What do you think of this menu?
Bella Notte: Ground beef, diced buffalo meat and lightly-steamed beef liver, tossed with amaranth leaves and tender cubed pumpkins, with a side of whole durum wheat spiral pasta, garnished with fresh, hand-shredded herbs.
Minted Lamb Casserole: A hearty mix of lamb and vegetables sauteed in its own juices, with added fresh garden peas, slow-steamed winter squash and Australian carrots, garnished with fresh herbs.
Caribbean: Chunky, bite-sized pork and liver, with fresh slivered coconut meat, potassium-rich chopped plantains, and soft, slow-cooked red lentils, topped with freshly grated green papaya and garnished with fresh herbs.
Hungry yet? Well, this delicious-sounding menu isn’t meant for humans. It’s been specially created to satisfy dogs’ appetites by Pet Daddy, a food service company dedicated to serving fresh, home-cooked gourmet meals for dogs!
I got in touch with Prakash Ragavan, the founder of Pet Daddy, to set up the interview. He said that I could come over but warned that he might not have time to talk as he was rushing to prepare 1,400 meals to be delivered the next day.
Wait, 1,400 gourmet doggie meals? I couldn’t very well miss the chance to see this, could I? I quickly volunteered to come in the next morning and help pack the meals, hoping to sneak in a chat in the meantime. Prakash was only too glad to have an extra pair of hands, so I was set!
I arrived at about 10 the next morning at his Damansara Heights house. As I walked through the gates, past the deck chairs and the leisure pool, the aroma of cooking meat hit me. It smelled SO GOOD! A smiling Prakash – Pet Daddy himself – comes out to shake my hand. The tall, teddy-bearish man ushers me into his home, where I see giant steel basins of steaming food on the floor.
Stepping neatly around the basins, Prakash pointed out the 6 industrial-sized burners and a more normal sized double stove that they used for each cook (Pet Daddy prepares the doggie meals weekly). He then introduced me to some of his cook team: Meralyn Siena, the head cook who supervises the massive task, and Jasmine Lim, the nutritionist who calculates the nutrition and calorie requirements of each dog.
I peeked into the basins and saw lots of juicy meat indeed. But there was also pasta, chopped hard-boiled eggs, cubed pumpkins, diced carrots, shredded coconut, dhal, fresh pineapple, nutritious brown rice, peas, daikon radish, and herbs.
As he continued showing me around, Prakash explained that they were way behind the cooking schedule. They had attended a pet show the previous weekend, and a huge number of new customers were eager to let their furkids try his delicious doggie dishes. So the team had to cook over 550kg of food that week, almost double their normal 300kg, and that had upset the timing.
On top of that, some volunteers (which included some veterinary students) had pulled out at the last moment, leaving them short-handed. Double whammy!
Prakash told me that they had been cooking up a storm throughout the night. They were supposed to have a couple of hours of sleep in between, but that plan quickly went out the window. It was all hands on deck as mountains of food still had to be cooked. But the team’s passion for this work was obvious because they were still hard at work trying to get back to schedule, despite the dark circles around their eyes.
Since they weren’t done cooking yet, we couldn’t start packing. So I had some time to sit down and chat with Pet Daddy. Lucky for me (not so much for them, though!)
I just had to ask the most obvious question, “How did you get the idea for Pet Daddy – cooking gourmet food for dogs?”
“Well, I don’t know if you could call it gourmet or not,” said Prakash, “to me it’s all about how much love you put into the food.”
And, as Prakash goes on to explain, the journey towards Pet Daddy indeed began with an act of love.
Love, The Greatest Ingredient
A few years ago, his then eight-year-old Rhodesian Ridgeback, Teak had completely lost her appetite for dry dog feed. She just refused to touch it. So Prakash had to find meal alternatives for her. From his internet researches, he found that dogs responded very well to certain human foods. So he began to cook for his beloved dogs.
His first doggie recipe was a huge success – his dogs began eating their food much more enthusiastically, (wolfing down their food, as he said). He also noticed that their health was improving and they became more frisky too.
“Wait,” I asked, “isn’t dog food specially formulated to give dogs the best nutrition?”
“I would challenge any dry food producer,” said Prakash with conviction. “You serve your dogs dry feed for a year, and I’ll serve my dogs my cooked meals for a year. Then, we compare and see which dogs are healthier.”
And these aren’t just words, either. Prakash noticed an “amazing change” in his dogs within just 2 weeks of feeding them his home-cooked meals. Their fur had become darker and softer, and their coats had a nice shine. Even Teak’s old-dog white fur started to disappear. Other niggling health issues disappeared and they gained weight. Overall, they were more active and needed fewer visits to the vet.
Prakash realised that he was on to something and got a group together to do more research. There were four of them: a veterinarian, a pet groomer who had exceptional canine nutritional knowledge, a TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) practitioner and Prakash himself – all dog lovers and all looking for the best food for their pets.
Nutritionally Balanced Meals For Dogs
After many meetings and discussions, five recipes were selected. Coming up with these carefully balanced meals was no easy feat. The food could not be cooked human-style. It needed to be prepared to suit a dog’s digestive system, which is shorter and designed for a meat diet.
They went through a long process of trial recipes and food testings, which included countless hours of going through dog poop to see if the food had been properly digested. If not, the recipes had to be fine-tuned some more. (Prakash gave me some pretty graphic details, but I shall spare you, gentle reader!)
After months of hard work, they finally got the perfect balance of ingredients, portions, nutrition and cooking times. These recipes use 100% fresh, healthy, human-grade food and added natural supplements (like extra virgin coconut oil, organic apple cider vinegar, and kelp powder).
“We tested the food ourselves before feeding it to our pets,” says Prakash. Yup, you can finally share a meal with your furkids, now.
A Dog’s Best Friend
Pet Daddy puts a lot of care into ensuring every dog gets the ideally balanced meal. Each meal has 70-90% meat, except Asian Delight which has 40%. And no meat discards are used. It’s all healthy fresh meat that you would find in a shepherd’s pie or beef bolognaise at any good restaurant.
The meals also include fresh vegetables, fruits, grains, and other yummy ingredients. Finely-ground bones are mixed into the doggie meals as well to provide extra calcium. Don’t worry, these bones have been processed to ensure they have no sharp edges and won’t harm our canine friends.
Each recipe’s combination of ingredients was selected not only for taste, but also for nutritional value, including taking into consideration how they react to each other in the canine digestive system.
Prakash explained that no additives and preservatives are used in the food, so proper handling and storage of food is very important. To avoid cross-contamination, separate storage and preparation areas for meat and vegetables are a must. And to avoid food degradation, all ingredients are bought fresh – never frozen – and cooked as soon as possible.
Once all the food has been cooked, it is immediately packed to preserve its freshness. Each serving pack is portioned according to the individual dog’s weight, age, and breed. Even activity levels are taken into consideration to help manage the weight of the dog.
It’s a lot of work, but Prakash is adamant about the effort that has to be put into ensuring the quality of the meals. Nothing but the best for our furry friends, right?
Sharing The Goodness
Once the recipes were perfected, Pet Daddy was launched as a business in 2013. Demand has been steadily growing since, although there are still many challenges. One of the biggest is convincing dog owners to switch to cooked meals instead of convenient dry feed, as this is still a very novel idea.
“But if there are many dog owners who want your meals, how do you get it to them?” I asked, “As your business grows, that’s got to be an issue, right?”
“It’s a key issue,” admitted Prakash. “At the moment, we deliver to nearby areas but for people who live further, they come and pick it up.”
“Another issue is convenience. Dry feed can be stored anywhere and be kept for a long time. With cooked meals, you need freezer space and you need to come and collect it regularly. It does bother a lot of people.”
“But for people who are really concerned about their dogs’ well-being, they don’t need to think twice,” explains Prakash. “I meet a lot of such people and they are almost always very, very nice people. So that’s one of the fringe benefits of this job, you get to meet very nice people.”
Well I can vouch for that! Prakash is indeed a very nice person. And I’m looking forward to visiting him again about his other business venture – Wine Daddy. But that’s another story!