Mitali G Dutta is a Guwahati-based entrepreneur whose passion to learn and imbibe knowledge, led to her culinary venture 'Food Sutra by Mitali'. Dutta trains women in the rural areas of Assam through 'FSM Food Trails' -- organising tours in culinary training and dining concepts. These tours help women share different traditional recipes of local cuisine with food tourists and go on to host them for the meal. The idea behind the concept was to empower locals in rural areas through a sustainable model. The same has been considerably appraised by celebrity chefs, renowned food bloggers across India, travel writers from the country and abroad, she says.
We spoke to Dutta to find out more details on her venture and how she empowers women to get financially independent.
Q: How did the journey of a food entrepreneur start?
A: The inception of my entrepreneurship goes back a few years when I chose to be a "stay-at-home parent". I yearned to do something to be financially independent as I had been earlier when I was a working professional in the corporate sector.
Skilful cooking has been my domain for quite a while, it's a skill passed on from my mother. Being determined and focused, I started off with cooking and baking sessions in 2015 from my home; at the time I had just one student. Gradually the number of students increased, and the digital platforms helped me reach a much wider audience.
Today, over 3000 students from different parts of India and abroad have learnt baking and cooking from me, leading to most of them becoming financially independent.
Q: How do you empower people both in rural and urban areas?
A: In cities, I conduct baking workshops for baking enthusiasts and for rural communities I have designed culinary tours with training and dining concepts. In these tours, the rural women share different traditional recipes of local cuisine with food tourists and they earn from these experiences.
This is how I am trying to empower both in rural and urban areas through cooking and baking skills.
Q: How do you believe traditional recipes from various tribes and culinary skills in local communities help tourism in Assam? A: The culinary tours are the best souvenirs you can take from a place. Through these tours tourist can immerse themselves into a destination's traditions and culture.
These experiences give the local communities form of income generation through age-old traditional food culture. They welcomed this idea with open arms and it has been hugely accepted by the local communities. These paid culinary experiences give them a sense of empowerment. Food Tourism will definitely boost tourism and has high potential.
Q: You train people in remote areas of Assam. How do they get business after the training or make it a viable business? A: For this kind of tourism model to sustain itself we provide them with training in culinary hospitality, code of conduct in hosting tourists, digital promotions for visibility on online platforms, market linkages and also help them with basic business plans that give them a road map to move ahead. Q: You have trained family members of ex-poachers. Tell us your experience. A: After the training, the response has been amazing. They became confident about shaping this into a community-based tourism enterprise -- an alternative source of livelihood. This new interest in travellers from different parts of the globe, coming to experience rural remote villages and learn local cuisine has also generated a sense of confidence and inclusiveness in them. Q: Cooking and baking is a profitable business in the pandemic? A: Cooking and baking home-based businesses flourished during Covid times. When it comes to baking, online lessons got a tremendous response and home baking businesses got their highest boost during this time, as dining options became limited. Home chefs gained confidence in their culinary skills and with the help of technology and digital marketing many of them started their food entrepreneurial journeys through cloud kitchens. As dining out becomes limited in Covid-19 people have opted for home cooked delicious food deliveries.