The Woman who took the Road, less Travelled!

When I spoke to Trishna Wahengbam of ‘Chaminnasi’, an entrepreneur foraying into North Eastern cuisine for the patrons in Delhi, I couldn’t stop myself from reminiscing of Frost’s, ‘The Road Not Taken’. Whilst many take great comfort in sticking to the rigmarole of routine, Trishna Wahengbam found solace in stepping into uncharted territories. Creating recipes from the Seven Sister states for the people of Delhi who, believe you me, can often be myopic towards new cuisines, Trishna Wahengbam is going strong. A few nuggets of our conversation for the readers of Chef at Large which we think makes for an interesting read. We wish Trishna Wahengam and her team the very best in all their endeavors.

Sid Khullar (SK): Why not a straight, simple and well paying job instead of entrepreneurship with one of the world’s toughest ventures?
Trishna Wahengbam (TW): It is indeed true that the food industry is one of the world’s toughest industries, but I am also a firm believer of the entrepreneurial spirit that I am driven by. And the work I do, I do every inch of it with great gusto and care because Chaminnasi is something I and my team are passionately creating every step of the way and I hope to carve a bright future for a niche cuisine like North-Eastern food.

It would definitely have been extremely comfortable without a doubt, to have a high paying regular job, but for me, that would have never given me true happiness like how I feel when I work for Chaminnasi as at the end of the day it is a very short life to be doing something that you don’t love.

SK: Given Delhi’s conservative palate, how did the decision to serve north eastern food come about?
TW: We believe that Delhi is a constantly evolving city, and along with every other social and economic factor, food is also an important part of this process. We, at Chaminnasi feel that the onus is on us to assist this evolution of the Delhiites’ palate by exposing the myriad flavors of North-Eastern cuisine to North Indian taste buds.

Another reason is that a couple of years ago, during the midst of my Masters degree exams, I often longed for some comforting food that would remind me of home and help recuperate after long hours of study. However, there were hardly any restaurants serving affordable and good quality North-Eastern food. That being the case, after the completion of my course, I and my team decided to come to the rescue of every North-Eastern student or working professional living in North Delhi.

Mashor Tenga Thali

SK: It’s been a few months since you started up. What has been your most significant learning?
TW: It is too soon to say what has been our most important learning, since we still have so much to learn going forward. All we know is that we have to grow organically and keep things interesting by constantly executing new ideas.

So far, we have learnt that it is a must to work towards building strong bonds with each and every one of our customers so they feel a more personal connection with the brand. In this highly digital world, we strive to establish a sense of real human relationships by emanating it through our food and brand personality.

Mangal Ooti Thali

SK: How did you prepare for Chaminnasi as in any special education, courses etc.?
TW: I feel I have been preparing for Chaminnasi since I was quite young. I learnt how to cook at nine and had experimented with cooking different and complex cuisines before I was 15. Since my days in school, I have always turned to cooking in my free time and nothing gives me more happiness than being able to turn cooking into my profession and improve each day.

SK: Who set up Chaminnasi? Did you do everything yourself or did you hire consultants for the different jobs involved?
TW: Chaminnasi was set up by me. Regarding the work involved, I and our core team handle the culinary and the business aspects on our own. But to get here we have consulted several business and restaurant consultants.

Pork Fermented Soya Bean

SK: How have your patrons responded to your venture and food?
TW: We have garnered a very positive response from our patrons regarding the quality of our food, the quantity served, the packaging used and our customer and delivery service. It is highly encouraging and keeps us constantly motivated to do better each day.

SK: Where did your recipes come from? Did you develop them for Chaminnasi or were they sourced from family and friends?
TW: Our recipes came together through multiple sources. First and foremost, it was procured through our travels and understanding of local cuisines in several parts of the North-Eastern states. Many of the recipes are age old shared by professional cooks and elderly experts from North-Eastern cities and villages both. And lastly, our friends and family have also helped guide us in creating Chaminnasi’s menu.

Mashor Tenga

SK: Who are your customers, largely – students, working professionals or families? Further, are they from all over or mostly from north eastern states?
TW: Right now, our customers are predominantly North-Eastern students and working professionals living in North Delhi.

SK: What are the challenges you’re facing and how are you working your way through it all?
TW: Our main challenge is with hiring and training a team of people who can understand and execute our vision. We are constantly on the lookout for people who would be suitable to work with us.

Trishna and team

SK: What are your future plans? Chaminnasi or more? Franchises perhaps? More outlets? What are you planning?
TW: Currently, we are aiming at expanding our menu and hope to inculcate more cultures into our cuisine in the future. We are also hoping to branch out by opening new outlets in relevant parts of the city and the country.

Sid Khullar in conversation with Trishna Wahengbam of Chaminnasi.

Sid Khullar

Sid Khullar is the founder of Chef at Large, a blog that began in 2007. He enjoys cooking, writing, travelling and technology in addition to being a practising Freemason. Health and wellness is a particularly passionate focus. Sid prefers the company of food and animals to most humans, and can be reached at [email protected]