Banker to homemaker to YouTuber, meet the chef who cooks up “magic” for millions
How Banker-turned-star-baker Chef Meghna managed to draw two million followers, after recovering from a depression-laden career break
Chef Meghna Kamdar, with her petite, near-angelic frame, plonks herself on the flat clearing between her two sofas, in one swift manoeuvre. Her playfulness immediately puts everyone at ease. The impending shoot is just a normal Wednesday in Kamdar’s new life. She effortlessly shuttles from behind the camera, into the frame. But this transition in real life – from scraping the barrel looking for self-confidence and purpose during a prolonged career break, to becoming a social media influencer millions now adore, from being fat-shamed her entire life, to modelling for brands like the Westin and Tata – was anything but seamless; she only makes you feel that anyone can do it. This warm and fuzzy sense of reassurance – that reclamation and resurrection of one’s life is never not possible – which she provides just by being, is just one of the myriad things I find so endearing about this banker turned baker.
“In India, if you’re a woman in the corporate world, life changes post pregnancy…” she starts to narrate, as she trails off, slightly.
Before she acquired the prefix that became an extension of her very identity, Kamdar had been a desk-jockey in the banking sector for nearly a decade. Born into a family with a thriving business that soon went kaput, Kamdar stepped into the shoes of the provider early on, and started working when she was merely 18. “My younger sister was aspiring to study medicine, and I was average at academics, at best, so I decided to work to support her. I started out with something as torturous as getting credit card payment defaulters to cough up the money for banks,” she recounts.
A short stint working for a stockbroker as the receptionist followed, and eventually, she started working with Kotak Mahindra and ICICI Lombard Insurance in administration.
This sincere drive and even nobler intention made sure she escalated up the echelons in the banking space, albeit living for others’ dreams – and it became clear that it was an overarching theme in her story, for in 2001, her husband accepted a job in Mumbai and Kamdar moved with him. As she was scouring the market, Kotak made room for her again soon enough and she was back to doing what she had come to excel at. Before the ominous sounding career-break, she was frequenting the head office at Kotak, assisting the man himself in an administrative capacity.
In the year 2006, her daughter was born.
With a hint of wistfulness in her eyes, she continues, “My daughter was born with certain cardiac complications, so leaving her with a care-taker was not an option. In those days, the concept of crèches, flexi hours, child-care etc. hardly existed. I convinced myself that I’d been working for a decade non-stop, and it was okay to take perhaps a year off,” she continues.
This is when the process of alienation – from everything she had known about herself – began. In a relatively unknown city and leading a completely unfamiliar life, Kamdar found herself in the throes of depression as she spent days on end caring for a little baby all alone in an alien home. “Unlike many mothers, who have their parents or in-laws around, I was all alone in Mumbai, with a baby that followed one routine – cry, eat, sleep, play, eat, sleep. It was a scary time,” she says.
This issue plagues most mothers, and hides in plain sight as it is largely normalised, or worse yet, glorified. “I went through severe depression with all those sleepless nights, the post-pregnancy weight, dark circles, loneliness at home. At office, there was recognition, credit, and growth – a sense of belonging, a purpose, a sense of who I am. I was around friends and people. But being a mother is often a thankless job. It soon became clear to me that I had to fight my own battles and find my own road to normalcy too,” she says.
As her baby began taking her first steps, Kamdar took baby steps towards finding herself again, too. In fact, she stumbled upon her true purpose in the exact path she thought was setting her adrift. While trying to decipher quick, wholesome snacks for her baby, she realised that recipes were sparse and tutorials were sparser. So, she decided to take it upon herself to experiment and whip up snacks of her own, ingeniously, in spite of having s track record of being a catastrophe in the kitchen. “I also spent couple of years outside India and understood how staying healthy was a lifestyle not just a sporadic diet choice,” she says.
She decided to enrol into a cooking class to get her basics right – albeit with her baby in tow, as they didn’t have a support system in Mumbai just yet. “I enjoyed baking in particular so I needed to learn more. I would take my baby to class because there was no choice, so I’d sit in the back, feeding her and burping her while taking notes. I learnt basic to advanced baking courses including sugar fondant designer cakes, and started a Facebook page ‘Meghna’s Kitchen’ just to take cake orders,” she recounts.
And then, she says, two climateric things happened. “I was fat-shamed all my life, and after my delivery, it got worse as I had completely let myself go. But I decided to get my health and wellness back on track. And losing weight did a world of good to my confidence. If you’d ever talk to my school friends, parents or old neighbours, they would tell you that this ‘fatso’ would never have set foot in the kitchen. They still don’t believe it, till I send them my videos! But coming back – I had also saved enough by then to fund my professional education at Sophia College. What I needed was support from husband in terms of time to look after our daughter, her schooling & her food, while I was away,” she says.
Thus came the most crucial step – asking her husband to share the load. And he delivered magnanimously – by transitioning to a role that would allow him to work remotely more often. “We took the combined responsibility of raising our child at home – something very rare for Indian men to do,” she states.
Once she graduated, she began catering as well as teaching. She clocked a stint at a five-star hotel in Mumbai that she prefers not to name, but was soon disillusioned, as unethical food practises that were rampant in hotel-kitchens were something she wanted nothing to do with. So, she was on her own once again, plotting her next move. “Challenges for women entrepreneurs especially in their second innings after a career break, are the lack of self-confidence and growing insecurity that time is running out. We want instant success; but it doesn’t happen overnight. My oven taught me the best lesson – that no cake came comes out perfect the first time. And when you’re changing your profession, especially, you have to stop comparing your life to someone else’s life or your own past life,” she states.
Once she knew she could take a hammer to that ticking clock, she slowed down, and started seeking more gaps in the market. She noticed a few things amiss – that no cooking shows were targeted to men such that they completely broke down a recipe and made it palatable for even a complete noob. And secondly, existing Indian digital content on cooking wasn’t engaging or appealing enough. “I once found my father watching a cooking show just for fun, even though he’d never cooked a meal in his life. When I asked him what got him interested, he said he really enjoyed the way the chef and anchor conducted the show,” she recalls.
She hadn’t pegged herself as someone who ticked all those boxes – not yet, at least. But she knew she wanted to be that someone. Wielding wooden spoons as her mic and brandishing empty spice containers in front of a mirror, she parroted the lines of her idols Giada and Nigella Lawson over and over until she started not only enjoying watching herself perform, but the very process of performing.
This marked the evolution of Meghna’s Kitchen from a mere contact form to ‘Meghna’s Food Magic,’ the den of an internet influencer in the making. She started uploading ready-to-eat tutorials on a weekly, sometimes bi-weekly basis, and the numbers began to trickle in.
“My hack was to present seemingly complex dishes in the simplest manner, and most importantly, make dishes from international cuisines using local counterparts and easily available ingredients, so that my content resonates even tier II and tier III residents,” she says, spilling the “rajma” on what sets her apart from the myriad content creators dotting the digital era.
The first ever recipe she uploaded – when she finally felt she was camera ready – was Veg Quesadillas, and the viewers lapped it up, literally and figuratively. Her approach to this was always entrepreneurial. She invested in building a gorgeous studio kitchen in her house, and produced every video with professionals. “I have one piece of advice for women in particular – invest in yourself. You may be imperfect, but you are still valid and you have it in you to grow. I hired external agencies to manage my social handle for the first three months, to hit 10,000 followers in six months,” she informs us.
Her videos tutorials came to illustrate dessert, street-food, baked dishes, etc. and she started building engagement by posting regular content that encouraged two-way conversation – like cooking hacks, quotes, quizzes, the works –in order to keep her followers hooked. “Online, the most common way to monetise is through ad revenue, for which, you have to become an ‘influencer’ – this entails not only having followers but also actual engagement on your content, through comments, consistent views and shares. I do #MeghnasMagicTip, #MeghnaPedia, #MeghnaKaSawaal, etc. And although my focus area is food, I post about lifestyle, health, fitness, and even travel. Basically, you should aim to be a part of your followers’ everyday life,” she says,
After she realized that Google and Youtube were running ads on her videos due to their popularity, she was ready to look for avenues to monetise her channel, and soon found an investor who was willing to produce her future videos. “When you get good, don’t do anything for free,” she quips, adding, “Today, I charge a fee, not just because I want to become rich; but also to remind the world that women are worthy of investment and rewards. My clients – who are large brands- come to me because they know the value I bring to them – not just food industry but from entertainment, technology, capital goods & real estate as well,” she says.
Her website is now amongst the top 50,000 in India, and her SEO is so solid that something from her channel inevitably props up in the first 10-20 results of a Google search. In fact, Sanjeev Kapoor also acknowledged her work on Twitter last year.
With 1.5 million followers across all her channels, Meghna realizes that she is in a responsible position to do good for the world. “I want my legacy to be hundreds of innovative recipes that promote home-cooking and healthy cooking, and championing the idea that men and women must both learn cooking as an essential life-skill, rather than women having to learn it as a duty,” she says, signing off.