“I am a failed trekking caterer”, Rohit Aggarwal of Lite Bite Foods tells me, with a woebegone look on his face. I assume he is joking, and guffaw appreciatively. After all, he and Lite Bite partner Amit Burman are among the three largest players in the restaurant industry currently in India, with no private equity and no other partners or share-holders. And they have an empire that stretches from airport catering to quick service restaurants in malls to fine dining eateries across the country, plus a few overseas.
But, it appears that Aggarwal is not joking. Trekking in the uplands of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh is how he spends his ‘downtime’, away from frenetic travelling (Lite Bite Foods is just one of his babies; the others are exporting garments and trading in wool). He is part of a loosely-knit group of like-minded souls from ages 20 to 75 who are lured by the mountains. They aim to trek once a month: those who can, join in. Those who cannot, do so on another occasion. Because of Aggarwal’s day job, however, it was inevitable that he was chosen to look after the meal logistics of trekking. And he himself gladly assented. After all, looking after well over 100 restaurants country-wide was his main business, so planning meals for 20 nature-loving trekkers in the mountains would be child’s play, he reasoned.
That turned out to be famous last words. After the first day, none of the trekkers wanted to eat rice. “Too boring,” was the consensus. Chapattis were out of the question because of the labour involved. Dal became enemy number one. War broke out every morning on the type of dal that would be cooked that evening. “No more of that peeli dal nonsense,” cried one trekker. “I’ve just about had enough of it all these days”, failing to point out that it was only Day Two of the trek! “Can’t we have Maggi noodles,” exclaimed another trekker. “Never! No Maggi noodles on the trek please. They’re so unhealthy” the health brigade would expostulate. “Make ANYTHING.” someone else would exclaim, and then groan at whatever was served. “Why don’t we have momos?” would be the outlandish request of one person, not realizing that the labour-intensive little momos required an expertise, not to mention ingredients and cooking utensils, that were simply out of the question on a trek at an altitude of 9,000 feet!
Through it all, Aggarwal impassively hands out chocolate and dry fruits with the air of a veteran, while looking back with longing at the hundreds of customer feedback forms that he pores over at the Lite Bite restaurants.