food on wheels

Meet the woman driving Asia’s first all-female food truck in Bengaluru

Seventh Sin serves European food with an Indian twist.

If you have watched American film-maker Jon Favreau’s Chef, you might have felt a bit peeved with the excessive male bonding. In the road trip movie, which masquerades as a food film, men roast the meat, grill the Cubanos, chug beers and drive the truck – reminding us that while a woman’s place might be in the kitchen, chasing a career in the professional kitchen, that belongs to men.

“When you imagine chopping, cooking, dishes, cleaning up, women have been doing this all our lives at home, but it is still hard to find women chefs,” said 32-year-old Archana Singh. “The truth is, there are so many Indian homemakers who cook spectacularly for their families, but have not worked a day in their lives. They have never considered doing it professionally.”

This is why, when Singh started Seventh Sin, central to the business idea was providing women the opportunity to discover a safe space to sustain a career doing things they are naturally inclined to.

The idea for a food truck managed completely by women came to Singh in November 2015, but the Seventh Sin food truck hit Bengaluru’s roads only this August, once it had been through a thorough remodelling. Singh took that time to build her team.

Glocal flavours

A communications professional, Singh had held several corporate roles before she switched gears to an area that interested her – education and children. After another brief stint teaching, she moved to marketing a brand of schools across the country.

This was when her other passion, food, beckoned. Given the sheer number and short lives of Bengaluru’s restaurants, Singh decided to steer away from risk and potential loss, to explore a model that demands less overheads associated with managing a restaurant, such as rent and utility bills.

Once the requisite food licences were in place, the truck was remodelled and her team was set, (Singh depends wholly and completely on a team of women), Seventh Sin was ready for business.

The food is “glocal” – globally inspired, with a distinctly Indian touch. Seventh Sin’s chefs draw inspiration from European and Italian favourites, adding a comforting Indian twist to every dish, making it familiar, yet exciting. The menu features, among other dishes, biryani risotto, aloo tikki hotdogs, chicken tikka pasta and a paan-infused cheesecake.

Seventh Sin runs six days a week. It visits tech parks, communities and colleges in Bengaluru, confining itself to closed compounds, given Bengaluru’s notorious traffic jams. On occasion, when a particular neighbourhood reaches out to Singh with a special request, the truck travels to it. On the seventh day of the week, the truck distributes free food to the disadvantaged, and those in need.

Two months since their launch, Seventh Sin has received a phenomenal response, not just for the menu, but for their innovative business model too.

“I’m not really from a business background,” said Singh. “My dad is a navy officer, so I grew up travelling across the country, am I’m used to trying all kinds of different food – that’s my only exposure as far as food goes.”

Singh drives the truck to its destination every day. Her enterprise is backed by Chief Executive Officer Praveena Nandu, Chef Natasha Patrao who imagines and develops the menu, and Deepa, Usha and Hema who manage service on the truck every single day.

“I don’t know a life where I haven’t worked, whether it was during college or through maternity,” said Singh. “It’s not that everyone should work, but those who want to, should be able to.”

Breaking stereotypes

The team has been swamped with calls from women across a range of socio-economic backgrounds, requesting Singh for a chance to collaborate and bring her brand to tier-two and tier-three cities. She is already exploring the possibility of working in Aurangabad and Patna.

With most skilled and established chefs choosing to work with big brands, Singh has built a team of women with little to no work experience, partnering with foundations and non-governmental organisations that find employment for women, and relies heavily on training them.

“I prefer women who may not be educated, but have skills that we can build on,” she said. “Some of the girls we hired didn’t even know how to flip an egg, but we’ve trained them and now they can manage the food service beautifully.”

She added: “Being a woman, I want to be in a place to take risks, break stereotypes and take the chances that I can, and others maybe haven’t been able to. My daughter is nearly eight-years-old, and so many people told me not to take this chance. But I wanted to take a risk and break the stereotypes. There’s no dearth of able women, honestly.”

Singh plans to add three more company-owned trucks between Hyderabad and Chennai, over the next 6-8 months. She is also exploring the franchise model to work with women in smaller cities.

What about the men? According to Singh, plenty have approached her, with advice on changing the woman-centric business-model, something she is adamant she will not do.

“I tell them they can invest,” she said.

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London then and now – As experienced by Indians

While much has changed, the timeless quality of the city endures.

“I found the spirit of the city matching the Bombay spirit. Like Bombay, the city never sleeps and there was no particular time when you couldn’t wander about the town freely and enjoy the local atmosphere”, says CV Manian, a PhD student in Manchester in the ‘80s, who made a trip to London often. London as a city has a timeless quality. The seamless blend of period architecture and steel skyscrapers acts as the metaphor for a city where much has changed, but a lot hasn’t.

The famed Brit ‘stiff upper lip, for example, finds ample validation from those who visited London decades ago. “The people were minding their business, but never showed indifference to a foreigner. They were private in their own way and kept to themselves.” Manian recollects. Aditya Dash remembers an enduring anecdote from his grandmother’s visit to London. “There is the famous family story where she was held up at Heathrow airport. She was carrying zarda (or something like that) for my grandfather and customs wanted to figure out if it was contraband or not.”

However, the city always housed contrasting cultures. During the ‘Swinging ‘60s’ - seen as a precursor to the hippie movement - Shyla Puri’s family had just migrated to London. Her grandfather still remembers the simmering anti-war, pro-peace sentiment. He himself got involved with the hippie movement in small ways. “He would often talk with the youth about what it means to be happy and how you could achieve peace. He wouldn’t go all out, but he would join in on peace parades and attend public talks. Everything was ‘groovy’ he says,” Shyla shares.

‘Groovy’ quite accurately describes the decade that boosted music, art and fashion in a city which was till then known for its post-World-War austerities. S Mohan, a young trainee in London in the ‘60s, reminisces, “The rage was The Beatles of course, and those were also the days of Harry Belafonte and Ella Fitzgerald.” The likes of The Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd were inspiring a cultural revolution in the city. Shyla’s grandfather even remembers London turning punk in the ‘80s, “People walking around with leather jackets, bright-colored hair, mohawks…It was something he would marvel at but did not join in,” Shyla says.

But Shyla, a second-generation Londoner, did join in in the revival of the punk culture in the 21st century. Her Instagram picture of a poster at the AfroPunk Fest 2016 best represents her London, she emphatically insists. The AfroPunk movement is trying to make the Punk culture more racially inclusive and diverse. “My London is multicultural, with an abundance of accents. It’s open, it’s alive,” Shyla says. The tolerance and openness of London is best showcased in the famous Christmas lights at Carnaby Street, a street that has always been popular among members of London’s alternate cultures.

Christmas lights at Carnaby Street (Source: Roger Green on Wikimedia Commons)
Christmas lights at Carnaby Street (Source: Roger Green on Wikimedia Commons)

“London is always buzzing with activity. There are always free talks, poetry slams and festivals. A lot of museums are free. London culture, London art, London creativity are kept alive this way. And of course, with the smartphones navigating is easy,” Shyla adds. And she’s onto something. Manian similarly describes his ‘80s rendezvous with London’s culture, “The art museums and places of interest were very illustrative and helpful. I could tour around the place with a road map and the Tube was very convenient.” Mohan, with his wife, too made the most of London’s cultural offerings. “We went to see ‘Swan Lake’ at the Royal Opera House and ‘The Mousetrap’ by Agatha Christie. As an overseas graduate apprentice, I also had the pleasure to visit the House of Lords and take tea on the terrace.”

For the casual stroller along London’s streets today, the city would indeed look quite different from what it would’ve to their grandparents. Soho - once a poor suburb known for its crime and sex industry - is today a fashionable district of upmarket eateries and fashion stores. Most of the big British high street brands have been replaced by large international stores and the London skyline too has changed, with The Shard being the latest and the most impressive addition. In fact, Shyla is quite positive that her grandfather would not recognise most of the city anymore.

Shyla, though, isn’t complaining. She assures that alternate cultures are very much alive in the city. “I’ve seen some underground LGBT clubs, drag clubs, comedy clubs, after midnight dance-offs and empty-warehouse-converted parties. There’s a space for everybody.” London’s cosmopolitan nature remains a huge point of attraction for Indian visitors even today. Aditya is especially impressed by the culinary diversity of London and swears that, “some of the best chicken tikka rolls I have had in my life were in London.” “An array of accents flood the streets. These are the people who make London...LONDON,” says Shyla.

It’s clear that London has changed a lot, but not really all that much. Another aspect of Indians’ London experience that has remained consistent over the past decades is the connectivity of British Airways. With a presence in India for over 90 years, British Airways has been helping generations of Indians discover ‘their London’, just like in this video.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of British Airways and not by the Scroll editorial team.