A burst of nostalgia and a desire to get people into the habit for picnics in the great outdoors prompted Instagram’s favourite incurable cook Rajat Mendhi to start Bombay Picnics
In April this year, when the Mendhi family found themselves holidaying in New York on a crisp spring day, it absolutely called for a picnic in Central Park. Rajat Mendhi, known to the Insta-verse as The Incurable Cook, and his family seated themselves at a lush green spot in Central Park, on a large bed sheet under a cloudless sky, talking about everything under the sun as they gorged on bite-sized sandwiches and cool beverages.
A Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef, it is no wonder that Rajat is now slowly gaining a reputation as the founder of the one-of-a-kind al-fresco meals concept, Bombay Picnics.
Picnicking, it seems, is coded in the Mendhi family genes. Mumbai-raised Rajat reminisces about picnicking frequently, at least once during each trip to his native Jamshedpur as a child. With his uncle’s van all loaded up, they’d make their way to nearby Jubilee Gardens or Dimna Lake. “We’d carry cricket bats, travel games, anything that would keep us entertained outdoors. In fact, once, my father and uncle went as far as to direct and shoot a detective home video on our camcorder, where my cousins and I were pretending to search for the family’s pet dog.”
Even though most of his picnic memories are at popular spots, Rajat believes that people picnic less now because they are limited to tried-and-tested picnic spots. But then, where can one go, given the dearth of good, family-friendly spots? “Anywhere you can find a safe, pedestrian-only space with trees and plants around that makes you feel happy to be outdoors. It could be a friend’s building terrace, your own balcony or patio, the building garden, a playground that’s out of use, or the park down the road. Get your friends and family, spread a bed sheet and have yourself a picnic,” he suggests.
Picnics should be fun and the preferred alternative to dining at a restaurant, Rajat says, which is one of the main reasons why he wants to bring picnicking back in vogue. His other reason—as his Instagram alias suggests—is food, which compelled him to leave behind a career as an advertising strategist. “Food, for me, is an experience, an emotion. While I was considering the other ways to present food in contexts and formats that break away from existing dining experiences, I chanced upon this picnic idea and the nostalgia overwhelmed and excited me immediately. It felt right and I wanted to share it with others.” And thus, Bombay Picnics came into being.
The concept revolves around organising outdoor picnics—in backyards, terraces or balconies of private homes belonging to friends and family—which bring back the nostalgia of childhood wonder. Each edition of the picnic focuses on the simple joys of life—food (a picnic-style six-course meal, usually including sandwiches, fruits and cakes or Swiss rolls), drink (coffee, tea and sangrias), music, games and conversation—all without the effort of planning. Rajat says that what’s most crucial for him is to present “a menu that reflects the season and ensure a happy and fun time for all.”
Interested in planning a picnic all on your own? Rajat shares his checklist of some picnic must-haves:
1. A large blanket: “No picnic is complete without a large blanket to sit on with family and friends—and to be served homemade food on. On the plus side, it also keeps your picnic area free of any food crumbs or spillage.”
2. Light, bite-sized food accompanied by beverages: “Picnic food is ideally eaten with just one hand, so it needs to be simple. Chutney and cucumber sandwiches and fresh, seasonal fruits like grapes or strawberries that don’t require cutting are ideal,” says Rajat, adding that thermoses help carry sufficient portions of coffee, tea and fresh lime water. Other refreshing options include iced teas, buttermilk, ginger ale, fruit-based slushies and milkshakes.
3. Pack right: “Paper napkins, wet wipes, water bottles, kitchen towels (to cover the food), travel-friendly games, a camera and, most importantly, trash bags. I think it’s important to leave the area clean—preferably cleaner—than it was before.”