How many of you remember your first day in the kitchen ? And several attempts at trying cold coffee to a burnt toast to cutting your fingers while chopping to losing the count of pressure cooker whistles. And then the exclamations that followed every time you were in the kitchen - the ‘oh my Gods’ and ‘oh NO’ followed by ‘Mummy HELP please?’ to “ordering food from outside, because experiment was not exactly a ‘super success’’. 

Oh some of you were smarter & richer than me… in your younger days, you went to learn cooking classes or bought a Tarla Dalal recipe book to figure out the art & science of cooking. But most times your cakes didn’t rise, and you invariably would have burnt the daal.

My first day in the kitchen unfortunately was not with my mom but with my Late Mother in law. I know what you are thinking… no my cooking has nothing to do with her not being alive. But though I sometimes can’t stop wondering how she would have felt had she seen me doing Meghna’s Food Magic on YouTube. Ladies & Gentleman, my first day in the kitchen, I almost blew up the entire kitchen simply because I didn’t know you have to put water of the quantity of rice. Pressure cooker did blast and the daal & rice is still stuck on the ceiling as we speak.. they just left it as a reminder - a taana from saans baht saga. But ‘daagh acche hai’ :)

Why am I saying this… what has this got to do with today’s theme ! well actually NOTHING. I was just making sure that you don’t figure out how nervous I am in the presence of such big names around me.

Let’s switch the gears… and let me take you to my experiences of working in the professional kitchens.  Coming from a banking background, working for likes of  Mr. Uday Kotak & few other seniors in ICICI Lombard, the kind of highly organised world, life that worked with clock-ticking precision, I landed up in bakery kitchens & college teachers where it was totally opposite… I realised there were NO RULES. Can you imagine how scary all that is when you suddenly ask yourself will I really eat this food if I’m on the customer consuming this food?

How sure are you that when you’re ordering an eggless cake, you’re indeed getting one?
When someone says this is a brown bread, is it indeed a wheat bread or just a bread with brown color?
The vegetables that we are told are fresh, are they really fresh?
How beautifully food/ cake shops showcase the food items in show windows, do they really cook with the same love & care?
Do they wash their hands ? Are they using the used oil again for frying? Is the kitchen really clean? 
Unfortunately, I have seen with my very own eyes that came to conclusion that in general a lot of people don’t like to follow rules.

So who to blame? Government? The Owners ? The staff?…. Actually, all of us. The concept of cleanliness, accountability & ownership is something we read about, we talk about but do we really implement it . And I’ll prove it to you. Let me give you an example - Where I live, the society has a pretty decent gym. It’s used by the society members. Every morning when I go to gym, I should feel wonderful seeing people working hard, sweating it out to rhythm of Loud Music… Right? Wrong.. and why? There are rules in the gym - carry your own towel - clean the equipment after use - keep separate shoes for gym - and yet by the time I get out of the gym, i end up arguing / at times fighting with people cause I see sweat drops everywhere… people not cleaning the equipments.. they come in wearing shoes from outside…  Same things happen in the kitchens. The CHALTA HAI attitude bus chalta rehta hai.

Another experience I’d like to narrate to you.. just recently I was travelling internationally by Air India, as expected 90-95% of travellers were Indians. The aircraft looked neat & clean when I boarded. By the time I got off the plane.. there were food pieces lying all over the walking space.. bathrooms stinking, wet & dirty. Throughout the flight a group of people laughing, no mouth or body odour hygine. Same things happen at theatres, malls, public places & even in our kitchens. Friends, the Swachta Abhiyaan begins with you & me.

How many of you clean your refrigerators every month? 
When you store food in your kitchen, do you write the date when you had put it into a container?
Is your pest control really effective?
How frequently do you clean your kitchen cabinets in & out ?
Do you wash your chopping board even before using it? & It’s the house of germs if not cleaned in hot water after using it. 
Not using hot water for cleaning of vessels leaves the sticky food particles behind, did you know that?

Does all this take an effort? Yes it does. 
Is it important? Yes it is.
Are you lazy ? May be…. 

Let me tell you a story of the year 1999, I have an aunt in Ahmedabad, who loves to cook dietary food & experiment with all kind of stuff. But then she has a habit of storing food. So back in 1999, when I first took my ‘to be’ husband to meet her, she offered him an ice-cream, the poor guy finished the entire scoop. After having it, she broke the news that it was 4 years old ice-cream stored in freezer. The nice man that he is, he just smiled and asked for another scoop. Well, as expected the guy fell sick with viral fever for the next couple of days… Why I am sharing this example, is because I have seen food kept, stored years & years in the kitchens without any mention of dates.

Ok moving on from food safety to digital marketing, I was asked to talk about Digital space where I come from & share some trends / observations.

There are thousands of channels showing lakhs of recipes & millions of hits… 
there are big names who have been around …
small names who became bigger than the big names…
Then there are big names who couldn’t make it big… 
& then there are small names who are struggling to make it big..
& there is Meghna’s Food Magic - that’s ME -  somewhere in between all of these :)

Unlike restaurants & tv channels that compete with each others, we work  like a community. We don’t criticise one another. We feel good when someone’s recipe video becomes popular. In fact, we look forward to seeing each others’ work & even at times appreciate or collaborate too. And believe me, YouTube / Social media algorithms are so brilliant that they keep suggesting you to watch some or the other video of your interest. And that’s how you organically spread, apart from the regular hashtags & search engine optimisation tools that all of us use. 

Let me ask you a question, please raise your hands. How many of you watch TV ? Ok now, those who watch  or listen to other entertainment options more than 50% of the time, please raise your hands… ok now those who watch youtube & these other entertainment  options for 75% of time, please raise hands. As you see…fewer and fewer people actually watch TV nowadays.. Ok there are some programs that all of us are loyal to.. but hand on heart, TV is losing the audience to digital content.

Ok another question, how many of you prefer Ghar Ka Khana ? 
Ok how many of you would wish you had a variety of food every day in your tiffin or at dinner table made at home?
Then please make an effort… even the restaurant owners don’t eat their own food daily, they get Ghar ka Khana only. 

And I’m not going into healthy food debate here, but when cooked at home, we know the ingredients. A friend of mine kept trying to reduce weight by gymming daily but no visible impact in his weight; and I kept telling him that something’s not right with his food at home. One day his maid ran away, and he watched few of my recipes & tried cooking himself, he called me a few times to get through some technicalities… And in a weeks’ time he lost 2 kg. And he realised that Ghar ka Khana is only going to make sense if it’s made sensibly, with control on ingredients.

Friends,  In 10 years from now, you are not going to find or be able to afford maids, they would have watched YouTube food programs & practiced  recipes & would now set them free to go & do more honourable jobs than serving you at home. My last 4 helpers have moved on with their careers in cooking instead of working domestically.

Believe me this is not just a trend in Metro but is visible to Tier 2.. Tier 3 cities…as well. People are curious, hungry to learn, want to advance in their lives.. want to impress someone with their knowledge.. want to make career choices, want to solve their problems… they are all searching for content. Kitchen tips, Recipe ideas… Men are coming out of their shells and trying their hand at cooking, My 50% subscribers are men.. and I agree some of them are just watching a pretty girl just like watching Nigella Lawson or Giada… but a lot of guys are actually eager to crack the kitchen code, and it is becoming clear to me with the kind of queries they are asking.

“Ma’am, how do i store Pasta over night?”
“Ma’am, should i use small onion or big onion when I make Paneer Masala?”
“Ma’am, I don’t have oven, how do I bake a cake?”
“Ma’am  what is the difference between cooking cream and whipped cream?”
“Ma’am I can’t find mascarpone cheese, what can I substitute with?”
“Ma’am can you please teach my family some of your dishes?”

My Dear Marketers, If you thought 9 pm was the prime time, wake up. The new prime time is 1 to 3 pm lunch time.. & 10 to 12 midnight when people are going through all kinds of content on social media. So many people I know actually follow cricket scores through tweets… People in the gym I see, are using YouTube content to follow exercise programs. I have taught my daughter math problems taking help of YouTube tutorials… So why should I watch TV when I get everything digitally. And still I see marketers spending Crores of Rupees on prime time slots.. whereas with 10% of that budget, we can help you reach your targeted demographics, geographies & interests. And if your product is not good enough, we will be the first one to tell you ‘SORRY’… but we can’t promote your product till you improve Quality.

Unlike restaurants that compete in real world, my digital world is very friendly; our competition is not with one another nor it is with TV channels. But our competition is actually with Netflix, Hotstar, Alt Balaji, Vimeo & dailymotion Saawn / Gaana radio & various other social media platforms where it is nearly difficult for us to be; and where our viewers are spending considerable time. 

So we are working harder, dishing out content at brisk pace. If you’re a smart marketer, don’t fall in the traps of # of followers & # of hits, it’s all about watch time, ask for Watch Time data from the YouTubers. India is going to witness millionaire YouTubers just like Western world. There will be a new hero every day.. all depending upon how simple yet effective content we create for the hungry viewers. We will invariably create videos that go viral every now and then.

Before I conclude my speech, I’d like to give homework to all sitting here -
A) If you’re not good at cooking but would like to do something special for someone special, instead of spending money on expensive restaurants, just bake a cake for someone special… and see how special you make them feel & how happy/de-stressed you feel. There is enough help available on YouTube… Read a lot of recipes.. watch several videos.. play the process in your mind… and now give it a try. Be mentally ready that first few attempts will fail. & go for it. First they may laugh at you but actually they appreciate you and then the rich dividends will follow.

B) If you’re already a cooking expert, take a break from the kitchen ask your loved one to bake a cake… and say you will help them in the process. Again first they may get shocked,  be surprised but then they will try it for you and again the rich dividends will follow.

I have so many teenage viewers who just want to bake a cake for their mom & dad. Husbands who are scared to enter the kitchen but want to make something for their wife. A young girl wanting to surprise her love interest by baking a red velvet cake.. Young boys  are thinking of taking cooking as a profession & starting food trucks of their own… Even the celebrity chef Gordan Ramsay’s daughter has a cooking show in case you’re not aware.

Oh and I have seen big chefs being beaten up by housewives on recipes, calling them names. So you can’t get away with mistakes, however big you are.

So I’m saying, Food is NOT a business.. It can be many things… 

it can be love.. care.. 
it can be cleanliness.. freshness.. 
it can be health.. life…
it can be recipes.. OR selfies… 
it can be romance & sometimes tragedy…

Friends, Food is NOT a business, FOOD is Magic… just as Meghna’s Food Magic ? :)