Cooking is certainly an art and given all the creativity that goes into the process, a chef is no less than an artist. A rather unconventional profession, it deserves recognition for the efforts and finesse it requires. Considering that, Masterclass Pakistan organised the first Culinary Awards on International Chefs Day this year, which was, October 20, 2021, to acknowledge chefs representing eateries across Karachi. One of the chefs to pick up the winning trophy is Mrs Khatija Shabbir, Head Chef at Spicogetti. An online eatery delivering food across Karachi, Spicogetti was honoured with the title of ‘Fastest Growing Online Eatery’ at the Annual Culinary Awards 2021.
You! Magazine reached out to Mrs Khatija Shabbir to know about her journey with cooking, venturing into the food business and how she brought it to life.
You! When was the first time you got into the kitchen?
Khatija Shabbir: I was not very much into cooking until my mother asked me to assist her in the kitchen when I was in class 8. I used to prep meals with her or help her with cutting, chopping etc.
You! Who taught you cooking? Have you done any professional courses?
KS: Once I developed an interest in cooking, I went to an institute named Gul-e-Rana where I learnt how to make biryani, chicken tikka, mutton chops, ice Cream, jalebi and a few other things. Over the years, I learnt basic cooking from my mother but when it came to trying out new dishes, I would ask people around who specialised in it. I had a keen interest in baking and I used to bake cakes on my friends’ birthdays. After I got married, I kept up with my experimentation and trying out diverse cuisines as my husband (late) was a big foodie.
You! When did you start your own food venture?
KS: We initiated Spicogetti in December 2015 and it has been 6 years since then. My husband passed away in March 2015 and my kids kept asking me to do something for myself. I have always been a working woman who tried her hands at various fields of work including teaching, stitching, dubbing, etc. But I wasn’t working at the time when my husband passed away. A few months later, I made Khausey that is a popular dish in my community since I am a Memon. And my son asked if we should start selling it, to which my response was, “Why not?”
You! What kind of problems you faced when you first started your business?
KS: We started from home. I used to buy the ingredients, prepare the meal, take orders as well as package it myself before delivering it. Some of the challenges we faced in that period include maintaining the taste in every box, making sure every ingredient is fresh and hygienic, and assuring compact and timely delivery to customers. That required trusting the riders and it was difficult to sustain them at that point due to a very small number of orders per day.
You! Tell us about the recent award you have received?
KS: I am grateful for the honour and recognition; feels like my years-long hard work paid off in the form of this award. It is a moment of pride to have brought our baby, Spicogetti, where it is today as we now deliver to most parts of Karachi six days a week.
You! Yours is a success story, how many people are now working under you?
KS: Speaking of my cooking team, I have four people who assist me in the kitchen throughout the cooking process. Meanwhile, we have a separate team of riders and the rest of management team.
You! How would you define your cooking style?
KS: Prior to turning it into a business, I used to tweak the recipes every time I made something. However, to maintain the taste now, I stick to the standard recipe that we’ve created after a whole process of trial and error. My cooking style now is very quick and simultaneous as I prepare for it in advance and supervise the cooking process while it is being finished.
You! What do you like most about your job?
KS: I love how I have to be on toes all the time since I don’t like to sit idle. Keeping an eye on each and everything from the beginning till the end is something that I thoroughly enjoy. To top it off, a satisfied customer and their positive feedback is the best thing to come my way.
You! An ingredient you can’t live without?
You! What’s your signature dish?
KS: My signature dish is Memoni Khausey.
You! Are you thinking of adding more dishes in your menu?
KS: We started off with Khausey but later added (over the years) Singaporean Rice, Chicken Chowmein, Creamy Pasta and Chic ‘n’ Cheese Spaghetti, in addition to a dessert called Malpura which is more of a desi pancake. For now, we have five main items and a dessert on our menu but we certainly plan to expand it in the coming year.
You! Who is your favourite chef?
KS: Chef Zakir and Chef Mehboob.
You! What is your favourite Pakistani food?
KS: Aalu Gosht.
You! What is your advice to someone who is thinking of having their own food startup?
KS: I would encourage anyone who wants to initiate their own food business. However, I would advise them to be patient and consistent as results take time. So, hard work alone is not enough but passion is what takes you to newer heights.
You! What are your hobbies, spare time interests, what do you do to relax?
KS: My favourite hobby is watching local TV dramas. I enjoy watching them no matter how tired I am. I also like to cook for my children. I like to shop around, go out, meet my friends and use social media as and when I get time.
You! Do you think home-cooked chefs are the next big thing?
KS: Absolutely! The way technology is taking over and the surge we have seen in home-grown businesses amidst the pandemic, this is already going big. There is a major chunk of people, particularly the office going lot, who prefer home cooked food for their daily meals while those do not have time to cook also get monthly meals from their home-based chefs.
You! How do you keep balance between family life and work?
KS: As I mentioned that I have always been a working woman, I have been managing family and work since the day I got married. I have my priorities set and I make time accordingly. Before leaving for work and after coming back, I fulfil my responsibilities at home and with the family. My family’s support has been the key force behind making it all happen for me.
You! What’s next in your agenda?
KS: We definitely plan to expand with (a) more dishes on the menu; (b) multiplying operations within Karachi (c) an outlet sometime next year.