As the city eases into festival mode, despite the pandemic, a well-stocked larder and stash of frozen food makes meal planning easier. It also enables easy midnight kebabs

JK Cheese N More

When Narayan P opened the doors to his just-launched gourmet cheese boutique in Nungambakkam, it marked the culmination of what once seemed an impossible dream.

Almost two decades ago, at the age of 14, he left his home in Nimaj, Rajasthan, to earn a living. “A friend of my father’s said he will bring me to Chennai to work at a jewellery store,” says Narayan, as he walks through his new space greeting customers, between gleaming counters filled with Swiss cheese, Spanish ham and German sausages.

He pauses at the vegetable section, rearranging frilly heads of lettuce. “We will have lots more hydroponic vegetables soon… This is just the beginning,” he smiles.

His introduction to Chennai was considerably less promising. “When I reached here, the job did not work out. I met someone who said he would give me work, and then ended up working in his house for two years, with no salary.” Once he got away, Narayan tried again, undeterred, and this time landed a role as a salesman at Nuts & Spices, where he stayed for 10 years.

(left) Narayan P

“Then, I wanted to do something on my own. I wrote to Delhi-based Dairy Craft and asked if I can sell their cheese in Chennai. And they agreed,” he says. He is still loyal to the brand: at his store it occupies pride of place between Swiss Gruyere, English Cheddar and Greek feta.

Today, Narayan runs three successful businesses. JK Enterprises, which supplies gourmet products to luxury hotels and restaurants in the city. JK Pizzeria, which launched a few months ago. And JK Cheese n More, to connect directly with consumers, who can either shop at the new physical store or continue to order via Swiggy and Dunzo.

“We have about 2,000 products in our inventory, and will keep rotating them,” he says, walking up to the display counter to line up jars of porcini mushroom, truffles and Spanish saffron.

How does he decide what to stock? He chuckles, “Now, I am a foodie.”

JK Cheese N More is at Apex Plaza, Nungambakkam.

Buffet

Unless you are a phulka prodigy, you probably have frozen parathas in your freezer for quick, easy dinners. Buffet frozen food has eight types of Indian breads, and is determined you try them all.

Buffet

Discussing the launch of their first standalone store in Chennai, Kalpana Sanghi says that although they do stock their products across the city, the company wanted a space to display their entire range, which includes momos, spring rolls, fish fillets and vegetables.

Buffet

Since it is run by the Amalgam group, a seafood exporter, the brand gives consumers access to a range of seafood, in the form of fillets and frozen meat as well as breaded squid rings, shrimp wrapped in filo pastry and seafood money bags.

Discussing their new arrivals, which include pastry sheets, jumbo prawns and prawn nuggets, Kalpana says that the store on the Old Mahabhalipuram Road now offers about 130 products for home delivery across Chennai, with more in the pipeline.

Buffet is at Excel Apartments, Church Road, Perungudi.

Tryst Gourmet

When Tryst Gourmet reopened after lockdown, it was to a flurry of requests for chocolate. “Suddenly people wanted to bake at home, and we started quickly stocking everything baking related: cooking chocolate, sliced almonds, dry fruit…” says Samia Sait, who runs the store.

She adds, “I feel like people went through phases… first baking cakes and cookies, then bread became popular. Then they started experimenting with different cuisines like Japanese and Thai…” Between sourcing red curry paste, miso and sushi making kits, Samia began to notice a parallel trend. “People also wanted access to quick, easy, familiar food all day, like chicken nuggets, burgers or kurma.”

Tryst Gourmet

Another shift happened during the pandemic. With more people working from home, without domestic help, frozen food became more popular.

Tryst Gourmet responded by creating a line of frozen, preservative-free, ready to eat meals and products, following family recipes offering everything from shami kebabs to mutton curry.

“All the processing is done by us, at our test kitchen in Kotivakkam,” says Samia, adding that doing this enables them to create another kitchen staple: meat and vegetable broths.

Meanwhile, despite the pandemic, customers are slowly shifting into festival mode. “Walk-ins have increased,” says Samia, adding “People are buying peanuts and party favours for get-togethers at home… and we just started our Christmas plum cake mixing.”

Tryst Gourmet is at Express Avenue, Royapettah.

This weekly column tracks the city’s shifting culinary landscape. Heard of a new food venture? Tell me: [email protected]

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