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Indian housewives become gig economy chefs

Rashmi Sahijwala was one of the first housewives to join Curryful in November 2018.


RASHMI Sahijwala never expected to start working at the age of 59, let alone join India's gig economy - now she is part of an army of housewives turning their homes into "cloud kitchens" to feed time-starved millennials.

Asia's third-largest economy is battling a slowdown so sharp it is creating a drag on global growth, the International Monetary Fund said on Monday, but there are some bright spots.

The gig economy, aided by cheap mobile data and abundant labour, has flourished in India, opening up new markets across the vast nation.

Although Indian women have long battled for access to education and employment opportunities, the biggest hurdle for many is convincing conservative families to let them leave home.

But new apps like Curryful, Homefoodi, and Nanighar are tapping the skills of housewives to slice, dice and prepare meals for hungry urbanites from the comfort of their homes.

The so-called cloud kitchens - restaurants that have no physical presence and a delivery-only model - are rising in popularity as there is a boom in food delivery apps such as Swiggy and Zomato.

"We want to be the Uber of home-cooked food," said Ben Mathew, who launched Curryful in 2018, convinced that housewives were a huge untapped resource.

His company - which employs five people for the app's daily operations - works with 52 women and three men, and the 31-year-old Web entrepreneur hopes to get one million female chefs on board by 2022.

"We usually train them in processes of sanitisation, cooking, prep time and packaging... and then launch them on the platform," Mr Mathew told AFP.

One of the first housewives to join Curryful in November 2018 shortly after its launch, Ms Sahijwala was initially apprehensive, despite having four decades of cooking experience.

But backed by her children, including her son who gave her regular feedback about her proposed dishes, she took the plunge.

Since then, she's undergone a crash course in how to run a business, from creating weekly menus to buying supplies from wholesale markets to cut costs.

Kallol Banerjee, co-founder of Rebel Foods which runs 301 cloud kitchens backing up 2,200 "Internet restaurants", was among the first entrepreneurs to embrace the concept in 2012.

"We could do more brands from one kitchen and cater to different customer requirements at multiple price points," Mr Banerjee told AFP.

The chefs buy the ingredients, supply the cookware and pay the utility bills.

The apps - which make their money through charging commission, such as more than 18 per cent per order for Curryful - offer training and supply the chefs with containers and bags to pack the food.

Curryful chef Chand Vyas, 55, spent years trying to set up a lunch delivery business but gave up after failing to compete with dabbawalas, Mumbai's famously efficient food porters.

Today Ms Vyas works seven hours a day, five days a week in her kitchen, serving up a bevy of Indian vegetarian staples, from street food favourites to lentils and rice according to the app's weekly set menus.

She pockets up to US$150 a month after accounting for the commissions and costs, but hopes to earn more as the orders increase.

In contrast, a chef at a bricks-and-mortar restaurant takes home a monthly wage of between US$300 and US$1,000 for working six days a week.

India's cloud kitchen sector is expected to reach US$1.05 billion by 2023, according to data platform Inc42. AFP