The hands that play with clay to make food
Shilpa Mitha makes fake food for a living. Sumptuous meals are at her fingertip, which even five-star chefs can’t dream of making. Her skillful hands can mold clay into an array of culinary dishes from all around the world. She may not be willing to share her secret recipe of clay making but she opened up to Ritz about her unique creative pursuit.
What prompted you to start making clay food?
I finished my engineering and had started to work somewhere. I started learning the basics of clay art on the side. At one point, I decided to completely focus on my hobby as a full-time profession, and it ended up becoming the source of my bread and butter.
When did you start getting media attention?
In 2016, people started recognizing my work via social media, some leading news channels and newspapers interviewed me, and then orders started pouring in, which meant that I could cover my costs as well as make profit.
Were you very creative as a child?
No, I was not creative at all. I was a very studious kid, but I guess that creativity must have been inside me all the time. People tend to make realistic career choices only in their 30’s, until then whatever they do is to please their parents and to cope up with peer pressure. I found my calling after turning 30.
Do you travel a lot to get inspired for new ideas for your clay food?
Well, to be honest, I don’t travel for the sake of getting new ideas. I travel to take time off my hectic schedule. However, wherever I go, I end up meeting people who introduce me to new food. For instance, on my recent trip to Mangalore, a friend of mine introduced me to Neer Dosa and side dish, which is apparently very popular over there. So, I came home and immediately tried it out. Some of the best ideas come when you least expect them.
You say that you travel for yourself?
I have started doing meditation. I find that very helpful to unwind. I get orders for 100 dosas or 200 idlis that must be finished within a week sometimes. I end up doing the same monotonous thing, which ironically I also love to do. So, to get away from my routine, I travel to far off places, many of which are also spiritual, e.g. Tiruvannamalai, Auroville, and Dharamshala. I detox myself and return refreshed to create more magic with clay.
Why did you pick this name for your brand “Sueno Souvenir”?
Sueno is a dream in Spanish and I chose that since I’m living my dream by pursuing my passion for art as my profession.
What is the best selling clay food of Sueno Souvenir?
I get orders for all sorts of food so it is hard to say which food is exactly best selling, but I think Idlis and Dosas are everyone’s favorites. There are many people making miniature food now and even before I started, but what distinguishes me is my focus on Indian cuisine.
What is the easiest and the most difficult clay food that you’ve made?
Easiest is the idlis and the toughest is any rice dishes since I have to put in extra effort to show the rice grains prominently.
How do you cope up with the attention that you have been receiving?
Well, I find it easy to cope with because I do not crave for fame in the first place. At the end of the day, I am not doing this work to seek attention but to do justice to this art and art lovers.
As a woman, how do you manage your business and personal life?
It’s easy in my case since I don’t have much of a personal life at the moment. Sometimes I get fully engrossed with my work that I don’t get to see my friends for 2-3 weeks in a row.
Do you want to expand your business by hiring some people to help you out?
Maybe in the future, but at the moment, I’m not sure how exactly that might work out, because whatever I do involve a lot of skills with the hands, patience, and creativity. Hence, hiring and training people will need to be thought through.
What is your message to young entrepreneurs like you?
Believe in yourself and follow your dreams. Be practical with your ideas. Make sure you can sustain yourself and can be financially independent, even if you can’t make a huge profit. Start a small scale and build up through word of mouth and use social media to go viral.