This startup aims to bring traditional cuisine back while making women self-sufficient

Nativ Chefs, an online platform, offers home-cooked meals to those who like traditional food. Besides, it provides employment to home chefs, mostly women, with good culinary skills

Shivani Gupta
| Updated: Last updated on April 14th, 2020,

Pehle hame bolna padta tha ki paise do do do. Par abhi nahi. Abhi dena hai to do, nahi dena ho mat do, main apne se kaam chala leti hun (Earlier, I would ask my husband for money. But now, I don’t. If he gives money, that is fine, and if he doesn’t, that is also fine. I manage on my own),” said Varsha Dhakate. “I am not as dependent on him as I was before.”

Varsha is a homemaker. She also works as a chef with Nativ Chefs, a food-tech startup based in Nagpur, Maharashtra. The platform provides authentic home-cooked meals to those craving traditional cuisines. It also provides employment opportunities to people, mostly women, with good culinary skills. It has empowered 60 home chefs so far.

Nativ, without an e

“There are people who don’t know English. They write ‘nativ’ and not ‘native’ (with an e). So, we thought we should name the platform Nativ Chefs and not Native Chefs,” said Leena Dixit, founder, Nativ Chefs.

“It is like other food aggregating apps, but we offer ghar ka khana (homemade food) made by a home chef,” explained Leena, who started this platform in 2018.

Nativ Chefs, currently set up on the IIM campus in Nagpur, offers traditional Bengali, Marwadi, Gujarati, Maharashtrian, Bihari, and Himachali delicacies. They have Mahashivratri special, upwas tikki, daal dhokali, and much more.

Mutton Dhansakh, a traditional Parsi meal, is a combination of ‘dhan’ meaning rice and ‘saak’ meaning gravy made of lentils and meat. Photo: Nativ Chefs

When other food delivery platforms provide regular food like daal, roti and sabzi, Nativ Chefs brings traditional food, which seems to be losing out to junk food.

“Not many know about the traditional foods of our country. What most know is ordinary mutton-chicken, they don’t know there is something like mutton dhansakh, for example. They prefer chicken biryani or butter chicken,” said Leena, who provides more than 100 traditional dishes prepared by home chefs belonging to different communities.

“We have ukadiche, or steamed, modak. It is a Konkan delicacy and is  very popular among our foodie consumers. Then there is mutton dhansakh. Then we have Bengali cuisines, say, maccher jhal. These are the traditional cuisines which you might not get in the market. You will get the typical mutton-chicken items. These have very different and authentic tastes,” said Leena, adding, “It could also be litti chokkha from Biharcooked in the traditional way and a novelty for people outside Bihar.”

Ukaidche Modak. These are made from rice flour and are stuffed with jaggery sweetened coconut mixture. Photo: Nativ Chefs

Taking talent out of homes

For Nativ Chefs, the focus is to bring the native and lost recipes back to the market and while doing so they also empower women by bringing them together under one platform. Now, women who had to quit their jobs or those who could never find a job fit for them can work from the comfort of their kitchen.

“There are many women who cook brilliantly but their talent was limited to their dining tables,” said Leena. “I would see many women who are multitaskers. But then after managing so many jobs, what were they doing for themselves?” said Leena, adding, “Nobody had an answer to it.

“Earlier, I used to work. But when I was pregnant with my first child, I had to quit my job and later, I couldn’t take up any other job. All my time was exhausted in managing the household and looking after the children,” said Varsha, mother of two. 

“My husband would tell me that I cook well, particularly non-vegetarian. He would take the food I cook to his office for his friends. He would ask me to use this talent of mine but I ignored the idea for long, telling him that there would be many who could cook just as well,” said Varsha, adding, “But one day, I posted a  picture of it, and I got a call from Nativ Chefs.”

Varsha said she mostly gets orders for gavran chicken.

There are many women chefs like Varsha who feel happy and motivated after getting job opportunities from Nativ Chefs. “This not only provides me with a source of income, it also encourages me. I have developed the confidence that I can work even from home,” added Varsha.

“When I received my first cheque, I realised I don’t need to struggle and depend on anyone for even basic things.”

Gavran Chicken, a saoji delicacy, prepared by Chef Varsha. Photo: Nativ Chefs

The beginning … and a plethora of smiles

It is never too late to chase one’s dreams. Leena, a graduate, was doing pretty well in her career. She worked as an assistant manager, human resources, with a technology services company, but she never let go off her passion for cooking and food. 

Bachhe kehtey the ‘kya aunty, aap itna acha khana banati ho, aap kuch karte kyun nahi ho? (Kids would tell me that I cook well, and ask me why I wasn’t doing something with that skill),” said Leena, who had a knack for cooking since her childhood.

After spending 13-years in the corporate world, Leena decided to pursue her dreams at the age of 38. In 2018, she founded Nativ Chefs. She participated in a Women’s Startup Programme. Once shortlisted, Leena decided to take Nativ Chefs ahead.

In 2018, Leena organised a food competition for cooks who wanted to showcase their cooking skills. “The competition was our first attempt at marketing our startup. Until then, we were only relying on the word-of-mouth of those who had tasted our recipes,” said Leena.

Nativ Chefs team. This platform has employed 60 homechefs so far

Balancing professional and personal lives

“I started alone. I would sit alone in the office,” said Leena, who now has provided jobs to more than 100 people so far. The startup has five employees and four interns, three in-house delivery executives and 20 outsourced, and up to 60 chef-partners, which includes both female and male chefs.

“It is not easy to manage both work life and personal life. I miss my children’s parents’ teachers meeting, I miss their gatherings. It is easy to say that one has to balance life and work, but it is not easy,” said Leena, adding “Being a mother of two and working in a corporate, it was very difficult for me to follow my passion.

One thing that strikes Nativ Chefs app and website are the unusual order timings.

Leena Dixit, founder Nativ Chefs, quit her job to chase her passion

“It takes time to make these delicacies. We need two hours. The other chefs have curry, which they cook and keep beforehand. We start cook the food as soon as the order is received. Many customers ask us to provide food faster. But since we don’t get many orders in a day, we don’t force our chefs to prepare and keep food beforehand. Also, we believe in promoting fresh food.”

The other challenge for the startup was reaching out to the right consumers. “Finding the right target group was a bit of a challenge. Plus, since we are a startup, marketing is a bit of a challenge. We are so far based in Nagpur, but we want to expand this pan India. We don’t have funds and we need to work on advertisement. We will provide our services in other cities as soon as we have funds,” said Leena.