Becca Periera quickly brought her mother on board, a professional chef who was born in Goan village.
In June 2020, Becca Periera gave her Instagram followers a charitable challenge: The first 20 people who made a minimum donation of C$25 ($21.60) to a nonprofit helping Black Torontonians combat food insecurity would each receive a meal of butter chicken, cooked by Periera.
The "overwhelming" response gave Periera, a former model who'd recently lost her job as a receptionist, the confidence to start her own pop-up restaurant in Canada's largest city. Four months later, she was serving paying customers authentic Goan food through her new venture, Spice Girl Eats.
The name reflects the cuisine of the 23-year-old's family, which originates from the coastal state of Goa in southwest India, a place known for its coconut flavors and aromatic, spicy seafood. Goan cuisine is less tomato-based than other Indian food and targets all five taste sensations-sweet, bitter, salty, sour, and spicy.
Periera quickly brought her mother on board, a professional chef who was born in the Goan village of Navelim, as head chef and business partner. "As a chef, I was so tired. They really chew you up and spit you out, that's the industry," says Corina Periera, a single mother who raised Becca and her three older siblings-also involved in the business. "I took the leap of faith. And now I am much, much happier."
Customers place their orders on Fridays. Then, Becca and her mother get together on Mondays to cook meals, which customers can collect the following day. They use a book of handwritten Goan recipes passed down from Becca's maternal great-grandmother, who catered parties and wrote cookbooks for neighbors in India.
In the past year the duo has cooked more than 45 dishes for thousands of customers, Becca says. The company broke even four months in-"a huge milestone," she says.
And while Spice Girl Eats remains relatively small, it's attracted attention in the city's competitive food industry. The team recently did a one-night stint at the prestigious Soho House in Toronto.
The Perieras' dishes have powerful and tasty flavors, and each stands on its own, says Braden Chong, a co-founder and sous chef of Toronto's Sunny's Chinese who has worked in Michelin star restaurants Sazenka and (the former) Inua in Tokyo, and Lurra in Kyoto. Becca's story is also relatable, which adds to the appeal of a Spice Girl Eats meal, Chong says. "I love what she's doing, it's very inspiring."
On a recent afternoon, the mother-daughter duo are making spicy prawn curry in coconut milk and fluffy jeera (cumin) rice, a typical Goan lunch dish. A pot on the stove sizzles with Kashmiri chilies, green chilies, onions, garlic, ginger, turmeric, cumin, coriander powder, and black pepper.
The aroma engulfs the kitchen, the potent fumes of the chili tickling the throats of everyone in the room. There's banter, inside jokes, recounting of favorite family stories, and even a bit of conflict. "Sometimes it's tough in the kitchen," Becca says, "because my mom is a professional chef and has that experience and I'm the newbie, so I'm learning a lot."
Becca Periera and her mother.
Initially, Spice Girl Eats had a rotating menu of Goan dishes such as vindaloo, xacuti curry, and potato chops (like a spicy shepherd's pie crossed with a croquette), along with a few classic Indian dishes such as butter chicken, korma, and tikka masala. The model has evolved with the return of indoor restaurant dining in Toronto, which led to a drop in orders for Spice Girl Eats.
In September the business scaled back its weekly offering to "thalis"-smaller dishes that complement a main meal-instead of a full menu. A thali, which means "plate" in Hindi, is made up of 5-10 portioned dishes placed in tiny bowls-for example, rice, roti, daal (lentil curry), vegetables, chutneys, and pickles.
Spices in the making
Last week, the venture launched a line of chai latte concentrates that was nine months in the making. They're available for pickup at Becca's home kitchen and at RuRu Baked, an Asian-inspired ice cream parlor that collaborated with Becca over the summer to test out a chai latte ice cream flavor, and she's in discussions with a few cafes to sell the bottled teas in store. She's also started free delivery of the products to some Toronto neighborhoods, and is planning Canada-wide shipping.
The focus of Spice Girl Eats is likely to shift to the product line, Becca says. Rather than offering a weekly meal service, the team plans to take on some catering and one-day pop-ups at prominent locations, as well as collaborations with other chefs. She also wants to spend more time making cooking videos for TikTok.
Becca's ultimate financial goal for her family is simple: "We can end this cycle of how we grew up-of not having much," she says, "I want our family to be successful."
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)