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Meals on desk: Office lunches can now be ordered via a ‘virtual cafeteria’

Meals on desk: Office lunches can now be ordered via a ‘virtual cafeteria’

Lunchtime at work can make you hangry. The long queues at the cafeteria compounded by not knowing what’s on the menu can be stressful. Imagine if someone was to tell you not only what was on the menu but also help you eat balanced meal based on calories, nutrition as well as avoiding things one is allergic to. Not just that, after the order is placed, the delivery is closely monitored so that, finally all one needs to do is to pick up their specified meal (at the cafeteria) when it’s ready.

Meet El Chef, a new app recently launched by Elior India, a pure play food services company that caters meals to workplaces. The app, which does all of the above, also helps an employee create his favourite menu and plan meals based on their specific needs. “With El Chef, the divide between technology and food has disappeared,” said Sanjay Kumar, CEO and MD of Elior India.

In operation since 2017, Elior India has made two major acquisitions, MegaBite Food Services and CRCL. It is currently serving 2,00,000 meals every day to clients across India. Kumar takes pride in a pilot project when they had catered to the employees of Zomato, the restaurant aggregator and food delivery service. Currently, they are number 3 in contract catering in the country with being their only competitor here. The company talks of technology as being the ‘differentiator’ and the plunge into the app as a “huge leap of faith”. “Technology will not only help employees select a positive food-print plan but will help us in how we sell, produce meals based on palate and reduce food wastage,” Kumar said. 

However, he stops short of calling the seven central kitchens that Elior has in cities like Bengaluru, Mumbai, New Delhi, Amravati, and Chennai as ‘cloud’ kitchens. “Cloud kitchens are production facilities which can be leased out to anyone to cook food,” he specified. “The biggest concern I have is that there are no regulations around it or safety audits.” Incidentally, Uber’s cofounder Travis Kalanick is gearing up for a foray into cloud kitchens in India. Kumar dismissed these digital-only kitchens as “back alley kitchens” where there is no transparency on the hygiene or safety conditions. “Our kitchens have stringent quality standards and Bengaluru leads other cities in their advocacy of safety for food.”

The city also leads in terms of the attitude towards food itself. Prabhakar Rao, managing partner, culinary development, oversees the functioning of two industrial kitchens in Marathahalli and Hennur. Each weekday, 250 chefs prepare 4,000 meals with 20 senior chefs tweaking the menu according to the palette of the employees based on the feedback they get through the app.

So, what’s corporate Bengaluru eating? “Exotic salads,” he replied. “The city has a global palette in salads and the salad bars here usually have cherry tomatoes, lettuce, zucchini, baby corn, red radish and select vegetables as well as feta cheese which is getting popular.” But thanks to feedback, he has added one more item – Caper flowers. Pickled onions is another favourite.” Besides salads, the other perennial included in their catered meals is curd rice. “No matter what, be it a `100 meal or the `674 one which is our highest priced option, curd rice is always included.” To create renewed interest and demand for staples like millets, Rao has included limited quantity of local favourites such as ragi mudde, ragi roti with gassi and millet upma. “By including these items in a ‘first come first serve’ manner, we are creating a demand for them.”

David Edward Raj, head of the Global Culinary Programme, talks of vegetarianism getting popular here. “Vegetarianism is coming back now as Bengalureans are realising the benefits. There are some exciting explorations happening in the city,” he said, adding that as a Bengalurean he is always curious about the gourmet scene here. 

At a workshop in Paris a few weeks ago, he created an exclusive menu built around vegetarian protein. From moong dal blinis topped with tofu, black lentils accompanied with butternut squash tikka and Indian breads to brown rice vegetable biryani and Greek moussaka with edamame beans, sweet potato and aubergine; the group of international chefs was impressed by the diversity. What also impressed them was the millets in the menu. 

“Today, the two main concerns that people have in terms of the food they eat are: if it is healthy, and if it impacts the environment negatively,” said Philippe Guillemot, CEO, Elior Group. Bengaluru, it seems, has ticked off the boxes and is a trendsetter in the country. And Elior’s two kitchens here are working 24X7 to cater to the employees, many from Fortune 500 companies. “There is always work to do,” Rao said.

Published in: Bangalore Mirror Bureau

Meals on desk: Office lunches can now be ordered via a ‘virtual cafeteria’