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Wonder women: Recipe for success in Chandigarh’s hospitality industry

The physically demanding chores are often what keep women from donning chef hats in commercial kitchens. But all that it seems is fast changing, at least in the tricity.

punjab Updated: Jan 02, 2018 18:20 IST
Jagmeeta Thind Joy
Jagmeeta Thind Joy
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Female chef,success,hospitality industry
Chef Gayatri Sood of Monica’s at Sector 8 Chandigarh. (Karun Sharma/HT)

It’s one of the busiest times of the year for the hospitality industry. With winter vacations come year-end parties and an influx of both domestic and international tourists. The run-up to the New Year is always a challenge, admit those in the business. But the heat is felt the most in the hotel and restaurant kitchens.

You needn’t have watched any cookery show featuring Gordon Ramsay, the British celebrity chef, to know that working here isn’t easy. Apart from the hot temperatures, you need to be on your feet for long stretches, excel in multi-tasking and always work as if it’s the rush hour. The physically demanding chores are often what keep women from donning chef hats in commercial kitchens. But all that it seems is fast changing, at least in the tricity.

Undaunted by long hours, male-dominated staff or gruelling tasks, these lady chefs from the tricity have carved out a place for themselves.

A recent change of guard in the kitchens of The Lalit Chandigarh saw Chef Nandita Karan take over as the hotel’s executive chef. A graduate of Institute of Hotel Management, Patna, Chef Karan has worked her way up the kitchen ladder.

“I didn’t really set out to become a chef. In fact, I wanted to work in the front office section,” quips the 36-year-old. But it was during her industrial training in New Delhi that Nandita was exposed to the hotel kitchens and the way chefs work. “Of course, one had heard of stories of back-breaking work and abusive language being used in kitchens, but when I saw the team led by the chef and the end result, I knew this is what I wanted to do,” admits Chef Nandita.

The Lalit Chandigarh’s executive chef Nandita Karan at work. (Sant Arora/HT )

Having specialised in Italian and Continental cuisine, Chef Nandita has been a globetrotter and even worked with well-known international chef Jamie Oliver. “I have worked in different departments in the kitchen. It is not easy but it is not impossible. You need to be focussed on your work and be good at it,” says Karan who feels Indian kitchens have come a long way. “There is male dominance but most hotel kitchens have a professional hierarchy and setup,” she adds.

Having worked in the hospitality industry for 17 years, Chef Richa Johri has carved a distinct space for herself. Her mantra for success is similar to Chef Nandita’s.

“Be prepared for challenges but deal with them professionally. Your work should speak for you and then it doesn’t matter if you are man or woman,” says Chef Johri. Heading Whistling Duck, Chandigarh and WD House in Delhi, the chef has a hectic schedule but one she’s got accustomed to. “Working as a chef comes with long hours and unsociable timings but one has to work things out. Also as an executive chef you can only command respect if you understand how each section works. I remember training on the tandoor in the early days and it was gruelling,” admits Johri.

Chef Richa Johri (HT Photo )

Family support

Given the fact that women spearhead the kitchen at home with elan, why is it that so many women resist joining commercial kitchens as chefs? “It demands a lot of work and long hours. Most women opt out early and those who continue have a lot of support from home,” feels Chef Anubhav Sawhney who steers AJ Foods and sub ventures like Made@Home and Lets Go Dutch bakery. Her commercial kitchen in Kansal sees the chef head an all-male staff. “The only way to succeed is to go about all tasks professionally. There has to be discipline in the kitchen,” says Anubhav who has found full support in her husband Jasmeet.

Chef Anubhav Sawney is the co-founder and head chef at made@home. (HT Photo)

While family support goes a long way, 25-year-old chef Gayatri Sood feels its experience and one’s own learning that can help women make their presence felt in the commercial kitchen.

Having specialised in Italian and Continental cuisine, Chef Nandita has been a globetrotter and even worked with well-known international chef Jamie Oliver.

“At the end of the day it is like any other male dominated workplace. The more you work, the more experience you gain, the more professional you will be,” says Sood who spearheads Monica’s chain of bakeries. To make sure she was technically sound, Sood, a second generation baker after her mother Monica Sood, studied at the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. Not one to take it easy with an already established business, Sood completed her management studies as well. So does she find working in a male dominated industry challenging, we ask her.

“Frankly, dealing with male staff in the kitchen is less daunting than dealing with customers. Today, that’s where the challenge lies. You have to be on your feet, thinking of new ideas and always maintain quality,” says Sood who looks at all the operations on a daily basis. “It’s been almost four years since I joined the business and every day has been a learning experience,” she sums up.

First Published: Jan 02, 2018 14:19 IST