A Spotlight on Ambika Seth – The Secret Recipe Behind the Success of Brand CAARA

A Spotlight on Ambika Seth – The Secret Recipe Behind the Success of Brand CAARA

Words by Srishti Jindal

We devour anything that comes out of the kitchen of Brand CAARA. The company runs three restaurants, a catering service and a cookery school. TnH caught up with Ambika Seth, the talented and diligent food entrepreneur who owns the brand along with her partner Alice Helme, to discuss the making of CAARA, and her plans for scaling it as a platform to train Indian chefs in the culinary arts.

Describe your path to what you’re doing now.  After graduating from EHL, I was hell-bent to work for a company called Six Senses. I heard its owner of that time (Sonu Shivdasani) speaking in my college multiple times and was blown away with their sustainability approach to hospitality and for creating a company culture I am yet to see so beautifully in any other organization. I waited for almost six months until I got a job with them to be part of the pre-opening team for their resort in Vietnam’s Con Dao. The job was of a project manager, which basically entailed everything from being an assistant of the GM to procurement to being privy to all progress and budget-related meeting with the owners etc. And how could I have said no? It was Six Senses and Vietnam. I went on to complete the project with them and successfully opened the resort. It entailed me living between Bangkok (where Six Senses had their head office), Ho Chi Minh City and the island of Con Dao where I lived for four months out of local Vietnamese hotel (the only one on the island at the time).

Every bit of that experience was unbelievable! I learnt the A to Z of how to open a resort from construction to fit-out to marketing to procurement. I went on to work for the owning company (Indo China Capital) where I was part of their hospitality team to manage seven leisure assets from hotels to luxury service apartments and golf courses across Vietnam and therefore also got to see so much more of this amazing country.
Having been away from India for so many years, I was very keen to come back home and do something in my own small way for my country. When I moved back to Delhi, I started to search for land in the outskirts of the city to start my own volunteer tourism-based resort – a dream I still have. And in the process, I met with the farmers in the local area. This interaction got me curious about where our food comes from and about the plight of our farmers in India. I went on to create a brand called Farm Love where I would work with local farmers in Haryana to grow chemical-free veggies, give them double the rate they were getting from the market, cutting the many middlemen and supplying the produces to hotels, restaurants and homes across Delhi-NCR. It was during this time when I met my partner Alice who was doing her own catering (called Damson) in Delhi. We both had so much in common- the love for F&B and great ingredients because these are really the key to great food. It was this common passion that led us to join hands and start CAARA.
CAARA started as a catering company and today after six years, it runs numerous verticals: catering, home delivery (easy dining), CAARA cookery school, the chef’s kitchen, cafes and restaurants.

Was there an ‘Aha!’ moment when you realized that you wanted to get into the food business?
Not really!! It was quite the opposite actually. When the whole discussion about college started in grade 11, I was convinced that I wanted to go to America, just as my sisters had gone there. I wanted to have the experience they had which seemed to be so amazing. It was only my parents who said that knowing the kind of person I am hospitality maybe a career path I should look at and that the best school in the world was just an hour away from Geneva (Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne). My first reaction was that there was no way I was going to stay in Switzerland any longer. As beautiful as it is, as a teenager it can get a wee bit boring! Nonetheless, my parents convinced me to apply for and I thank my lucky stars that I got accepted and it was history from there onwards. When I set foot at EHL, I knew this was the best decision of my life and it was!

What does a typical day look like for you?
Given that I run a catering company also, often there are weeks I work without any time off as events happen during the weekend as well and 9 out of the 10 times I still go to do a round to check everything before the event kicks off. So the one thing I do for myself is not to miss my one-hour of exercise from 8 to 9 AM, which is a super fun aerobics class I do every day! Post the class, the dash starts- getting home, seeing my son for half an hour before I get dressed and drop him to school. Rushing for work- it’s a blessing if I ever manage to make it to the office otherwise most days I’m on the road either for meetings or for visiting the four cafés we have or attending a catering event. It’s 8 PM before I know it and I try to get home at some decent hour, as it’s the only time I spend with my son. When I’m at home, I try to leave my work behind so I can have time with the family. My husband Rahul is also in the same industry so it is a rule at home that unless it’s some kind of emergency, we don’t talk about our work at home, as more often than not, we are dealing with the same issues. The day is packed, hectic and at the same time rewarding, and I am often dealing with a thousand emotions from managing the team (one of my biggest jobs) to our client’s expectations. At times it gets overwhelming but then when you successfully pull something off; it makes it all worth it.

Any successful business requires a great team. How did you build yours?
This is true. It has taken a long time. When we started we were four employees, and today we have a strength of 80 and growing with the grace of God. We have had many people coming and going both from India and abroad, some I still miss hugely because they were such an integral part of CAARA’s growth. But when the team was small, if I ever got a resignation, my heart used to miss a beat; I felt it was my fault for letting them down and the reason for their resignation but more than that, it was the fear of ‘how will we keep going on without that person.’ As we grew, as I became wiser and definitely not as sensitive, I realized that even though the team is the backbone of everything, no one is indispensable and therefore I should let the fear go and do whatever I can to make them happy and comfortable. Today, I have a relationship with each and every person who works for us, from the stewards to the chefs to the drivers. I deeply care for each one of them and I make sure that whatever we can do for them, we do it well. We may not be a huge company that can give many additional benefits to them, but yes, simple things like paying salaries on time even if in that month we may have not met our target, doing social HR activities with them, rewarding those who have worked hard and well, promoting when necessary, paying yearly increments – all small things but surprisingly many companies fail to do so. I am proud that we do that and we do it well and fairly. And it is for this reason that our retention rate is high and we have had people with us for a long time. And those who move on, I let them go with my best wishes and happiest heart to bigger and better things knowing that CAARA played some role in their growth and success.

What do you think was the most important ingredient in your brand’s popularity and success?
Consistency in the product, checking and rechecking recipes before we roll them out and our unconditional perseverance to ensure that the ingredients we use are always top-notch, supporting both local artisans and suppliers, and also sourcing globally whenever required.

What do you want to explore or work on in the next few years that you’re not already doing?
I don’t think India has enough training facilities for someone who wants to get only into the culinary arts; not hospitality but the culinary arts. I want to be able to see many more Indian chefs recognized globally for their work; there is a lot of untapped skill here but sadly there exists the stigma of being a ‘chef’, a profession which is still not considered prestigious enough in a typical Indian home. It’s not comparable to a doctor, lawyer etc. Therefore, I want to be able to have a culinary school here to harness this talent and train the youth in this field to get recognized not only in India but globally as well, based on the education and experience, they will receive at CAARA, which incidentally stands for culinary arts and research academy.

Finally, what advice would you give to a young person just starting out?
Stop thinking about it and just start. You may do 5, 10 things before you actually figure out your calling but with each experience, you will learn more and if you don’t start for the first time, you will never know the incredible journey of being an entrepreneur.

You might also like

Destinations

Cairo Tourism Declaration Announced At “Planning for Growth – Egypt’s Tourism 2016” Event

International research reveals that 53% of tourists defined Egypt as a destination that will be a “must visit” or “next big thing” in the near future The Egyptian Ministry of

Slider

Explore 7 destinations across India at Rs 872 per day, train to leave Chandigarh next week

The train named ‘7 Jyotirlinga Yatra’, being launched by the Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) from June 18, will offer you a 12 days and 11 nights package

Latest

The Sanchaya Bintan Celebrates Remarkable First Year

Luxurious, award-winning property marks first-year anniversary with array of promotions The Sanchaya Bintan is greeting its first anniversary this month with a slate of promotions focused on wellness, romance and