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Living a dream: life as celeb chefs, travel writers and more

Six people, whose professional lives are the envy of the world, give us a wake-up call about their dream jobs and how behind the stardust is a lot of hard work and sweat.

brunch Updated: May 04, 2014 15:04 IST
Chetna Chakravarty

Be careful when you ask people what they do for a living these days. Their responses might just turn you a delicate shade of green. More Indians are finding fame, fortune and creative freedom as celebrity chefs, travel writers, illustrators and even game developers. It’s easy to think they’re living the good life, answering to no one and rolling in the profits. But often what seems like a dream job to others can be a nightmare to live with. Those in the know tell us all about the sweat behind the stardust.

Saransh Goila

Television chef

WHAT YOU THINK HE DOES: "People think I get to travel, cook, eat, meet people and get paid for it," says 26-year-old Goila, an anchor and chef on the Food Food channel. "I have my own TV show. They assume I earn ‘a million dollars’ per month to eat, cook, look smart and sound funny."

WHAT HE ACTUALLY DOES:As India’s youngest TV chef, life is on the boil. “People don’t realise the struggle that goes into becoming a TV chef and living it every day,” he says. “You’re tested on so many levels, both mentally and physically. You wake up every day having to prove yourself, making sure people like you and trying not to let fame go to your head.”
Goila wakes up at ungodly hours every day for 18-hour shifts that include developing a recipe, make-up, touch-ups, take after take of tasting the same thing, and averting the ever-looming crisis of a recipe looking less than delicious on camera. Even the all-expense-paid holidays feature tight schedules, killer deadlines and a camera in his face all the time.
Some days, it works out fine. But when it doesn’t, he can’t exactly take the day off. Goila’s worst day was when a punishing schedule running into the night made him late the following morning. He forgot to shave and left his on-camera clothes in the rickshaw on the way to work (yes, he takes public transport!) Things had to look perfect, so he shaved with a clumsy razor, wore clothes that didn’t fit and shot for 10 hours with a smile that hid all the tiredness and frustration he was feeling – a burnt hand and a lisp were the only giveaway.
As for that million dollar pay cheque, “I wish I was making that kind of money, but it’s not even close,” he says.

WANT TO DO THE SAME?Goila got his first break in the Food Food Maha Challenge talent show, which he won in 2009, earning him his own show. He advises that TV chef hopefuls take acting lessons, build contacts and develop a concept for a show to pitch it to TV executives. Or produce the show yourself and try selling it to channels. Or upload it to YouTube and hope to stand out from the millions out there.

Rishad Saam Mehta

Travel writer and photographer

WHAT YOU THINK HE DOES: Is on holiday pretty much his whole life, lives in luxury, watching the sun set, drives fancy cars, and then whips up a story that pays for his vacation.

WHAT HE ACTUALLY DOES:“The reality is thankfully much the same,” says Mehta. But that’s not all there’s to it. “I don’t lose sight of the fact that I’m on work, not a holiday, and ‘the lap of luxury’ bit isn’t always true. Often, to get the really stunning picture high up in the Himalayas or some other pretty hidden corner of the world, I drive for hours, live in a car or a tent, bathe in a river and walk for a day or two.”
Those are the good days. The terrible ones are when he’s stuck at airports, his flight cancelled or much delayed, or an unexpected layover threatens to make him miss an event or a festival – rendering his whole trip useless.
Mehta says you need patience, a sense of adventure, the ability to fight off terror, and a loose definition of comfort for the job. People ask him if he gets fed up of living out of a suitcase. “I’m only too happy to jump off cliffs into the ice-cold Atlantic and kayak in the same choppy ocean for a story.”

WANT TO DO THE SAME?“Travel, photograph, write,” says Mehta simply. “Don’t wait for an assignment to come your way and then travel. But travel and have stories ready and try to sell them.” And remember, you’ll be paid only for your work, not for all the money you spent on your trip.

Abhishek Singh

Graphic illustrator and author of Krishna: A Journey Within

WHAT YOU THINK HE DOES: Lies in bed till inspiration strikes. Then creates a masterpiece in a burst of frenzy. Blames his mad genius for mistakes and quirks.

WHAT HE ACTUALLY DOES:For Singh, art is life. But it’s a hard life. Comic books don’t sell well enough to fill up a bank account; graphic novels, even less so. His day begins with a tea and few moments to admire the sky, but a few sips in, he is ready to work. “I jump right into sketching, even on days I have to finish a painting,” Singh says. “I take breaks to sketch ideas for my graphic novel, I carry a sketchbook everywhere, it’s how I assemble my thoughts, and get back to what needs to be finished for the day.”
The job is not for the impatient. One page of a graphic novel can take five days. Then, there’s the way India treats its artists. Comic illustrators often get no credit for their material, so talented people like Singh often work unnoticed.

WANT TO DO THE SAME?Start early. Singh’s first piece was published in a newspaper when he was 12. “Learning is inherent in doing, so, draw, draw and draw,” he says. “Find studios and people you’d like to work with, get their views. Tell a story because you want to and respect other people’s ideas too.” An art/design degree also helps.

Shailesh Prabhu

Game developer and founder of Yellow Monkey Studios

WHAT YOU THINK HE DOES: Gets paid to play Assassin’s Creed, Counter-Strike, Need for Speed and Grand Theft Auto. Knows all the cracks, patches and shortcuts.

WHAT HE ACTUALLY DOES:A whole lot more. “You have to play games, dissect them and understand what makes them work, almost to a point where it may not be fun anymore,” says Prabhu. “You need to make prototypes for new ideas, scrap the ones that you like if resources and platform accessibility [if the game will play well on all intended devices] don’t match. You have to build those games and that artwork, constantly test them to make sure they are fun, promote the daylights out of them and try to pay the bills and stay alive!”
Prabhu’s bad days involve a burnt router and sound card because of a power outage. He often gets asked: “Does playing games make you want to murder people?” His hands are bloodless so far.

WANT TO DO THE SAME?“Play lots of games!” Analyse what makes games tick. There’s plenty of middleware available to make games these days. “Use them to make something fresh and fun. But don’t think it will be easy,” Prabhu warns. Be open to feedback and criticism.

Pankhuri Shrivastava

Founder of, which connects flats and flatmates

WHAT YOU THINK SHE DOES: Shrivastava often gets comments that sound like this: "Oh, you are an entrepreneur? So what do you do – sit, dream and throw ideas around, and then get someone to do it all for you, right?"

WHAT SHE ACTUALLY DOES:Everything. “Reality involves being admin, HR, IT expert, designer, writer, marketing whiz and the bank,” Shrivastava says. With a web company, the backstage is rarely as bright as the landing page. Mornings are spent organising water supply, Internet and refreshments. “These tasks may sound banal but in a start-up, the founders are responsible for everything, and running an office is no child’s play,” she says. Being a motivational speaker becomes part of the profile to encourage employees. Most digital start-ups begin free and then work towards a paid model. So checking on investor confidence is very important.
Some problems don’t have to do with Grabhouse. As a girl in the digital start-up and real estate world, she faces sexist comments like the one she got from an aunt who advised her to quit and join an IT firm. “You’ll become a team leader in two years,’ the aunt said. “Marketing is for boys.” But she’s sticking it out.

WANT TO DO THE SAME?“Entrepreneurship is your biggest teacher,” says Shrivastava. “Never start because you are bored of your regular life. Start only when you feel strongly about solving a problem, no matter what it takes.”

Nikhil Agarwal

Wine and whiskey promoter at All Things Nice

WHAT YOU THINK HE DOES: Drinks fine wine and spirits as a matter of daily routine. Eats at the world’s top restaurants. Travels to vineyards and distilleries over the weekend, sourcing new flavours to introduce people to.

WHAT HE ACTUALLY DOES:“Guilty as charged,” says Nikhil Agarwal. His job as founder of All Things Nice, which aims to introduce regular people to wines, whiskies, single malts and gourmet experiences, is pretty much what people imagine it to be. But Agarwal adds that the hours between the hedonistic moments are hectic. When your day ends and you’re looking to unwind – that’s when his workday begins. An event that might last barely a few hours on a Friday evening means he works non-stop from Thursday morning to Friday late night with just a few hours of sleep. Weekdays and weekends blend into each other and so does the personal and professional. Agarwal now averages about two or more events per week.

For someone dealing in the finer things, the pressure is always on. “It’s our job to pay attention to everyone’s likes and dislikes,” he says. “While we get similar questions from different groups of people, it is difficult to anticipate all of them. You have to know your field of work well and be quick to answer questions accurately.”

And have everything ready on time too. “The bad days in this field are not always event related,” Agarwal says. “Most of the time, the agony is caused by vendors who don’t deliver on time.” So when an event, big or small, is a success, “there’s a sense of pride for having introduced such concepts and executing them in India,” says Agarwal. It’s what makes the sore throat, the yelling at suppliers and the many test bottles of bad wine worthwhile.

WANT TO DO THE SAME?Educate yourself on wines and spirits with certification courses abroad. “It’s very important to have a clear definition of what you want to be,” Agarwal says. Network well so people trust you and taste all the wine and spirits the world has to offer. Get into the field only if you are really passionate – it’s the biggest reward.

Chetna Chakravarty has something of a dream job herself. As the founder of The Basket Case (@TweetTheBasket), she runs a homemade gourmet food delivery service and gets to taste a lot of goodies as part of the job.

From HT Brunch, May 4
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