Nupur arora- QCK

From Being A Home Cook for 20 Years To A Foodpreneur, The Wonderful Story Of Nupur, Queens Curry Kitchen

Rule Breakers

As a part of the Morning Lazziness series about strong women leaders who attained success with their incredible ideas, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nupur Arora.

“Cooking demands attention, patience, and above all, a respect for the gifts of the earth. It is a form of worship, a way of giving thanks.”Judith B. Jones

Her cooking journey started with being a home cook for 18 years, she started making some cooking videos on Facebook LIVE, and those sessions became so popular that people started asking for the recipes.

Story Of Foodpreneur Nupur

Namaste! I’m Nupur Arora, and my story is a pleasant cocktail of multiple cultural influences. I was born and raised in India in a multi-lingual family. I came to New York almost 25 years ago and fell in love with the borough of Queens, the most diverse borough in the world!

My cooking journey started with being a home cook for 20 years and cooking daily for a family of 8. In my spare time, I started making some cooking videos on Facebook LIVE, and those sessions became so popular that people started asking for my recipes. That’s when my first book, “The Vegan Indian Home,” was born in 2018.

By then, my audience started asking how they could get the spices I cook with! That, combined with my daughter going away to college and missing Indian food but not knowing how to cook, led to the launch of my spice company Namastay Foods and Bev Corp 2020.

What brought you to this specific career path?

Queens Curry Kitchen

By March 2020, I had to rethink what I wanted to do with my newly formed spice company; with our only household car given to my restaurateur husband, I had no way of going to my incubator kitchen in Suffolk. 

Then one day, I got a call from a guy in Long Island whose parents live in my neighborhood- he wanted homestyle meals. I used to make them 4 -5 years ago as a hobby for some Columbia university kids, and he knew one of them! His father is 82 and had just had surgery, and his wife was unable to go food shopping or cook for him as she was taking care of him full time. So I agreed to drop off some homestyle food for them and shared some pics on my Queens Curry Kitchen Facebook page

I didn’t realize that so many people were craving a little comfort of home-cooked food, and some of my friends and (non-Indian) neighbors started asking for them too. At that point, I started using my husband’s restaurant in off-hours for making my meals and driving it back to Forest Hills, Rego Park, Briarwood, etc., to bring healthy plant-based options for those in my neighborhood and community. The menu changes weekly, and all the food is made with olive oil and Himalayan pink salt; I prepare and deliver everything myself at the moment.

I am proud to share that we have been listed as one of the best food businesses to emerge from the pandemic, according to the New York Post. Also, we recently got featured in Queens Tribune along with some other phenomenal and passionate foodpreneurs who have brought deliciousness and value to their communities.

How do you feel like cooking Indian/Asian food for people abroad? What was their first reaction when they tasted all the spices and tadka food?

Right from the time I came to this country, I was always cooking in a large family. We had visitors and friends, and not everybody was Indian. A lot of our non-Asian, non-Indian friends would try our food; they absolutely loved the flavors. Even die-hard meat lovers found it a satisfying experience. They loved how good our vegetables and curries taste, and even simple things like spinach and cauliflower had so much flavor. 

Who cooks better? You or your mother? From whom did you learn to cook?

Obviously, my mother cooks better than me; she is the queen of simple cooking that can taste absolutely phenomenal. I have learned some of my skills from her, but I never really cooked as long as I lived in her house. I only learned to cook after I came to New York in 1997 and got married into a large family. We were always cooking; we were 8 of us in my husband’s family. That’s where most of my skills developed, and my husband is from a different state, so they had a completely different food culture. So I had to learn his mother’s way of cooking as well in a very short period of time. Plus, living in New York gives you exposure to so many different cuisines and tastes that you cannot be unaffected by the variety. And so I started to experiment with that. Once I became a mom, my daughter always encouraged me. She became the reason why I started experimenting with different cuisines, and so I really started to delve into doing Indian Tex Mex, or Indo Thai version, and a lot of fusion stuff which she absolutely loved. So that’s pretty much what my journey is. My cooking does not taste anything like my mother’s cooking because my style is absolutely different. And I still feel like the simplest things that she makes can win me over on any day of the year!

Which is your favourite dish? 

I love really simple lentils and rice combo which is called  Dal(lentils) and Chaawal(rice)- typically it’s a yellow lentil, and I love it with a little bit of Aam Ka Achaar (mango pickle), and I think, to me, it’s the most satisfying comfort food, and I’m always up for it. 

Your favourite chef?

My favorite chef has to be my mom, or any other mom or grandmother, who cooks in their home kitchen relentlessly, with so much wisdom, so much knowledge, and so much understanding of ingredients. Combining that with what their family would love to eat daily, I think it takes a sheer genius to manage all of that. And, of course, the magic hands that all moms have for sure. It fascinates me, but in any culture you look at, we just really cannot think about our mothers or grandmothers without remembering them for the food they served us over the years! So all home cooks are my favourite chefs!

A dish you can cook within 15-minutes? 

Queens Curry Kitchen

The majority of my dishes are possible to cook within 15 to 20 minutes. As a matter of fact, my spice blends called EZ CURRY make it possible for anyone at all to cook Indian food in 15 minutes! The EZ CURRY spice blends eliminate the entire cutting and chopping and sauteeing process, so any DIY chef wants to cook/eat Indian food but doesn’t have the time or skills to do anything elaborate. Coming back to my 15-minute dishes, the majority of my dishes I can make in about 15 to 20 minutes, provided all the prep is done. If the chopping is done, then it doesn’t take that long. I specialize in a lot of plant-based dishes, so they are easy to put together for me!

How do your kids and family motivate and support you?

My husband lets me use his restaurant in the off-hours, which is how this whole Queens Curry Kitchen meal delivery journey actually started, and it started in the middle of the pandemic! I would go in at about 6 am- 7 am and finish my work before the crew would come into the kitchen, and I continue to use those premises to this day, so it’s pretty much a ghost concept that we’re working out of from his restaurant kitchen. As far as my daughter goes, she misses a taste of home food, especially now that she’s in college and she doesn’t live in my house anymore. She has definitely developed a new appreciation for home-cooked meals and also does a lot of cooking herself.

As for my extended family on my husband’s side, that’s really the place where I developed a lot of my cooking skills, and the appreciation and love that I got from them for trying out new experiments, entertaining, and cooking in large batches really started from there, so I have to give huge credit for that.

Also, my mother-in-law, Sajni Tulsiani, has been a great teacher in trying to teach me her way of cooking because I am half Bengali and half Punjabi, so I knew nothing about Sindhi food! My mom, Molly, encourages me, even from another continent, by calling me every day and then sharing exciting things or creative ways that she’s been trying out something.

My nephew in India, Chef Aman Dhar, is an amazing chef, and he inspires me every day with creative things that he’s doing with gastronomy and molecular food handling and presentation, etc., so there are just so many people behind keeping me inspired and giving me the motivation and support that I need.

How do you keep yourself productive throughout the day? 

I wear many hats, so the way I keep myself productive is from planning menus to going live on Facebook or Instagram, handling all the social media stuff that needs to be posted. What kind of visibility, what events we will be doing, networking with different people, and bringing awareness to homestyle Indian food that is quite underrepresented in New York and the USA!

Besides that, being a solopreneur, teaching Indian cooking online, food photography, developing recipes, writing cookbooks, and also interacting with my 2000 member strong community on Facebook, which I created which likes to follow the Queens Curry Kitchen, that pretty much takes up a lot of my day. I’m also a radio presenter, so a lot of my time goes into preparing for the shows that I present on Sundays, on Radio Zindagi 540 AM NYNJCT station in New York.

So that’s pretty much how my time is balanced. Of course, every night, I go into Manhattan at about 10 o’clock and pick up my husband as he finishes his workday. So that’s how I stay productive- there’s always something to do. There’s always something to be done, and the motivation never ceases. I take inspiration from a lot of other social media and content creators, and it really keeps me inspired.

In recent years, Women’s Entrepreneurship worldwide has proliferated; what are your thoughts on it?

Women have always been the backbone of households, so they multitask and solve problems just daily. It’s no secret that little encouragement can really go a long way, but most people who see the talent in the women in their homes are quite oblivious to that. Women can do wonders wherever they go; they have grit, determination, perseverance, endurance, and intelligence.

Women can really be the heart of a business as they are coming from the standpoint of compassion towards their employees and towards the products and services they create, including the people that they wish to serve with their gifts and skills. If you look into any culture, women carry the burden equally, whether it’s working on the farm or setting up the tea stall on the outskirts of the city; women and men equally partake in the breadwinning responsibilities of the household.

So there is definitely proliferation which we see now, but if you really look at cultures, the work has always been divided even if it means walking for miles n miles in search of clean drinking water in places like India and Africa to this day!

Any challenges did you face at the start of your business/ What lesson did you learn from that? 

The biggest challenge was that I was in the middle of the pandemic, but apparently, that did become a blessing because I would not have even thought about it entering into fresh food had it not been for the pandemic. I had just started my spice manufacturing business in January of 2020, and by March, everything was shut down, I was unable to access my commercial kitchen in Suffolk County, and so I just sat home, freshly laid off from my digital marketing gig as well, trying to figure out what else to do with my time and my skills!

No work, no car, no plan- as I mentioned earlier, but when the opportunity came, I found my purpose and pivoted to serve my community. Some other challenges along the way have been that in the middle of a blizzard, my delivery guy quit, and that day I had about 15 to 16 deliveries, out of which some of them were all the way out in Huntington and Commack in Long Island, and I single-handedly did that with a day shift that started at 5 am! I was not done until about 9:45 in the evening, and it was just non-stop in the middle of a blizzard.

So yeah, those have been some of the challenges. Just single-handedly trying to juggle everything and manage everything has been quite a challenge. So I try to do the best I can. And I get help wherever I can. I hired my first employee in the pandemic, and she helps me immensely with my digital presence and assists on various projects; thank God for her! I learned that there’s always a way to figure out a solution, as long as you’re not problem-focused and you are solution-focused.

If I am unable to achieve it in a certain way, I will change my plan, but I won’t change my goal. People that depend on Queens Curry Kitchen food to arrive at their door on a certain day have obviously not made any other arrangements as they are relying on me. So, I don’t abandon my clients, regardless of the weather, regardless of whatever else might be going on in the world. If I promised them that they would get food delivery, they absolutely will.

In moments of self-doubt or adversity, how do you build yourself back up? 

I honor the fact that I have a gift that I have to serve with my gift. I focus on my strengths, and I try to find solutions instead of glorifying the problems. When I’m having a challenging moment, I take a deep breath and step back; I build myself back up by going into the testimonials and all the beautiful messages that so many of my satisfied clients send me.

They send me text messages and lovely emails, their children even make crafts and save them for me like “Thank You” cards, etc., so I take the time and read through those; it really helps to pick me up. There’s so much to always be thankful for. So when I shift my focus and look at all the things that people appreciate and love, it really makes me feel like YES! I have a purpose with my gift, and I’m here to serve. So that’s my biggest pickerccx upper. 

Has there ever been a moment when you thought to yourself, “I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to get a “real” job? If so, how did you overcome it?

No, there has never been a moment when I thought to myself that I should get a real job. To me, this is more than a real job, and I worked in corporate America briefly, but I’ve been entrepreneurial for about 20 years. There’s no question that I would want to put in my hard work and fulfill someone else’s dream. It’s always going to be and do something meaningful and impactful for my community. That’s what my goal is. I like to keep it intimate, I like to keep it small, and I’d like to make a difference in the lives of the people that I touch and vice versa. So yes, I never feel like I need to go get a real job. This is a real job. This is something that is fulfilling to me. It’s solving a problem for people in my community, and I am proud of it. 

What is your no-fail go-to when you need inspiration or to get out of a creative rut?

When I need inspiration, I definitely turn to a lot of regional cuisines that I look at; I look at a lot of indigenous ingredients that I may not have worked with sometimes I’ll take a class in a cuisine that I’ve totally unfamiliar with, like lately, my obsession is a lot with Middle Eastern cuisine and a lot of plant-based, vegetarian, vegan options in Middle Eastern cuisine. I’m also fascinated by Thai food, and I tried to recreate Indo Thai fusion combinations in my meal plans. I also do omnivorous meals for my family, but the best thing to get out of a creative rut is to watch some videos on YouTube, to talk to some interesting people to stay inspired by seeing new ideas on Pinterest/Clubhouse, reading magazines, etc. That’s pretty much what I like to get, and sometimes I just step away from it all and do nothing. And I feel like when I’ve rested in that nothingness, I come back with more ideas and come back refreshed. That always works for me.

What is your favorite mantra or affirmation that you say to yourself to keep you going?

My favorite mantra or affirmation, whether in my personal life or my professional life, is that “I AM the SKY, All else is the WEATHER”- that really gives me a good perspective on how infinite our possibility is, as individuals and as businesses, and that we shouldn’t settle for anything less than what we deserve. 

What does success mean to you?

Success to me, there’s definitely a financial component, which is something that we all need to get by, but real success means that you create an unforgettable impact on the people whose lives have intertwined with yours through your business or through your personal interactions, and every single customer whether they’re buying a $4 item a $400 item should really feel like you value their presence in your business. I greet them with a smile, even if nothing comes out of it.

If I’ve served them with a free sample and they never come back to order the food, I never feel any remorse. I feel so happy that I got the chance to serve them and if it helped them to enjoy a meal, which was something different from what they were used to, and it made them smile; I’m happy about that. I never force anybody to buy my products. I always offer free samples, but I never do it with the expectation that they should feel pressure to buy. I practice kindness in my business as well- whether it means delivering a free meal to someone who is sick or sending a crochet teddy bear to their kids for making me a thank you card, it is so important for me to leave a legacy of kindness around the brand I have built.

Success to me also means giving back to the communities in which we live. And I constantly do that with my little tiny business. In the short amount of time that we have been in business, I have helped a black-owned business right here in Queens to finance the equipment for them so that they can start their own t-shirt printing business. I’ve also financed another bread maker, and I’ve invested in the equipment for her so that she can knead the dough.

So I’ve done as little things along the way as I can, and also, a couple of weeks ago, we donated an entire week of revenue to COVID relief efforts in India, with a program partner called Hunger Heroes in India. So to me, success really means that to be able to be productively occupied to do meaningful work and to get a good night’s rest with the satisfaction that you did something meaningful today.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.