Meet Akanksha Dean: The first Indian to train at Osteria Francescana, the famed Italian eatery
An opportunity to learn from one of the most celebrated Italian chefs, Massimo Bottura, is a dream come true for any aspiring chef. Akanksha Dean from Delhi has become the first Indian to train at Bottura’s famed restaurant Osteria Francescana. Akanksha studied at Vasant Valley school and then enrolled into Institute of Hotel Management, Aurangabad. Following this, the 21-year-old interned at The Oberoi, Gurgaon. Her father Bakshish Dean is a chef and her mother, Rupali Dean, is a food writer and an ex-chef.
In a conversation with HT, Akanksha reveals how she got selected and shares her unique experience.
How did it begin for you at Osteria Francescana?
I have been following chef Massimo Bottura’s work over the years. His dishes are simple, traditional and yet so beautiful and they always have a story to tell. I have taken a lot from this experience. Now, I know what goes behind making a world-class kitchen. It is not as easy as it looks. You must be extremely passionate if you want to pursue your career as a chef. A lot of hard work and dedication that is required. Chef Massimo Bottura has managed to popularise his traditional cuisine to a whole new level. Modena is a very small town but diners come from all across the world, just to dine at his restaurant. He is truly my inspiration and I was very fortunate to get the opportunity to work in his kitchen.
What obstacles did you overcome to get to Osteria Francescana and do the internship?
The selection procedure is very extensive and since I was the first one from India to ever get this opportunity, I had to attest my determination to show how India is creating culinary students that are on equivalence with any top most culinary university in the world. When I got selected, I was excited about the fact that I would actually get to work in chef Massimo Bottura’s kitchen; it was like a dream come true. The first two days were hard, as I wasn’t used to such an intense working style, but soon I got used to it. My mother was my chief source of encouragement during my training period, knowing that she was with me, enthused me more towards my work.
Did you always want to become a chef?
When I was much younger, I wanted to be a lawyer at some point, a DJ at another point. But somewhere the kitchen, fresh produce markets and of course, eating good food always fascinated me. I guess it’s in my genes and perhaps, this is what I do best. Wielding the ladle since a young age, I feel that only when one develops true empathy for the diner, does he/she become a chef in the complete sense of the word.
Your mother is also an accomplished food writer. What role did she play?
As a child, she always encouraged me to pen down my thoughts after every travel. We always discuss food and its flavours, cooking techniques whenever we go out for a meal. She has always been my support and guide as she understands that cooking is where my heart truly lies.
Initially, she did warn me that working in a kitchen is not quite easy (being an ex- chef herself) and one can only survive if one has the passion for it. She even put me at the Leela Gurgaon kitchen for 3 weeks to understand the reality. To be honest, the first three days were terrible, my feet hurt….standing the whole day, but I soon realised—the kitchen is where I am the happiest.
Which cuisine is your favourite?
There are no favourites at this point of in my career as I want to learn and then decide on a particular cuisine. I do have a keen interest in Japanese cuisine and Asian cuisine.
Which Indian chefs do you look up to?
I have always looked up to my father, as my curiosity in culinary arts was ignited at a young age through the Sunday meals that I prepared with him. He’s very patient, has immense knowledge and I am blessed to have a champion like him behind my dreams. Apart from that I would says it’s:
Chef Manish Sharma, Executive Chef at The Oberoi Gurgaon; my first professional mentor!
Chef Jignesh Mistry and Chef Samir Mulaokar, my professors at the Institute of Hotel Management, Aurangabad.
Chef Raheel Ahmad, Culinary Director, APEC at Marriott International.
What are your future goals?
I have just begun my culinary voyage at the JW Marriott Hotel Aerocity. It’s an 18-month specialised culinary global leadership training program by Marriott International, which is an interesting mix of on ‘the job’ and ‘classroom training’ and learning through a mentor. I aim to evolve as a dedicated and a professional junior sous chef at the end of the program. As a chef, I would like to ensure that a customer leaves with a memory that would compel him/her to return.