Recipe For Entrepreneurship
International culinary entrepreneurs cook, learn and build bridges of collaboration and friendship.
In May 2019, a small group of South Asians and Americans traveled to Kolkata to build networks —not through treaties or trade deals, but through the universal language of delicious food.
The U.S. Consulate General Kolkata welcomed 22 culinary entrepreneurs—chefs, restaurant owners and other creative individuals involved in the food industry—for “Food Diplomacy: A Recipe for Entrepreneurship.” Participants in the comprehensive, multi-day program hailed from India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka, and the workshops were led by two American chefs, Tiffany Derry and Jay Ducote.
The program involved a variety of presentations, panel discussions and mentorship sessions, all intended to help its culinary entrepreneur participants grow their businesses and make their food-related dreams come true. It also aimed to strengthen the regional network of food business entrepreneurs to harness the economic power of food. The program culminated in a memorable event: Participants joined industry experts, financial specialists, investors and representatives of the U.S. Trade Association and other such organizations for a massive food expo at JW Marriott Hotel Kolkata.
From networking to fundraising, innovation to team-building, many topics were discussed throughout the program. One key area of focus was sustainability and what culinary entrepreneurs around the world can do to help.
“All participants took a pledge to adopt and move toward more sustainable methods in our individual establishments, and the industry as a whole,” says program participant Varun Gazder. “Some examples are switching from plastic to paper straws, banning plastic cutlery and carry bags, reusing materials wherever possible, wasting less food and using solar energy.”
Gazder owns and runs Café Regal in Jamshedpur, Jharkhand. He first learned about the program from a food blogger friend and was eager to apply. “The program was tailor-made for like-minded individuals. I was excited to meet new people belonging to my profession and expand my horizons through shared experiences,” he says.
Chef Joel Basumatari, creator of the Saucy Joe’s line of food products and a leader of the “slow food” sustainability movement in Nagaland, was another participant. Although he was already a seasoned culinary entrepreneur before he joined the program, he felt honored to be selected, to represent Nagaland and to take advantage of this learning opportunity.
“Being a first-generation entrepreneur, I wanted to learn, share the knowledge attained from the program and use the training in my daily life,” he says. “It was a new learning experience and really helped me understand the importance of hard work and networking. It also helped me to be better in planning and organizing, and to be strong in networking and market research.”
Gazder describes the program’s sessions as highly interactive in nature, featuring extensive dialogue and opportunities to learn and share. “We got to exchange notes on genuine issues and shop-floor scenarios,” he says, “and come up with and share solutions. Learning from established people and exchanging ideas with peers gave a whole new dimension to day-to-day café management.”
Basumatari also affirms the unique value of participant dialogue. “The exchange of knowledge with other entrepreneurs is really important in helping one another with business and ethics,” he says.
Gazder describes the concept of culinary diplomacy—the theoretical foundation of the program—as a type of cultural diplomacy that brings people together over the shared love of food. “Its basic premise is that ‘the easiest way to win hearts and minds is through the stomach,’ ” he says. “It is important because it uses food and cuisine as instruments to create cross-cultural understanding, in the hope of improving interactions and cooperation.”
The participants learned about various aspects of culinary entrepreneurship. “Jay taught us about different styles of barbecuing, environmental impacts and innovation, and Tiffany spoke about elevator pitches and different ways to increase and expand [our] business,” says Gazder.
The learning was both ways. “We saw, time and time again, that the things we feel are the hot topics in America right now, they’re the hot topics here [in India], too,” said Ducote in a conversation with Jay Treloar, then-American Center Kolkata deputy director. “They’re the same things that people are trying to figure out here as well, whether it’s sustainable fisheries or really trying to support your local farmer...it really does prove that food is a universal language.”
If this program is any indication, promotion of entrepreneurship through culinary diplomacy is more than a promising theory; it creates real-world results. Gazder and Basumatari, for instance, are currently working together to promote products created by Basumatari and produced locally by Nagaland villagers. Gazder says that Basumatari will visit his city soon to promote cuisine from Northeast India. And that’s just the beginning.
For aspiring culinary entrepreneurs, Basumatari offers this advice: “With consistency, hard work and determination, anything is possible. I would also like to say that any work you do has to be a passion, driven with sincerity. If you chase money, you will be chasing it your whole life. And you should not have jealousy and ego if you wish to succeed.”
Gazder adds that growing a culinary business or being a successful chef can be highly rewarding, but it is not a “glamorous” job. “It entails long hours and hard work,” he says. “Your team becomes your family. Like in any other industry, there are ups and downs. You have to be patient and resilient, and learn from every new challenge you encounter.”
Michael Gallant is the founder and chief executive officer of Gallant Music. He lives in New York City.