Ranveer Brar has crossed many milestones as a celebrity chef, but the recent addition to his multi-feathered cap was hitting the 1-millionth-follower count on Instagram. To mark the occasion, he launched a new project this week, in association with the National Association of Street Vendors of India (Nasvi) to help street-food sellers across the country safely restart their business in a post-pandemic world.
Brar says he plans to celebrate each such landmark by taking up a new cause—one that involves giving back to society. Mint spoke to him about the latest #MakingMillionCount initiative. Edited highlights from a phone conversation:
On social media
“I got to focus more closely on content posted on social media during the covid-19 pandemic, especially the lockdown,” Brar says. “I have been wondering what kind of content works on these platforms and why. Is there a reason why certain types of posts were getting more traction during the lockdown?” Keeping an eye on social media has also helped him get a better sense of people’s eating habits—which opens up fresh insights into larger trends and cultural realities.
On street food
“I felt people were genuinely missing street food during the lockdown than restaurant food,” Brar says. Many users, he noticed, were looking for recipes for their favourite street foods so that they could make those at home. And, as with almost any popular cuisine, the love for street food is not merely about the food itself—rather, it ties people to their neighbourhood vendors, the didis and bhaiyas with whom they have forged bonds over the years.
“It was thus that I started wondering what I could do for street-food sellers, who don’t have deep coffers to sustain themselves during these lean months,” Brar says. “They are sitting at home, or have gone back to their villages, during the pandemic, without work and livelihoods.” So he decided to work with Nasvi to help them out.
It would have been the easiest, and most obvious, option to extend monetary aid. But Brar decided to go a step further. He decided to conduct online training workshops for street-food vendors to show them the best practices of preparing food safely during a pandemic. The idea is to not only to provide these vendors with the equipment they need—gloves, sanitizers, hygiene kits—to restart their businesses, but also to give them the skillset to run their ventures healthily and safely.
“Nasvi is a livelihood advocacy organization that works with more than 1,000,000 street vendors through street vendor organizations and leaders,” said Arbind Singh, national coordinator of the organization, in a release. Nasvi has a tie-up with Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI). Hence, on successful completion of the training modules organized by Brar, participants would be certified by FSSAI, giving a boost to their businesses.
The story so far
Brar, a Lucknow boy, has a long connection with the street food culture the city is famous for. “When you are young, you crave street food. It is only much later that you learn to appreciate home cooking,” he says. “Street food is close to my heart for the legacies, charm and stories associated with it.”
A self-described “believer in conversations”, Brar says conversations are even more powerful than the product itself—only stories can keep traditions alive. He has no qualms about the appropriation of street food into fine dining—as long as it is done thoughtfully. “In the end, the storytelling is more important than what comes on the plate,” he reiterates.
As for personal favourites, Brar is partial to Varanasi for its chaats and kachoris, Lucknow for the kebabs and a host of non-vegetarian dishes, Hyderabad for its shehri food (eaten during Ramazan), and Old Delhi for its iftari specialties.