Women's Day: These Home Cooks Have Perfected The Recipe For Fame
Image Credit: SLURRP. These home cooks on YouTube display a nuanced understanding of Indian food and cuisine.

ALONG THE SIDE of one of India’s many busy roads is a tea stall owner struggling to make ends meet. His business isn’t doing well. He turns to YouTube for advice, finding the recipe of a chai masala powder that looks promising and accessible. He tries it and things quickly turn around. Soon, he’s writing to the woman in the video, thanking her profusely for uploading the recipe. 

The woman is 42-year-old Parul Gupta, a sensation among Indian cooks on the platform, with 7.64 million subscribers on her channel Cook With Parul. She started uploading videos in 2017 and today has several accolades to her name, from being mentioned in Forbes’ 2022 India’s Top 100 Digital Stars list to being awarded the Creators United Global 2023 Food Creator of the Year Award, among others. 

But just a few years ago, she was an office-going woman with a focused career path, until her son suddenly developed a speech impediment. Parul realised that taking him to treatments and therapies and looking after him was a full-time job. “I was feeling depressed and helpless, and money was tight too. My husband and I started looking for ways to work from home.” They decided to try their hands at making YouTube videos since this was something she could do from home, at whatever time was convenient for her. “If it was successful then well and good, but even if it wasn’t, cooking is something I enjoy so at least I would be happy,” she explains about her reason for starting. 

Within just four months, her videos started picking up. Six months in, she had one lakh subscribers. And within the first year, she had one million subscribers. From the beginning, her aim has been to be reminiscent of a friend, sister, or mother to her viewers. For instance, she uses measurements like katoris (small steel bowls) and spoons instead of expecting her viewers to have measuring cups or other tools at home. She makes her recipes accessible to audiences by using ingredients that one would already have at home. She also spends hours at home researching and experimenting with recipes to see how they can be made easier and more rounded, and designs recipes accordingly. 

“YouTube is a platform which has made me [go] from zero to hero,” says Parul, reflecting on her journey over the past six years. “It has expanded my world so much.”

Although the particulars are different, 37-year-old Richa Gupta of Healthy Kadai and 40-year-old Nisha Topwal of Cook With Nisha share similar stories, leaving their jobs to look after their kids, and then finding success on YouTube, a platform that allows them the freedom and flexibility to work from home, at times that are convenient for them. “It’s easier to balance work and family time compared to when you’re working professionally,” explains Richa.

Her YouTube journey began in 2014 when, as a joke, her husband recorded her cooking and uploaded that on YouTube. It got over 1,000 views, showing Richa its potential. “I’m not a foodie, and I didn’t know cooking at all. I had to learn everything from scratch. But when you learn cooking as an adult, you have a greater understanding of what you’re cooking and why you’re cooking in that particular way,” she observes. Richa makes it a point to try every recipe between two and five times and perfect it before it goes up on her channel. 

In the beginning, she recorded her videos on a mobile phone, and slowly over time, figured out the correct equipment, taught herself editing, and gained confidence in front of the camera. It was in an attempt to differentiate herself from the influx of creators over the years that she decided to focus on healthy cooking. She also began researching food and started keeping up with trends related to health and cooking. “For example, diabetes is a big problem across the world today, so I’m thinking of a more diabetic-friendly diet.”

Nisha also stresses on the importance of research trends and having your ear to the ground. “Inspiration for new recipes comes from day to day life, seasons, festivals, and movies,” she says. She started her channel in 2018, but was already well-versed with the world of YouTube because of her daughter through whose channel Nisha learnt scripting, shooting, and editing. Today, she regularly uploads recipes, tips and tricks, hacks and other varied content, and has 4.28 million subscribers.

Working so closely and deeply with food means these women also have a nuanced understanding of Indian cuisine. “I think Indian cuisine is the richest in the world, given the variety we get in terms of flavours, tastes, and spices,” says Richa about the diversity of variety of Indian cooking. While every region has its own unique palette, Parul stresses on the cohesiveness of Indian food when it comes to the structured way that it is prepared. “Indian food is prepared in a very scientific way,” she says. “It’s also proven that Indian food is beneficial to health, since we use ingredients that have been around for millennia and are approved by ayurveda. Haldi (turmeric), for instance, has antibacterial properties,” Parul explains. 

YouTube has given all three women, and several others throughout the country, the opportunity to build their careers from the comfort of their homes, working on their own terms, while also spending time with their families. It offers not just monetary gains but also encourages these women to become more confident, innovative, creative, and resilient. It expands their world view and broadens their horizons. And importantly, it turns the stereotype ‘women belong in the kitchen’ on its head, highlighting the effort and intelligence that being a cook demands. Above all, these women are proud of being in the kitchen as they successfully make a living out of something that’s generally seen as unpaid labour performed by women.