Chef Meghna Kamdar is teaching her followers how to prepare Paneer Butter Masala in a video on her YouTube channel – Meghna’s Food Magic – and I notice something that is unheard of in the faceless demon that is the internet, especially on content created by and for women.
Zero dislikes on a video with over a hundred thousand views, and zero trolls littering the comments with unsolicited advice on how she must dress, talk or perhaps smile more. Instead, the comments section is brimming with positivity and support – complimenting her endearing style, the ingenious recipes, how easy she makes it all look, and most importantly, how eagerly they await her videos week after week.
So, we contacted this food (and internet) magician who has managed to find the secret sauce to building a truly invested, loving, and giving online community, and learnt that to follow her passion, she renounced a thriving career in banking and gave herself a complete makeover just so she could share her love for food with the world.
Banker to baker
Meghna was born into a prominent Ahmedabad family, but an unexpected loss in the business sparked a financial crisis when she was in college. “Even before I finished my B.Com, I took up a job at a collections agency where I had to follow up with delinquent credit card holders,” she says.
She then joined a share-broker as a receptionist for about six months. After as she graduated, she received an offer from Kotak Mahindra Finance to work in the administration department at a junior level, from which she moved to customer service with Kotak Mahindra Primus. She seemed to be on an impressive trajectory until her husband was transferred to Mumbai. She had to quit her job to move with him, but, fortunately, Kotak absorbed her again, albeit in the admin department.
“I was exposed to interesting job roles – while handling operations and admin, my work impressed the right people and I was soon assisting the chairman,” she recounts.
After a fruitful stint with Kotak, she was offered a job at ICICI Lombard which she accepted as it paid better. Moving up to middle-management, she worked until a day before she gave birth to her daughter in 2006.
Suddenly unemployed and single-handedly caring for an infant who was born with certain complications, Meghna found herself in unfamiliar territory and was rather overwhelmed by it all. “Most women in my situation – who have to quit their jobs and look after a child confined within four walls for long periods of time, slip into depression. That’s what happened to me, as well. I was questioning my worth, and desperately looking for a purpose,” she says.
Grasping at straws and looking for inspiration, she noticed that her motherly instincts cultivated in her an utter disregard for unhealthy food. “I was a lousy cook, someone who blew up the cooker while trying to make a simple pot of rice. But, I began to see that my child was making the same unhealthy food choices that I made in my childhood. The mother in me wanted to set an example,” she says.
With a purpose, she signed for small cooking classes in the neighbourhood, but because she had no family in town, and her husband had a hectic job, she would take her baby along with her to the classes, sit at the back, and scribble notes while feeding and burping the little one.
“For the past 20 years; I had lived for someone else’s dream. So it was time that I sought investment from my husband and family in ‘me’. I asked to be freed from regular responsibilities; to follow my dreams,” she says.
For starters, her husband shifted to a job that would allow him to work from home. Together, the duo shared parental responsibilities while Meghna continued to learn newer and more innovative cuisines and styles of cooking. Simultaneously, she would take catering orders for parties and events, and the constant positive feedback convinced her that she was onto something big. Finally, with her own savings and support from family, she pursued a course at Sophia College.
When she graduated, she was offered a job as a junior level chef at a Mumbai-based five-star hotel – but she was exposed to the dark underbelly of the restaurant business. Unethical mixing of ingredients, false presentation of something as egg-less and sugar-free, etc. were practices without any scruples, and Meghna immediately decided that she could not be party to it.
Where the “magic” began
She quit her job and once again decided to cater independently. In the interim, she would watch several cooking shows both Indian and international, and once found her father, who didn’t even cook in the house, thoroughly gripped. She asked him what he found interesting, and he informed her that it was the style and disposition of the chef that made the show fun to watch. “That’s how I got the idea of a make-over. People like Giada, Nigella Lawson are my inspirations,” she says.
“To make myself marketable, a course was not enough. It was also important to understand what people like to watch; how do you differentiate your work from others – so the marketing side of your work becomes an equally important aspect,” she says.
She simultaneously started a Facebook page, “Meghna’s Kitchen,” which was getting a reasonable response, but as the idea of Meghna’s Food Magic shaped up, they discontinued it and went aggressive on all the social media platforms – namely, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and more recently LinkedIn & Roposo.
“My plan was to make the recipes as simple as possible; keeping in mind availability and affordability of ingredients, as my followers come from not just Mumbai or Delhi but remote cities of India; who are constantly looking to learn fancy dishes to avoid spending in restaurants, and to eat healthy.”
Her first recipe video – Veg Quesadillas – was an instant hit. “Seventy percent of my viewers are under 30; many of them have never even made tea. They find my recipes doable, affordable and simple. I could see multiple advertisements played on my episodes by Google, so I knew that I was on the right path. Within six months, our follower base grew to more than 10,000. So, I ventured into more categories like desserts, street-food, baked dishes, etc. over the next two years, and to garner a million-strong follower-base across the platforms,” she states.
Her initial videos were self-funded, but they found an investor who agreed to produce her shoots for YouTube. She eventually designed her own studio where she could make “just about anything” she says.
While her website now ranks in the top 50,000 in India, her recipes have now started showing up among the top 10-20 search results. In fact, Sanjeev Kapoor also acknowledged her work on Twitter recently.
She says that in this field, actively mapping opportunities to monetise is crucial for survival.
“Firstly, one has to expect to wait two-three years to break even. The best way to monetise is through advertising. Marketers are always looking for influencers – if you have the personality, quality, powerful content and engaging viewers; they naturally reach out to you. So yes, after waiting patiently for one year, my phone has been ringing non-stop. Sometimes you see celebs having millions of followers – those are just numbers. What matters is the kind of engagement you generate. I do #MeghnasMagicTip, #MeghnaPedia, #MeghnaKaSawaal, etc. And although my focus area is food, I post about lifestyle, health, fitness, travel… bringing a smile to my followers faces once in a while. Basically, be regular, maintain quality and engage with viewers,” she says, signing off.