“I have never been a businessman” says Mr.CHEERAN VERGHESE with a candid smile. I had the absolute pleasure of meeting this gentleman last Friday at the FARMER’S MARKET he’d organized at his gourmet food, grocery and provisions outlet, GOURMET HOUSE. Surely enough I got lost trying to explain the route to the driver when he promptly turns around and asks me “Oh! Are you talking about gourmet house? I know where it is! I take lots of foreigners there for grocery shopping!”
Such is the popularity of this outlet that has attracted many an elite customer intent on purchasing branded and imported goods from the finest range available. “My wife and I have always been big foodies” says Mr.Cheeran. Before retirement, he was a financial consultant in Kuala Lampur and his work took him on a lot of travels. In fact, he has travelled and worked across more than 16 countries! “Whichever country we go to, we always try the local cuisine and end up quite liking the local flavours”
Incidentally, Mr.Cheeran retirement plans were set for the age on 50. 49 years and 9 months saw him back in India with his wife and that was when boredom started to gnaw at him. For such a highly enthusiastic and active person, retirement did not bode well. Within a span of 2 months, rock solid monotony set in. “I felt that time just did not move! I did everything I could to keep myself busy; from mowing the garden to cleaning cobwebs in the house!” he laughs “To anyone who plans on retiring, I would ask them to keep working and not to retire too early!”
Along the line, a friend from Delhi suggested that they get into the food industry. With much passion for food, this was but a stellar decision. And thus began Gourmet House. Gourmet House has its roots in Cochin, with its store in Thevara along with supply presence to major gourmet outlets in Bangalore and Chennai. Despite having his own supply and distribution chains that supply to stores across Kerala, Mr.Cheeran spends most time at the Gourmet House. I had noticed the way he made an effort to talk to every customer who attended the Farmer’s Market and visited his store. He believes 100% in customer interaction. Speaking to customers lends a personal touch to the entire process of shopping at Gourmet House and this has done well for him.
“We live in a brand driven market. Nowadays a 7 year old child would come up to the store and ask for a particular product by brand name. They have ten times the knowledge about brands than I did at their age, thanks to media, travel and availability.” Says Mr.Cheeran. Keeping up with the brand centric requirements, Gourmet House comes fully stocked with the best of the best brands. What sets them apart from other branded outlets would be their amazing collection cheeses, fine quality and range of steaks and cold cuts and a selection of delicate natural vinegars than run circles around their synthetic counterparts! Such is their selection that he has customers coming down all the way from Calicut to Trivandrum, Pala and Kanjirapalli.
“I lived in a generation that did not waste too much money on food. We were happy with the basics. But the current generation is extremely different. Keeping that in mind, the products I have stocked in Gourmet House are a calculated choice. I know what I am talking about.”
The Farmer’s Market is an idea that came into his mind 3 months ago. This is a venue for companies to brand, showcase and sample their products. Customers can try out the varieties of products on display and then buy them at Gourmet House. Only products with a presence in the store would be set up for display. The companies that set up stalls would be rotated every month, which means that in a span of 6 months, one can experience a plethora of products from different brands. Gourment House bears the advertising and set up cost for the whole affair. The 2nd Friday of every month is dedicated to Farmer’s Markets. The one coming up next month concentrates on Diabetes. All products on display would relate to Diabetes and Diabetics. “Doctors say that one in three Keralites are prone to Diabetes. Most people are on the verge of being Diabetic and many don’t even know that they are!” They have even tied up with a Hospital for Diabetes, an Insurance company with specific plans for diabetics and also a health and fitness centre with exclusive packages for diabetics.
I explore the Farmer’s market, intrigued by the variety of products on display. A display of brightly coloured jars on my left caught my eye. An old brand name from my childhood popped up. MR.BUTLERS! I don’t think I have ever forgotten their catchy jingle “The fizz you can never miss”. Mr.Butler’s has a wide range of fruit based products now; from james, squashes and sauces to crushes, sharbats and canned pulp. The product range on display was their CLASSIC RANGE OF JAMS: Banana jam, guava jelly, pineapple jam and orange marmalade. With no added preservatives, flavour or colour, their best seller is their banana jam. It is tedious, the preparation, but the end result is all worth it. I loved their orange marmalade the best! It tasted fantastic and reminded me so much of my craze biscuit days!
On display were a range of gift packs and individual shakers of NICE:NATURAL SPICES. Precious and fragrant, they are also available for sale on their website. With the major intent of giving the world a taste of Kerala, the spices are available in attractive screw pin and wooden boxes. The owner turned out to be a friend from school and a happy reunion took place!
I noticed a familiar set up next to the spices table. Good ol’ LISO CHOCOLATES! I was happy to meet Mr.Royson once again and he started his hello by handing me samples of their delectable variety of confectionary! “Let me start with your favourite” he said and handed me the milk chocolate coated coffee beans. Anyone who visits their store in Centre Square Mall, simply has to try this out! Mind blowing! This was followed up with an Dark chocolate and Orange. I can’t tell you how big a fan I am of this combination and this one totally hit the spot! The final tasting was for the almond enrobed in milk chocolate. Such a perfect balance of sweet and nuttiness!
In thorough contrast, the next counter held a selection of LINGHAM SAUCES. A rainbow of reds in a kaleidoscope of tastes lay on paper plates before me. Fries were grabbed and each sauce tasted. Right from original, ginger, garlic to their signature hot sauce, ginger-garlic and sweet chilli; each sauce had such a unique personality, I could almost give names to each one of them! My favourite of the lot was their Ginger-Garlic sauce or GG as I affectionately like to call him! Definitely a staple in your condiment cabinet!
To cool down my searing tongue, right at the next counter was the set up for CAVIN’S FRUIT MILKSHAKES in Mango and Guava. The USP here being that the shakes were made using milk, fruit and honey with no added sugar or preservatives. I tried the mango milkshake and I must say that it did not have the saccharine numbness most packaged “milkshakes” have. It tasted mild and would have been even tastier chilled.
I see a beautifully set up EASTERN stall displaying their READY TO EAT range of products. Butter chicken and Shahi Paneer Masala were the two products up for grabs. The Butter chicken was soft and had a thick gravy though it did ring a little too much of star anise and clove. It kind of over powered the chicken and the rest of the spices in the gravy. But that paneer! Oh my god! It was delicious! The paneer was unbelievably soft and that gravy was all kinds of yum! I just wished I had some chapathi to mop it all up!
I was given a bar of PEACE CHOCS to try. This is a brand extension by TOHFAA GIFTING, a corporate gifting company. A rich cocoa bar that has the cutest messages printed on the cover. With 7 different wishes and emoticons, this bar comes in at Rs.100 for 80 gms and Rs.20 for 15 gms. I really liked the packaging. It was brightly coloured and eye catching! I preferred the taste of the chocolate after it was refrigerated for a bit. But on the whole it made a cute gifting item.
There were two frozen food brands set up. REPUBLIC OF CHICKEN and BUFFET. I tried the chicken cheese balls from Republic of Chicken and I was lucky to have my pick from the fresh batch they had made. It was crunchy and delicious with a promising ooze of cheese. I would definitely buy this for a cocktail party at home! I had some freshly prepared Chicken Malai Tikka from Buffet. This was a ready to eat product that just needs a few minutes in the oven after thawing. Expecting rock hard chicken, I bit into the tikka only to be pleasantly surprised by how soft it was! Masala was also spread on in generous portions but it just needed a couple more minutes in the oven just to completely remove the raw flavour from the masala.
A large table had a three product set up of B-NATURAL, ASHIRVAAD: SUGAR RELEASE CONTROL atta and SUNFEAST: FARMLITE DIGESTIVE BISCUITS. I was offered a taste of the APPLE AWE juice from B natural and it tasted fantastic with no horrid aftertaste! It was just the right amount of sweet and hit all the checks in my book! The Ashirvaad sugar release control atta is aimed at diabetics. Their star ingredient is the humble “uluva” or Fenugreek/ methi seeds. Recent studies have shown that uluva helps lower blood cholesterol levels and may be an effective treatment for both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. Sticking with health as the main agenda, Farmlite digestive biscuits contain no added sugars or maida and are made from pure wheat. As the samples were on display for a few hours, they did become soft but still tasted great!
My final stop was the LIL AMERICA cook out spot. A range of drinks, burgers , steaks and fish items were available. I ordered a STEAK SUPREME and a ROSEMARY BARBECUE CHICKEN. The chef put on quite a show indeed with searing pans filled with fillets of the best beef, vegetable skewers and choicest chicken breasts, juggling from making herby mashed potatoes to toasting garlic bread. The rosemary chicken breast was quite moist and cooked to perfection.
Despite me travelling all the way home, the breast had not dried up! I loved the herb flavour on the accompanying skewer of veges. It went perfectly with the mashed potatoes. The mash was almost there. It just needed the tiniest bit more smoothing out. The beef was done rare. Seared beautifully to lock in the juices, the meat was soft, tender (all their cuts are sourced from Gourmet House) and delicious!
With my tummy and heart full, I went over to convey my thanks for Mr.Cheeran with a parting question of what lies in store for him in the future. “Retire again!” he says laughing!