Meghalaya's Benny Wankhar takes culinary skill to new level


By Laxmi Chyrmang


The pandemic has forced thousands of small businesses to close. For Meghalaya’s Benny Wankhar, it was a good time to start a new one.

Whether it is a passion or a skill to identify a new business opportunity, the 29-year-old Wankhar along with his classmates, Amos Pyrbot and Sunny Thabah lovingly known as 'Sultan', started a culinary venture -- a home kitchen called “Snack Rack”, on May 19, 2020.

Benny Wankhar narrates his story: He recalled

My love for cooking came about when I was 8 years old and interestingly it all started during my sister’s birthday and my mom had asked a friend of her's to cook for the event. It mesmerised me at every step of the way and the memory of it is still fresh in my mind and that’s what made me fall in love with cooking even to this day.

I’ve always known that I wanted to make a career in this field since my school days; so I never really pursued anything else apart from culinary studies. After class 12, I moved to Kolkata and studied hospitality at the International Institute of Hotel Management (IIHM) and later went to the United States.

I came back to Shillong in November 2017. I was physically and mentally burnt out because of all the work and travelling involved while I was working at the Carnival Cruise lines in the United States of America (USA).

I came back home and luckily, I was offered a job by a reputed hotel group in Shillong; however, a few months later, I left the group because I knew that the experience I brought to the table was something new.

Fast forward to 2020, call it a stroke of coincidence! While I was having a conversation with my partners -- Sunny and Amos about how the lockdown has put a halt on each of our respective businesses, we came up with a discussion on how to start our home kitchen and see where things go from there. It snowballed into our passion project and we want to see it growing into a legitimate professional kitchen.

We started with Hoagie sandwiches, which is our version of a Subway sandwich or the sweet and sour pork sandwiches on Sourdough. We wouldn’t have been able to do so if not for the support of local bakers who have also emerged in prominence because of the lockdown such as “Breaking Bread” and “Bake_batter_better”, to name a few.

Meghalaya is blessed with its own identity; just like other parts of India have their unique cuisines involving their unique spices, the food in our state is characterised by its deceptively simple and humble nature, coupled with local indigenous herbs such as the Jamyrdoh or Jangew/Jathang and Jatira. They provide a unique identity and flavour profile and one which cannot be replicated elsewhere.

Meghalaya provides the simple intricacies, and food items based on tradition and legacy.

Are there any Ingredient that are under-utilised or under-appreciated?

There are a lot of ingredients actually that come to mind. There are local herbs that grow indigenously only in the state and the (Northeast) region that mainland India has no clue.

For example, “Jaiur” -- its closest foreign relative would be the Szechuan peppercorn.

However, it is prevalent in cooking and recipes that are native to North-East Indian only; just like the fruit “Sohphie”.

So yes, there are so many underrated ingredients found in our parts of the country that could have the potential to be game-changers.

The major difference between us and other food establishments is that our kitchen is constantly learning and changing things by not only making a flexible menu but also a special menu that changes weekly.

Another aspect that sets us apart is the fact that, for all the Indian food on our menu, we make our very own blend of spices for each item, not relying on packaged spices but taking the time to roast and blend individual spice to suit our requirements and putting our signature touch on it.

Visual Appeal

There’s a saying that goes “A customer first eats with their eyes". Visual appeal is the first thing that hits the senses of the customers long before they have eaten, and thus this is a very important aspect of the dining experience.

There were a lot of difficulties initially. Each of us was confident in our skills, but doing that from a home kitchen, with limited resources and working space, was a big challenge.

Orders were delayed up to two or three hours and we had to deal with a lot of complaints, but we never took all of these personally and we kept on learning and improving.

We had a tough time cooking and delivering the food by ourselves, which added more pressure to our workload until we partnered with local budding businesses like Kloi-phi and Order Up. Since then, our operations have come a long way into becoming a smooth success.

Even till this day, we still get our fair share of positive reviews with a few occasional hiccups for which we are very grateful since those are the ones that will help us develop and become better food service providers.

Never stop learning and never take things too hard. Learn to roll with the punches because excellent reviews are encouraging, but it’s the bad ones that will help you grow and develop and become better people. Especially with the food business; because those are the ones that will highlight your weaknesses so you can work on them; always be open to change and never get too comfortable. While designing a menu, always remember that it is limited only by your imagination and creativity; everything else comes second.

COVID-19 in fact has brought major disruptions in the business world, creating new opportunities, and presenting new challenges. If you have been thinking about being an entrepreneur, the coronavirus pandemic shouldn’t deter you from pursuing your passion.