Here’s some food for thought: How many times have you been to a South Indian restaurant and been turned off by the watery sambhar or hardened idlis? How often have you travelled to a new city, eager to explore it gastronomically, only to be greeted by standardized burgers, paneers and pizzas? The answer: way too often.
This is why a group of enterprising foodies from Mumbai joined hands to give the culinary experience a new twist. Authenticook is an online marketplace that connects travellers as well as locals with home chefs who whip up unique food experiences. So say, you go to Mumbai or Kolktata and instead of blowing your money on an expensive restaurant, you visit a home where you are served the most authentic meal, peppered with love, conversation and stories. Sounds like an adventure? It is!
The people behind this venture are Ameya Deshpande, an investment banker, his wife Priyanka, a corporate banker and friend Aneesh, a human capital consultant. What started as an experiment has now found takers across India in the last two years. Twenty cities, over 250 hosts and nearly 5000 happy diners bear testimony that, at the end, good food brings one and all together, bridging every difference along the way! We chatted with the founders on this delicious initiative which may come to the UAE one day…
Hosts and diners
Authenticook is a very interesting concept. What led you to start it?
It was in 2014 when the three of us went on a trip to Ladakh. In Leh, while walking through the main market, we noticed that most places were serving burgers, pizzas and pastas; there was very little local food available. That’s when we thought what if we had an opportunity to just sit with a local family and have a traditional meal with them! There is so much we would have known about their way of life just by interacting with them and eating their own food. That’s how the idea of Authenticook got sown in our minds. Along the way, we started looking at all Indian cuisines and most of them were not available in restaurants which led us to believe that this may be something which could interest even locals of a cosmopolitan city like Mumbai or Delhi or Bengaluru.
What was the first Authenticook meal you organised?
It was a Bohri thaal cooked and hosted by one of our friend's mother; we had had a Bohri thaal for the first time at her place five years ago and it had blown us away in terms of the etiquette, traditions and the food itself. Ever since, we have added more than 50 different cuisines of India and have just about scratched the surface when it comes to our culinary diversity.
How does it exactly work?
We are a platform that lists hosts and their food experiences. Each of these hosts have been personally vetted by us – we have visited them and tasted their food. All these experiences are listed on the website and can be discovered on the basis of certain filters like city, type of experience (i.e. veg or non-veg) and cuisine. The way it works is this:
a. Each of the meal experience listings have all details including complete menu, location/neighborhood, amenities and other information (eg. whether the home has an elevator or staircase, has air-conditioning, pets at home etc.), pricing, pictures, ratings and reviews posted by other travelers, host profile etc.
b. The traveler can either book the meal experience on a date on which it has been already scheduled or they could request the meal on a date of their choice through a simple form which opens up on clicking the "Request Date" button
c. If requested, Authenticook will check with the host for their availability and confirm with the traveler who can then book the meal on the link shared with them.
d. The booking is completed on selecting the number of diners and completing the online payment through a secure payment gateway.
e. Once the payment is made, the traveler will get a confirmation email and voucher with the exact address and a google maps link.
f. All the traveler now needs to do is go to and enjoy the meal!
g. Once the experience is completed, the travelers will be asked to put in a rating and review the experience.
One of the hosts preparing a meal for diners
What kind of cuisines do you offer? How do you tailor it to a diner’s expectations?
We offer authentic, regional cuisines prepared by home-chefs from their particular region or community. Currently we have more than 50 different cuisines of India and also a couple of international cuisines prepared by expats living in India. Most of these cuisines and the dishes associated with them are not available in restaurants. For example, we do eight different cuisines from within Maharashtra itself - Koli, Malvani, CKP, Pathare Prabhu, Khandeshi, Kolhapuri, SKP, food from the Vidarbha region among others. This shows the kind of diversity we have in just one state!
In terms of tailoring it to a diner's expectations, we mention the complete menu upfront so the travelers know exactly what is being served. In case of a private dining experience, we could change the menu as per the travelers’ needs i.e. upon request, we could prepare a meal based on their preference for spice levels, proteins (chicken, meat, seafood, veg) etc.
Who is your target audience? How can a traveller planning a short trip to India sign up for a meal and be assured of availability at a dining place of his choice?
Our target audience comprises two segments; our hosts and our diners. Our hosts are locals, mainly women homemakers who love cooking and hosting people at their homes. These hosts have a deep passion for food and love feeding people and sharing stories about their food. Our diners consist of travelers as well as other locals. Travelers come for our experiences to enjoy authentic dining experiences in a casual setting whereby they learn a bit more about the way of life and culture of the place. Imagine going to an 80-year- old heritage home at Fort Kochi and having an authentic meal prepared by a local and sharing stories of the food being cooked, the places recommended by locals, etc! People from all over the country settle in cities like Mumbai, New Delhi, Bengaluru. These cities turn in a melting pot of cultures and cuisines and Authenticook provides the perfect avenue to experience India's diversity through its food.
To get a meal with one of our hosts, all a traveler needs to do is either book an experience on a date. Even if a particular host is not available, we have multiple hosts in most of our cities and we should be able to provide with a suitable alternative.
The concept is helpful in promoting unique regional cuisines that are not available at restaurants easily. Pictured above is a Manipuri meal
As in the UAE, the food industry is booming and India is teeming with restaurants. How can a home-cooked meal match up to the ambiance and experience provided by a restaurant?
We have never looked at substituting a restaurant meal with our experiences. And neither do we compare ourselves to a fine dine! Our USP is a personalised experience. Here there is a feeling of belonging, personal touch and the joy of being fed to your heart's content. The diner knows that the food has been cooked by the host, keeping their needs in mind, unlike a restaurant which is cooking for hundreds of people in a day. Unlike a restaurant meal, where the chef is in the kitchen, an Authenticook meal involves the host interacting with the diners and providing them an insight into the food; not something that can ever be provided at a restaurant.
How do you select your home chefs?
Our home-chefs reach out to us through various mediums; social media, directly through our website, word of mouth/referrals. We have a very robust process whereby we on-board our home-chefs on various parameters including the food, its authenticity and stories that surround it, the ease of commute to the home, how comfortable a diner would be etc. We treat our home-chefs as the ambassadors of their cuisine, providing them an avenue to be recognised for their culinary expertise.
How do you ensure quality and hygiene? What are the parameters of quality/taste?
While taste is subjective, we put a lot of focus on hygiene. That’s why we visit the kitchen as well as take a look at other areas where a diner will be hosted. A lot of focus is also on the authenticity of the meal backed by stories around the food. One of the inherent benefits that Authenticook, as a concept has, is that we work with home-chefs who are doing this for their love of cooking and hosting people. This is not a pure commercial transaction for them. They are hosting with us to expand their social horizons and meet new people. They take a lot of pride in their cooking and this enables us to ensure that our high quality standards are met. Moreover, given that ours is a shared economy concept, our platform is built on the system of ratings and reviews and this helps us maintain standards as well.
Do you have plans to take it outside India?
We do. We believe that food is a common thread that binds us all and we would like to use Authenticook as a medium to bring people together. UAE is one such region that we are closely looking at to expand into.