From Manufacturing And Information Technology To Food Production And Catering, Here Is Harsh Shodhan's Journey

Harsh Shodhan, the CEO & Co-Founder of H & J Food concepts, a hospitality venture and Chief Chef of Hola Hummm_us and The Gourmet Kitchen & Studio, shares with Mumbai Live his foray into cooking and love for the city’s street food.

From Manufacturing And Information Technology To Food Production And Catering, Here Is Harsh Shodhan's Journey

Harsh Shodhan is the CEO, Co-Founder and Chief Chef of H & J Food concepts, a hospitality venture. His journey into cooking started with eggs and soon, he was cooking small meals for his close friends and family. It was in early 2013 that he got his first catering opportunity for a party of 25. Soon, he launched The Gourmet Kitchen & Studio, an all-vegetarian high-end gourmet food catering business.

Harsh’s inspiration lies with his mother, who has been looking after their home-based catering business for the past 30 years. He also ran a successful, high-end Gujrati Thali restaurant called Mirch Masala in 2003. Thereafter, in 2020 he decided to add a structured retail delivery business to his brand and created Gourmet On The Go that serves International and Fusion cuisine. In 2021, he decided to launch a new brand, catering to Lebanese and Mexican cuisines called Hola Hummm_us.

H & J Food Concepts was conceptualized by Harsh Shodhan and Jay Kantawala in June 2021, after they met at a business forum. Both the brands launched earlier by Harsh, Hola Hummm_us and Gourmet on the Go, are now being developed and handled under the H & J Food Concepts brand name.

We understand that your foray into the cooking realm began after making French Toasts for your daughter which eventually led up to you cooking small meals for your friends and family. Is there, however, a specific incident that propelled you to leave the domain of Manufacturing and Information Technology and professionally work in Food Production and Catering?

In 2008-2009, the world was hit by a huge financial crisis which led us to lose considerable business from the US Financial Market. We decided to close shop, and I took a sabbatical for a few months to charter my next course of action. During this time, I was asked to create food-related content for a YouTube channel. This propelled me into the cooking realm. I then started sending all the dishes that I had cooked to friends and family, from whom I received immense appreciation. These instances boosted my confidence, and I eventually began taking small orders from home. A while into this, a friend asked me to cater her birthday dinner, which became a huge success. Then, as they say, the rest is history!

What are some of the challenges you faced when you decided to switch streams?

Working from home had its set of challenges. Lack of professional equipment and personnel, restrictions on timings, storage etc. were a few. Also, having no professional knowledge or experience was a self-created challenge. However, as I became more confident, I turned that into my strength!

Walk us through the steps you undertake after receiving a catering gig. As someone who hails from Mumbai, do you try to incorporate its nuances in your menu?

Once a client confirms a booking, I try and understand their palates, the kind of event, time and duration, restrictions and other such intricate details. Additionally, if it’s a large event, we do a reconnaissance of the location and the infrastructure. After this, we curate the menu, leading up to the main event. If I am catering to a crowd from out of town, I do, like to put in a few glimpses of Mumbai’s flavours in the form of my Baked Vada Pav, Paani Puri shots or use local dishes like Pav Bhaji and modernise or present it differently. If I am catering out-station or internationally, I do insist on bringing the local Maharashtrian and Gujrati flavours to make a modern interpretation of the local dishes.

What are some classic Mumbai meals that are your go-to?

I use classics like the Vada Pav in different interpretations, Pav Bhaji, the very traditional, Kharvas, street food like Sev Puri and Pani Puri. However, nothing inspires me more than Mumbai’s Street Food. I am constantly trying to re-create and re-invent the dish without losing its essence.

How have you ensured to bring in innovation at Hola Hummm_us and Gourmet on the Go?

At Hola Hummm_us and Gourmet on the Go, we focus on ensuring good quality and authentic taste in our menu. For instance, we have the Malayali rolls found typically in the Malayali run juice centres in Dubai. We have blended the HOLA & HUMMUS to bring the Hola Hummm_us special pita pocket which is a traditional pita pocket stuffed with Mexican flavours. So, you will find many interesting and different dishes at HolaHummm_us along with the traditional flavours. Similarly, with Gourmet On The Go, we have played to our strengths and have mixed traditional with contemporary. Our Paneer Makhani Salad Bowl or the very popular Samosa Karee and an Indian adaptation of the Burmese dish are some of the many dishes.

Has there been a change in the way you have operated these two brands through the months?

For us, it’s a constant learning process - learning from customer feedback, from daily experiences and so on. After our initial month, we improvised on our product and packaging, to ensure a great meal experience for our customers. We are also trying to go plastic-free and are currently working towards it.

With the hospitality industry taking a major hit due to the lockdowns, how have you managed to wade through these turbulent times at H & J Food Concepts?

H & J Food concepts was launched towards the lag end of the lockdown and we are using an asset-light model and cloud kitchen concept for operations. Thus, we have managed to get satisfactory results in the first two to three months of our launch. We also believe in going slow, so we are not in a hurry to open more locations till we are certain that our taste and operations are well stabilized.

As a “chefpreneur” are there any initiatives that you embarked upon to help the local community during these arduous circumstances?

Firstly, we ensured that all our staff was given a place to live in when coronavirus hit. Regular health check-ups and sanitisation of the staying and working areas were also conducted. To ensure that none of them faces any financial difficulties, salaries were paid regularly. Additionally, we gave over 400 lunch packets, daily to our local BMC office that was then distributed to the underprivileged during the first lockdown.

Additionally, as a member of the food and hospitality community in Mumbai, are there any support schemes that you hope to receive from the authorities?

We are demanding for additional privileges, increase in time of operations, use of local transport like trains for our staff to travel, ease on the statutory payments etc. The Food and Hospitality Community has had a difficult time since March 2020 thus as an industry we hope to receive some special subsidies and rebates.

What do you hope to achieve through the H & J Food Concepts brand?

We hope to create and launch brands that will make a statement in the Cloud Kitchen Segment of the Food and Hospitality Industry. We wish to provide delicious, high-quality and interesting food concepts to the public.

To anyone looking to make their way in the said industry, what are two tips that you would like to give them?

I would advise them to use quality ingredients and be patient in the long term.

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