'No one should own food.' Rocky and Mayur on the Kurkure Express

With Rocky and Mayur
and bloggers Bhakti Memon
and Ritcha Verma 
On meeting Rocky and Mayur

I finally met Rocky and Mayur, whose show Highway on My Plate I used to watch from their early days on TV, on the Kurkure Express train a few days back.

Rocky and Mayur have done more shows since their HOMP days and Food Express is one of their most recent series on TV. They also do a lot of corporate training programmes.

What Rocky and Mayur have done through their shows, in my opinion, is that they have democratized food  and travel television in India and created food and travel TV shows which even folks who are not food geeks love to watch.

 Rocky told me that when they started off HOMP, their main aim was to showcase regional Indian food. They felt, and I agree, that regional Indian food wasn’t talked about enough in the Indian mass media then.

He said that they both believe that no one should ‘own food’ and this set the theme of their show. To paraphrase Rocky Singj and Mayur Sharma, people shouldn’t put an expert's hat when it came to discussing food or claim that their take on food is the only way to look at food or mock others for not being knowledgeable about food.

Humility is indeed under-rated including in the world of food. Food should lead to happiness is my firm belief. Happiness for yourself and happiness for others. Ridiculing people is not cool at all. You can criticise people but you should respect them too. 

‘It is wrong to say one is an expert in food,’ said Mayur. ‘We have travelled so much across India and yet we feel that there is so much more for us to learn about our food’.

I got to know that Rocky is a trained North Indian and Thai chef and that he had once run a restaurant before he did his show.

I asked Rocky why he didn’t talk about his chef credentials unlike other chefs on TV. Rocky replied with an enigmatic smile and shrugged as if to say 'whatever'.

With Rocky & Mayur

The tendency of some people to take an 'expert's stand' when it comes to food was something questioned later by Ajay Bangera, senior executive chef of ITC Grand Chola, too when I met him in Chennai. This very experienced chef with an international CV told me that even chefs don’t know ‘everything’ that there is to know about food and that they have a lot to learn. Chef Bangera often goes out to eat in restaurants of all categories across the world for inspiration and encourages chefs to do so without being restricted by the past.

What is this Kurkure Express?

Coming back to Rocky and Mayur, I met them on board the Kurkure Express, a train hired by Pepsico India from the Indian Railways which travelled across the country with families from each city that the train went to. The families had entered a contest to get on the train. The train ran from Delhi to Panvel ( where I got on) to Chennai (where I got off) to Kolkata and back to Delhi.

Watch this YouTube video that we shot on the train: https://youtu.be/XSroVZGS7X4

Pictures of some of the families on board the Kurkure Express

The Famous Five sisters

Some even played Name place Animal Thing
 apart from chess and carrom

We all took part in a recipe contest

For those who asked me if Rocky and Mayur are as ‘crazy’ (the exact words in an email I received from a friend) in real life as they are in the show, the answer is yes. They are both full of life and full of energy and crack jokes 19 to a dozen. They spent seven days on the train interacting with the families getting on the train at each city and played the perfect host with humility and warmth. And don't let them make you think otherwise, they do talk a lot of sense and are happy to share their knowledge and happily answered my questions on the world of food media.

The Great Indian train ride

Quite a few of us were taking a long distance train ride in India after years. I belong to a generation that grew up on train travel right up to the early years of my working career. Then the airline revolution took place in India, prices came down with the entry of budget airlines and this fitted in with our faster lifestyles and plane travel overshadowed train travel for many of us. All my work related travel through my career has been on flights as have been our leisure travel once we got into mid-level management in our careers.

I was not one to romanticise train travel till I got on the Kurkure Express but the clean loos in the train put my worst fears about train travel to rest and the toiletary kit helped as I had not carried stuff with me as I am no longer used to train travel

Happy memories of train rides of yore came back as we passed by station after station. Memories of getting down at empty platform to stretch one's legs and fill water battles and to ask the pantry guys how late the train was. Of snuggling into the bunks and sleeping for the 40 hours it would take me to reach Kolkata from Mumbai after I had shifted base. Of sitting down with the food trays in the bunk (Howrah Mail had better chicken curry than Geetanjali. And the eager anticipation of reaching home as Jamshedpur would pass by and then Kharagpur and when the Jhal Muri guys would get on the train as Howrah approached

Chugging down the railway tracks

Unfortunately the train left
and I had to jump on without trying these

Watching trains pass by

The rains in South India were a welcome relief
All fresh at Panvel

31 hours later as we inched towards Chennai
Rocky and Mayur still had more time to spend on the train!

Railway Gup Dhup

The ride on the Kurkure Express reminded us of the slow life that  long distance train travel stood for right up to the train reaching Chennai 9 hours late! (this was a special train and had to give way to real passenger carriers). On the positive side, this meant meeting new people and chatting which is what train travel was all about unlike the grim, constipated, cramped look tooting silent airline travelers sport quashed in their sardine cans. There was no wifi on the train and with mobile signals playing hide and seek, we had to ditch our phones and actually talk to each other.

What we ate

 There was an endless flow of food in the Kurkure Express and the food catered to by the Indian Railways staff was on the whole better than airline food that one gets in flights like Jet. The food was cooked fresh in the pantry and served to us. The black dal on day 1 was pretty good, as was the upma for breakfast and the consistently soft rotis were a pleasant change from the rock hard puris one remembered from earlier trips. The breast pieces of the chicken in the curry were pebble like though and the vegetarians were a bit bored with the constant flow of paneer. The food was no longer served on stainless steel thalis though. The constant motion of the train kept us hungry and to keep us company was a constant flow of Kurkure and Pepsi and Tropicana juices.

Lovely daal and rotis
The Gulab jamuns were constant in all the meals
Please forgive the ugly shot

A lovely breakfast

Post midnight cravings and Kurkure packs to the rescue

I met and chatted with food and fashion bloggers Ritcha Verma of Ri(t)ch Style and Bhakti Menon of Bhakti’s Banter and we shared experiences of the world of blogging over the 24 hours that we were together. There was also a lot to learn from the agency folks on the train who were working with Kurkure to get this event on board including the folks at Blogger’s Mind, the social media agency that had invited us.

Actor Boman Irani, director Meghna Gulzar and ad person turned author, Anuja Chouhan, were on board for a while and they had a panel discussion on family values in a changing social media dominated world.

This was the second time that I had met Boman Irani in a public gathering (the other was at Kunal Vijayakar’s book launch) and on both times I was struck by how easy going and down to earth he is despite being a big movie star. He fondly reminisced about Parsi food and said that his family comes together even today for picnics fueled by poros. Poros are spicy Parsi omelettes and my mother in law makes these for my breakfast when she visits us during the weekends. For those interested, Boman prefers saas ni machhi to patrani machhi.

Shivakumar, Anuja Chouhan, Meghna Gulzar and Boman Irani
in a panel discussion for a TV channel on board the train

Meghna Gulzar told me about how her mother, film actress of yester-years & a Bengali, Rakhee, cooks Bengali food with relish in her Mumbai home. With a sweet smile, Meghna said she prefers goat meat and prawns to fish. Like me, she too had too much of fish while growing up.

Nothing like some Bollywood food gossip eh?

Hopping on the social media train

I also chatted with Mr D Shivakumar , the chairman of Pepsico India and Poonam Kaul from Pepsico. The market researcher in me was interested to know the amount of importance given by Pepsi to social media listening. Mr Shivakumar apparently gets a report on the previous day’s social media chatter by 8 in the morning and the team uses this to get real time feedback from customers on product, packaging, distribution and communication.

Mr Shivakumar told me that they can’t depend just on TV commercials in today’s media fragmented age. The Kurkure Express, which involved a consumer contest, face to face customer engagement, celeb endorsements, social and mass media coverage and resultant YouTube and mainstream TVCs is an example of how large MNC companies are using multiple media to keep their brand current.

Mr Shivakumar of Pepsi
chats with us bloggers
Remembering dadu

As I retired to my coupe at night, I remembered my late grandfather who used to work in the railways. His love for train travel, despite being a desk man, came back to me. He would take the train passes that he would get from the Railways and travel with his family all across India and my granny would cook for him in these trips in Railway Guest Houses even after he retired and way before Air B&Bs were invented.

Remembering Dadu

I am sure he was happy to see me back in a train.

Note: I was on the Kurkure Express as a guest of Pepsico India