Fahd, Maks, and Moritz run a curry delivery
Bewitched by butter chicken
The worktop in the typical student kitchen is tiny. There’s an old fridge and a drawer overloaded with spices and herbs. A large rice pan crowns a serving table that clearly came from Marktplaats. Two pressure cookers – donated by friends – stand side by side. And there’s the thick notebook labelled Kitchen Bible, full of hand-written recipes.
Fahd Rayees puts his apron on and adds mustard seeds to a hot pan. They quickly start sizzling and almost jump out of the frying pan. The Indian business administration student quickly covers it and turns to check on the other two cooks. International communications student Maks Szych from Poland is coating chicken breasts in a pink yoghurt sauce, while behind him, German psychology student Moritz Abel grinds ginger, using a squealing blender to turn it into a yellow mixture.
Three cultures mix in this small kitchen. Together, these students run Curry Me, a meal service that delivers fresh Indian dishes for an affordable price.
Curry Me is Fahd’s brainchild. He found his way to the kitchen as a child, despite Indian stereotypes about who should be doing the cooking at home, which was certainly not the man. ‘It was a great way to procrastinate, to get away from studying’, he says. ‘And my parents never complained when I was in the kitchen.’
Cooking was a great way to procrastinate
His fiancée’s parents reacted differently, he smiles. When they met him for the first time, many years later, they were downright shocked to find that he actually cooked. ‘But then I proposed to cook with my future mother-in-law’, he says. ‘I knew that this was how I would bond with her.’
While the seductive aroma of Indian spices wafts through the kitchen, Fahd works fast and focused. He’s working on a vegan curry, cutting tofu into cubes and squeezing all the drops of fluid into a bowl of gravy. ‘It makes the flavour more intense’, he explains.
When a few drops end up on the floor, he mops them up immediately. ‘Our policy is to clean everything as soon as possible.’ When Maks is done with the marinade, the serving table has some stains. ‘Clean the table’, Fahd quickly reminds him.
Initially, Maks and Moritz were just customers of his who really loved curry. Then when Fahd wanted to expand his business, he invited some friends to a tasting and Maks happened to tag along. ‘Fahd asked me how many times a week I would eat curry’, Maks says. ‘My answer was straightforward: “I need it every day!” I was under the spell of the food at that moment’, he adds with a smile.
The rest is history. Maks told his housemate Moritz – who really missed Indian cuisine after a stint as a volunteer in India – about the curry guy from Corpus den Hoorn. And the two of them started ordering curry so often that Fahd asked them to come to his house and eat with him, to spare him from delivering curry every day. ‘So it became a regular Saturday gathering and I realised that they love the food more than anyone else’, says Fahd.
Three months later they became his partners in the business. ‘We bonded through our passion for food.’
There wouldn’t have been a business at all if it wasn’t for Fahd’s mother, though. ‘This is my eighth business start-up’, he confesses. Among others, he tried to help disadvantaged people through sports and attempted to create an online platform for the Indian market that provided free sports education. Those ventures failed. But this time, things are different.
For ten days, three meals a day, we were eating rice
When Nisham visited her son in Groningen, only a year ago, she realised that students here struggled to find affordable, nutritious food options. Authentic Indian curries are delicious, not too hard to make, and relatively cheap.
‘And she was right of course’, says Fahd. ‘So I just asked her to sit down and write simple recipes off the top of her head.’
He takes the Kitchen Bible and flips through the pages lovingly: there’s a neatly written recipe for cafreal chicken from Goa, a Sri Lankan curry, and matar paneer from Northern India.
His mother may have called them ‘easy’, but that doesn’t mean Fahd got them right from the start. ‘She organised a culinary boot camp’, he says. ‘For ten days, three meals a day, we were eating rice. So yes, I gained some weight’, he says, laughing, ‘but I learned a lot in terms of cooking curry.’
Later, when she had returned home, his mum even joined him via video when he was cooking. ‘She would check whether I got the proportions right or whether the rice was cooked to perfection. Making rice probably seems like the easiest thing, but it requires a lot of attention’, says Fahd.
Nowadays, he doesn’t need the help anymore. He knows the recipes by heart and can even see whether the gravy is balanced by colour. ‘It should look pink.’
His friends, who follow his every move, learn fast too. ‘I watch closely how Fahd fries spices to let them release the aroma’, says Maks. ‘And how he combines them to make the sauce balanced.’ But there are still things that they don’t do. Moritz, for example, doesn’t usually touch the meat. ‘I used to be a vegetarian, so that part is not really for me.’
I’m applying what I’m studying in the best way
When they don’t cook, Maks and Moritz help with communications and deliveries. Things are running smoothly now: ‘This is our baby’, says Moritz. Maks will even be doing his internship with Curry Me next year.
For Fahd, having his own business is a perfect match for his master in small business and entrepreneurship. ‘I’m literally applying what I’m studying in the best way possible’, he says. ‘The major part of my social circle is Maks and Moritz, but I’m very comfortable just being at home and working like this.’
When the steaming portions of butter chicken, tofu, and rice are ready to be packed, Maks fetches green delivery bags that they bought second-hand on Marktplaats. ‘Some students wanted to get rid of them.’ To distinguish the bags from the original brand, they sewed the Curry Me logo on it. ‘By reusing bags and packages, we keep our costs low and prices affordable for everyone.’
Then Fahd’s mother calls to see if everything is going well. He holds the food up before the camera so she can check it out. Of course, the dishes are perfect. She smiles. ‘The student has become the master.’
Fahd can’t help but smile, too: ‘As a middle child, I was the black sheep of the family, so it’s nice to hear my mum giving me all these compliments about my food.’