. As a kid, I used to observe and started cooking at a very young age. My mother taught me how to cook Dal Chawal Palida (a Bohri dish, including rice cooked with lentils and a soup prepared with the lentil water) when I was just 7 years old. So I can say that I have inherited my skills and my love for cooking from her.”
Cooking as a Liberated Profession for Women
“Women have mostly been associated with cooking, especially in the Indian culture. But I feel that in today’s times, various platforms and opportunities are allowing women to come forth and have others recognise their talent as well,” she said.
“USP: I try to include dishes that people don’t usually get at a restaurant. I try to make the flavours as homely as possible. Since I also host the meals at my house, I get a chance to connect with my customers at a personal level and really give an all-round Bohri cultural experience, not just the food”
The biggest challenge she faced until now was preparing the food for 80 people at Tvum restaurant. “It was the first time I was cooking for so many people. Luckily, I had my husband by my side and the support of the restaurant staff and Authenticook. After I saw all the people enjoying the food, I realised that it was definitely worth working hard for.”
Scope for Young Girls
“I do believe that maybe this field is dominated by men. I personally do not know any women who are working as professional chefs in a restaurant or a hotel,” Rizwana said. “A lot of women in India are exceptionally skilled in cooking and it’s time that they are recognised for it. Hopefully, things will soon change,” she added.
“If a woman is good at cooking and enjoys it, she should be able to share it with the world. It should be recognised as a talent rather than just her duty”
If young girls are passionate about cooking, then they should definitely pursue this career, said Rizwana. In today’s time, there are a lot of reality shows and other platforms that provide a good base for them and give them exposure, she added.
Style Of Cooking
“I usually use the technique of smoking my ingredients with a hot coal and some desi ghee. I do this to the kheema fillings for samosas and even the dal while cooking Dal Chawal Palida. I think, this step not only helps bring out the hidden flavours in the food but also makes them smell delicious,” explains Rizwana.
“Currently, I only host pop-up meals and accept small catering orders”
About Indians Trying Out New Cuisines
“From my experience, people are very excited about trying out new dishes and cuisines. The upcoming generation is very open to having new experiences. I recently saw a video on Facebook, posted by a group of youngsters about experiencing Bohri meal for the first time. I am glad that this enthusiasm of theirs is helping introduce the world to new tastes,” said Rizwana.