Modern-day cook studios have become a destination for cooking workshops and classes, for food tours and events, book launches, staff training, and for promotional activities by food and kitchen equipment suppliers, finds Zainab Morbiwala.
Google the words ‘cook studio’ but there won’t be a Wikipedia link taking you to one. This denotes two things: one, that the concept is totally new; second, that it has yet to attract attention for people to write about it. But having said that, cook studios have been existing under the name of demo kitchens or culinary studios. But the modern-day cook studios have extended from being a destination for offering cooking workshops/classes to being a destination for holding food-based events; a training ground for soon-to-be launched restaurants; and a marketing and promotion destination for food and kitchen equipment brands.
Chef Avininder Singh (popularly known as Foodie Surdie) points out, “The concept isn’t new but until now, it was being positioned more as the chef’s personal kitchen space or a studio where passion for cooking prevailed over business.” Singh (CEO at Fabrica by Chef Saby) and Chef Saby are currently associated with home appliances brand Miele and use the brand’s experience center at New Delhi for hosting events and workshops. They are also planning to launch their own cook studio when “the time is right and we are ready for it” says Chef Singh,
The minimum cost of setting up a basic cook studio could be Rs 25 lakhs with infrastructure costs including workstations, appliances, food ingredients, etc. According to Chef Singh: “If you want a full-fledged cook studio, be ready with a budget nearing a crore, but for a more basic (though well designed) studio, the cost would be Rs 40 to 60 lakhs.”
From passion to profession
In India, the concept of cook studio is at a nascent stage. Chef Rakhee Vaswani’s Palate Culinary Studio in Mumbai is considered a pioneer. The studio was refurbished a year ago in keeping with the industry’s changing dynamics. Shares Vaswani, “Initially, I invested in gaining experience, knowing the equipments, sourcing ingredients, etc. We started with a small rented place and our budget extended to Rs 25 lakhs. We began by holding 10 workshops, but now we conduct more than 90, so there is something for everyone.”
Rushina Munshaw-Ghildiyal’s state-of-the-art APB Cook Studio in Mumbai is well known for hosting workshops and events, and has even attracted international attention. The studio has worked with brands like Godrej Nature’s Basket, Indita Lifestyles, Beacon Holidays, Tourism Australia, Hachete Publications, Siemens, Kenwood, California Prunes, Nutrela Soya, Yummiez, RICH’s, and Mawana Sugar, in various capacities.
Ghildiyal has organised book launches (for authors Michelin masterchef Vikas Khanna, Ritu Dalmia, and others); arranged Masterchef host Matt Moran’s visit as part of Tourism Australia initiative; spice tours for expats, and has, in a way, changed the way cook studios are perceived (not just a place for hobby cooking). She shares, “The APB Cook Studio falls under the umbrella of A Perfect Bite Consulting – a food consultancy owned and run by me. Apart from culinary training, we offer space for any kind of food events, besides which, we are equipped to take care of catering, decorations, etc, for such events. In fact, the studio doubles up as a learning space and as a venue for curated food events. Recipe testing is another lively activity where we go over the edge in innovating ways to use the same item in different ways.”
An international experience made Satish Venkatachaliah think of a cook studio’s potential in India, and he launched Something’s Cooking Culinary Art in Bangalore. “The idea was simmering in my mind for the last 10 years following my visit to a cooking event at a studio in Heidelberg Germany,” he reveals, and adds. “My studio takes culinary activities beyond learning the art of cooking.”
Chef Kunal Arolkar’s FoodyBreaks will open doors by May this year. Arolkar shares, “FoodyBreaks is a Mumbai and Goa-based Kitchen Design, Café and Bakery Consulting, Concepts and Promotions company that offers a variety of services from setting up kitchens, designing menus, and conducting food product demos and bakery classes, on a pan-India level.” The company benefits from his10 years of culinary experience and international exposure in countries like Maldives, Switzerland and Africa.
Understanding the concept
According to Chef Singh: “Traditionally, a cook studio is not meant to be a place for commercial orientation, rather, it a place that facilitates interactive cooking. However, there are cook studios being set-up for purely commercial purposes, but there is nothing wrong with this business approach.”
Opines Chef Arolkar, “Internationally, cook studios are seen as a centre for culinary and pastry excellence, and are opened by renowned chefs who encourage interactive cooking for learning the art. Here, participants acquire semi-professional culinary and patisserie skills. Courses are conducted on an accommodative schedule, unlike expensive professional courses.”
He adds, “At FoodyBreaks novices, cooking enthusiasts, budding entrepreneurs, semi- and even industry professionals can acquire baking and culinary skills. During the pre-tourist seasons we will offer courses on pastry and bakery, and in the tourist season we will conduct courses ranging from Indian and specialty cuisines to continental and international breads and desserts.”
Vaswani opines that a cook studio offers the right atmosphere for food enthusiasts and budding chefs to augment their culinary skills. “The food Industry has changed drastically in the last few years, and people want to experience exotic and the latest international trends. The feel of a culinary studio with its masterchef techniques and equipments is a different learning experience altogether,” she says.
Creating the right space
The APB Cook Studio is a large, beautifully put together kitchen laid out in faux and real wood, gleaming appliances from Siemens, a pantry stacked with Tupperware jars filled with ingredients from all over the world, workstations fitted with gadgets from Kenwood, cookware from Arttdinox Art’dinox, knives from Scanpan and Victorinox, a library of food/cookery books, and a team of instructors and chefs who make sure that the participants experience the food and not just cook it.
APB Cook Studio has a dedicated space for selling niche food items. Called Lust Pantry, this quirky little shop offers house-made flavoured sugars, jams, jellies, nut mixes, salad sprinkles, meat rubs, etc, and gourmet products like Kaffir Lime, Kumquats and Romanesco Cauliflower from Trikaya Agriculture, California Prunes, locally sourced organic vanilla from Shop for Change, honey from UTMT, condiments from UpperCrust and i2Cook, and Framed Foodles.
The 3,500 sqft Something’s Cooking Culinary Art has 8 cooking islands with individual cook-tops, oven and chimney. Work spaces are segregated for vegetarian and non-vegetarian cooking. A sprawling dining area doubles up as a fully equipped conference facility, and there is a well-stocked larder of groceries.
Several brands are associating with APB Cook Studio, for instance, only Siemens appliances are used at the studio. Mawana Sugars has shelf space for in-house promotions, and their products are used when required; and Nutella and Yummiez organise group promotions with their target audience here. Praising the way brand promotions are carried at APB Cook studio, Arolker observes, “It takes a personal connect to effectively convince and reach out to consumers, and convert them to buyers, but it is a one-at-a-time approach.”
APB Cook Studio holds various ‘tutoring’ activities from cookery classes for beginners, to intermediate and advanced cooks; from basic classes that teach knife skills and food preparations, to elaborate meat and sea-food master classes. Classes are attended by men, children, housewives, students going abroad, and tourists travelling through India. “We organise food tours and offsite workshops, and have hosted cooking workshops for the visually impaired. We have held Indian food exploration workshops for companies like SAP, Idea and Frog, food writing workshops, health workshops during Osteoporosis Day, produce discovery workshops for Nutrella, California prunes, and a unique Meat Up with Yummiez,” informs Ghildiyal.
Cook studios are also benefitting the HoReCa industry. Says Chef Singh, “For a chef to be at his best, he needs to work in an atmosphere he is familiar with. The HoReCa sector isn’t guided by a chef; it is the consultants who take charge and string various aspects of the food service business together – food and menu development being one of them. This is where a cook studio can come into play. The chef can create the menu, food tasting and costing at a cook studio (which either he or the consultant can choose), and the relationship can be harnessed for future needs.”
Arolker agrees that the HoReCa industry and cook studios can work together for mutual benefits. “They can collaborate effectively through an annual calendar of promotions for brands with dates marked every month so that brand visibility is constantly maintained with the target audience. Such activities also provide material for social media updates and CSR initiatives. Using a cook studio, every company with a food product to sell, can reach its target group, which will actually purchase the product(s) since the cookery classes are paid for.” He adds, “Cook studios are potentially a very effective educational tool and a successful business model, provided they are not used only for churning out profits. They have good potential in urban India.”
Vaswani at Palate Culinary Studio, reveals, “Many amateur cooks get trained through a cook studio as it provides a readymade environment for them to learn under the guidance of an expert. We have had many students eventually moving on to launch their own bakery, food outlet, or catering service. We conduct more than 90 one-day workshops, and organise masterchef birthday parties for kids, kitty parties, corporate events, and masterchef workshops for corporate offices, etc.”
Venkatachaliah’s Something’s Cooking Culinary Art is also attracting food brands, industry professionals, and corporates for integrated programmes that include team building. “We are the pioneers in using culinary activities for bonding and team building. We bring people together in the kitchen to foster social interaction with the special ingredient called ‘fun’. Team building is much like cooking; it is a transformation that happens when various ingredients come together to create something magical! We facilitate this transformation armed with world-class equipment and a fine-dine studio setting. We offer an exhaustive range of courses that are tailor-made for various human resource objectives, and where you can let your hair down and have fun. We also have people asking for trained people or for training their staff prior to the opening of their restaurant. They consider the cook studio as an ideal platform for people to imbibe team spirit and practices.”