Hello Vinayak! How did you go from being an engineer to becoming the owner of a sustainable café? Can you tell our readers about yourself and your business?
Hi, I am Vinayak and I belong to Jaipur. I have done my schooling at St. Anselm school, Jaipur and engineering for NIT Silchar, Assam. I’m an engineer and a food explorer.
Opening a sustainable café was never a plan. Instinctively, I used to feel scared for the environment in my childhood, but never really did anything around it. I did have a childhood dream to become a pilot in the Airforce. However, I got to know I am colourblind in my tenth standard. With no focus in life anymore, I did engineering because probably everyone was doing it. Eventually, I realised my love for food & after years of exploration I opened up my food space based on that exploration. Opening the café was my one chance I wanted to give myself to live life for my happiness and not according to what society wants me to do. One of the major takeaways from my exploration has been taking inspiration from the past(sometimes considered primitive) knowledge of the world. So we have a wood-fired oven and a smokeless Chulha that works on the principle of full combustion. The craze for DIY, Indian Jugad system and Upcycling projects took me to various junk yards from where I got drums etc via which we made Barbeque, pots for plants etc. I found a lot of treasure in discarded items that people were more than happy to donate to us. This way an old school bench was converted into a bookshelf, old office chairs were purchased for the comfort they provided, discarded blue pottery tiles were put over our washbasin tables, notice boards were made from old discarded gates, old clothes were used to make cushion covers etc.
In terms of food, we love local ingredients and have a firm belief in creating dishes out of them. There is a reason mango comes in summer and Apple in winters after all. We discard a lot of things just because of psychological reasons. Our rebel hummus is a crowd puller and a lot of people are surprised to find that we use mustard oil instead of Olive oil.
While we try to do things that seem logical and something we want to implement in our lives, one day we realised that what we have created is a sustainable café. So in a way, it all happened by accident… but then there are no accidents in life :P.
What was your purpose in life and how did you develop an interest in food?
In my opinion, the purpose is a delusion. Strange right? Yes! In a way, there is no purpose to life, but in another way, life feels much calm with a purpose. Once I realised this, choosing a purpose became a fun thing for me as I could choose whatever purpose I want to have.
My college was in Assam, where they don’t serve chapati and I was not habitual of eating rice. They eat rice with curry where I used to think it can only be eaten with dal. To be honest I found it strange.
So in my 2nd year of engineering, I started working in a student mess where I used to manage the kitchen schedule, menu, managing the workers etc. That was the turning point in my life. For while all I wanted was to have some chapati for myself and everyone else(I did succeed in it BTW), For the first time in years I was doing something for which I felt so passionate!
What all happened after den to reach den in its present form?
In the beginning, I wanted to learn anything and everything around food. Starting from running the kitchen in a backpacker hostel in Goa to exploring the street food of Jaipur and taking people around in the form of food walks. I have lived in a sustainable community space by the name Ahimsagram where I learned the importance of local ingredients and how food is healthy and tasty at the same time if we know how to make it that way.
Then I started working in a small café and after that in a big vegan café in McLeodGanj, Himachal.
One of the major life-changing food exploration journeys for me was probably my 2000km long cycling trip around Rajasthan where I realised that it is not about recipes but more about ingredients. In alternate communities, I have lived with tribal people, un-schooler societies worked in a corporate house and have made food videos. After this roller coaster ride, I started my own café “Den ”.
Today, Den is quite an interesting place, a lot happens here. It’s more of a food space where people come and chill in their way, interact with new people, play games/music, enjoy the food. It’s a community food space. Den is a family and home of Hungryhitchhiker. We also try to promote sustainable food startups/people at the den.
What kind of support are you getting from this community for your business?
People are supportive, I’m not the only one who is running Den, it’s a family and people are playing their roles in whatever way they are good at. This girl is good with paintings and she wants to paint by herself. Anmol owns a café himself but he wants to give Den his one month because he likes the energy of the place. So many plants have been donated at the den.
Sometimes people come for the first time to the den and help me by helping me shift my refrigerator etc. When I had nothing, I got support from a lot of people. I remember when I started Den, people from Jaipur Creative Commune, Sahitya Project and Aawaj Studio came forward to help by organizing events in Den so that people could get to know this place. While being rented, the landlord is not taking a single penny from me in the current scenario, so the level of support I’m getting from people is unbelievable.
What is the perfect meal for you?
There’s no perfect meal for me. Even my favourite dish and meal depends on the time, place, vibe and mood. Your emotions affect the value of the food. The intention of the cook is transferred to the food. For me perfect meal also depends on if I am eating food with my close ones or eating alone if I am actually hungry that time or just feel like eating as an addition for munching,
Do you think Indian cuisine is healthier than international cuisine?
No doubt Indian cuisine is the most diverse and difficult cuisine but each cuisine be it Indian, Italian or German is made with “Survival of fittest” purpose. So, in my opinion, every cuisine is good and healthy for that particular place and region.
Where do you see yourself going from here basically what’s your ultimate goal in life?
When I started this journey, my ultimate goal was to find happiness. I haven’t felt successful in my life but now Den gives me this glimpse of success. Feeling successful makes me feel happy. While earlier all I wanted was Den, now when it is finally here maybe I will look for some other thing. Since last some time, I feel that I want to earn money now, which is one thing I never had… my own hard-earned money… Maybe that will make me feel happy next. Let’s see what will make me happy once I achieve that. Once I achieve that, another chapter of my life might start because it is about a journey and not a destination :).