“It brings me a lot of joy to feed people”: How Ritu Gupta built a new home in Canada through authentic Indian cuisine
By: Vivian Nguyen
Published on: March 16 2023
For Chef Ritu Gupta, cooking is more than just work. It is a hobby, a passion, and a way to connect with others. As the leading head chef and owner of the Cambridge branch of the Biryani Bar franchise, Gupta shares her expertise of authentic Indian cuisine with residents and visitors in the industrialized city.
Each dish is made with several spices and techniques Gupta has acquired over the years. What is not written on the menu is the journey Gupta took to get to where she is. How she went from teaching in India, to taking home orders in the United States, to running a restaurant in Canada. This is her story.
Life in India
Growing up in India, Gupta learned important life lessons from the women in her life—her grandma, mother, and her aunts. Through them, she learned about the values of education and “practical skills like sewing, cooking, and cleaning.” Her upbringing was also dependent on community-building.
“Relatives were nearby so we all took care of each other,” said Gupta. “I had four siblings [and lived with my parents], so seven people [lived] under one roof.”
The first dish Gupta learned to make with her mother was dal tadka, a lentil soup. The Hindi word, “tadka” refers to a process of heating oil with various aromatic ingredients such as ginger and onions, along with cumin seeds and tomatoes. These ingredients are fried in the pan and served on top of the lentil soup. Dal tadka is also very versatile; its ingredients can be substituted for other vegetables and roots. The South Indian way of preparing dal tadka includes rai mustard seeds and curry leaves. It was this dish that introduced Gupta to the culinary world.
In India, Gupta taught art and crafts at home as well as at a daycare and nursery for kids called, KidZee Noida. She describes finding work in India as “more or less the same” as in Canada. “You have to show them what you bring to the table,” she said. “Make friends and be confident.”
On the move and building a life abroad
During the early 2000s, Gupta moved around within India due to her husband’s job until they settled in New Delhi for a few years. In 2007, she and her husband, along with their two sons, moved to the United States of America on her husband’s work visa.
In the United States, Gupta’s close friends encouraged her to start her own business. “They said I was a good cook [and that the area we lived in] was missing Indian food,” said Gupta. Up until this moment, life in America was difficult for Gupta. She expressed having trouble finding work for herself without a work visa. “Without a visa, talent doesn’t matter.”
After hard work and a positive attitude, Gupta started to build a loyal customer base for her small business. She took orders over the phone, cooked everything at home, and personally delivered the orders, with the help of her family. Business was successful! At one point, she made 300 samosas and many fresh biryanis in one day. She also enjoyed cooking vegetable pakoda (fritters made of vegetables).
For payment, Gupta marketed her craft for less than the competition, which included established restaurants. Gupta focused less on money and aimed to satisfy her customers. Through this business model, she received good reviews and made loyal customers.
When her husband’s visa ended in 2012, they returned to India. The Gupta family then moved to Canada for the first time the following year on a different work visa. When the work visa ended in 2016, they went back to India, again. After moving back and forth, Gupta and her family finally returned to Canada in 2017 and have stayed here since.
When asked if she experienced homesickness during all the moves, Gupta replied, “No, not really. I am a free bird. I miss my mother, but that’s about it.” She explained that the reason they moved so often was because they “were trying to build a life abroad.”
Sense of belonging in Canada through food
Despite having to move so many times, Gupta found a “home” in Canada. When asked where she considered “home” the most, Gupta said Canada was her home now because that is where she and her husband are building a life for themselves and their family.
Unlike in the United States, it was not difficult for Gupta to find a job in Canada. She credits websites like Indeed.com for this. Before working at Biryani Bar, Gupta worked at numerous restaurant chains including Tandoori Flame, Brar’s, Avani, and Khazana.
As evident by her job experiences, Gupta’s true passion is to cook. As the owner of Biryani Bar in Cambridge, ON, Gupta feels like she belongs in Canada. “We have our permanent residency and now the restaurant, so I feel like I belong here,” Gupta shared.
Gupta describes her workdays as “good, [but] sometimes not because [it is] stressful.”
On Aug. 7, 2022, the franchise owner visited the restaurant with a party of eight. However, he was not the only customer: there were also three additional groups of eight, two groups of four, and one group of five customers in the span of only four hours. From 6pm to 10pm, the restaurant was “packed.”
“We had to send a group of seven away [because we were over capacity],” said Vardan, Gupta’s eldest son.
On Aug. 13, 2022, Gupta served food live at a party. “There were so many people,” she said. She also expressed that she enjoyed talking to them as she made their food in front of them. “It’s one of my favourite parts of cooking […] I like hosting, talking to customers, and feeding people. It brings me a lot of joy to feed people!”
Looking towards the future
The success of the restaurant “feels good” for Gupta. “We are growing day by day and people are starting to recognize and respect us,” shared Gupta. “[We’ve been getting] many repeat customers and people from all kinds of backgrounds.”
When asked if she was satisfied, Gupta replied: “Yes, but this is just the start. I want to grow [more and gain] more success.”
Advice for newcomers
Gupta’s advice for other newcomers, no matter their field of interest, is to “work in it passionately and learn from others in the same field.” She said, “I learned a lot by working as line cook first and was able to bring that knowledge forward with me.”
Cooking has helped Ruti Gupta and her family establish a new home in Canada. If you are in Cambridge and are craving authentic biryani and other Indian dishes, stop by Biryani Bar on Jamieson Parkway! The Guptas will greet you with warm smiles and even hotter food.
Location: 900 Jamieson Pkwy Unit 15, Cambridge, ON N3C 4N6
Phone: (519) 260-0798