Queens of the kitchen

debarati jain, commi 1, JW Marriott Hotel What does it mean to be a woman chef in India? In India, lots of people think that a woman can’t be a chef as being a chef involves a lot of hard work. When I joined the profession, many people discouraged me t

Women are reclaiming their space in the kitchens...

Shazia Khan, celebrity chef

Shazia Khan
Shazia Khan

What does it mean to be a woman chef in India?

This space was always ours and it was actually more difficult for men to enter it. Earlier, parents would not encourage their children to become chefs. Becoming a khansama was scoffed at! Considering the changing times, I think women have had it easier as men have had to brave the taboo of taking up this profession. Men are, in fact, now enjoying donning the apron.

What’s the most difficult part of being a woman in this profession?

This field is challenging because being on your feet for long hours can be physically strenuous and the job is thus better suited for men. The strain sometimes gets to me. But for all other reasons, it is a wonderful profession as you get to experiment with food and give it your own individualistic touch and flavour. The industry is also male-dominated across the board and women struggle more as they need to choose between career and raising a family, and this sometimes forces women to step back.

Any memorable or funny moments that you would like to share with us?

During video shoots, since the focus is always on making food look attractive, I sometimes forget and add sugar powder instead of salt, thereby goofing up big time! 

What is your comfort food, and why?

It has to be dal-chawal and mutton chops especially cooked by my mother as she adds that special touch of love. I also love Bengaluru’s authentic Muslim fare.

 

Pooja Dhingra
Pooja Dhingra

Pooja Dhingra, pastry chef & owner, Le 15 Patisserie

What does it mean to be a woman chef in India?

For me, it’s slightly different because I’m not only a chef but also a business owner. My challenges are more related to business than being a chef only.

What’s the most difficult part of being a woman in this profession? 

Again, it’s difficult for me to answer because I’ve only worked for myself in India. I do, however, believe that the culinary world has been largely male-dominated. But I’m happy to see this changing today.

Any memorable or funny moments that you would like to share with us?

I guess being a young girl when I started my business (23) I was always asked where my father was or husband was, but once people realised it’s me calling the shots, things changed.

What’s your comfort food, and why?

Dal-chawal made at my home. It feels comfortable, safe, delicious, and is nostalgic. 

 

Amrita Raichand, celebrity chef & TV show host 

Amrita Raichand
Amrita Raichand

What does it mean to be a woman chef in India?

Being a woman in this profession feels very glorious as women have always been the force behind food. Men may be the breadwinners, but it has always been women who have been instrumental in bringing food to the table. Women are indeed the heart and soul of food. Although women have taken a little longer to come out and make their presence felt in the relatively male-dominated space, it was always theirs and they have come back to reclaim it. My journey has been very spiritual and I enjoy being in the limelight and to be known as a chef. I also feel that at most events, I get a better response and have a larger following vis-a-vis men, as I am popular because of my TV show and people want to come and watch me display my culinary skills.

What’s the most difficult part of being a woman in this profession?

Work-life balance with children and family is the biggest challenge as most give up if they do not get a supportive family. However, women should be proud of their existence as they are blessed with layers of emotion and integrity and have the ability to multi-task, and at most given times, have the special power to set things right. They must learn to positively use that power to their advantage and not let it go waste.

Any memorable or funny moments that you would like to share with us?

On one of my trips to the Golden Temple in Amritsar, I was pleasantly surprised to see women surround me and exclaim with glee that they had been trying out my recipes and thanks to that, their children had taken a liking to food. They didn’t even let me pray and insisted that I listen to their stories. I was told by a mother that her child enjoyed the food prepared by her and complimented her by saying that you cook like Amrita! Another parent told me that her child was so impressed with my show that she wanted to become a chef. Such a response is heartwarming and charges me up.

What is your comfort food, and why?

I love simple dal-chawal as it was also the same dish that I experimented with when I was eight years old. I like aloo ka chokha and tomato chutney, too. I’m a Bihari in my preferences for food as I grew up in Jamshedpur.

 

Anahita Dhondy, chef manager, SodaBottleOpenerWala

Anahita N Dhondy
Anahita N Dhondy

What does it mean to be a woman chef in India?

Every Women’s Day, this question is asked to women, but as a chef, I feel it doesn’t matter if you are a man or a woman. You are a professional first. But it feels to be very good to be a part of a space which has been dominated by men for so many years. However, what’s most important is for us not to see it as a profession that’s separate for men and women. It’s equal for both. The job’s responsibilities and the workload is equal for both. It makes me feel empowered. I also think it’s also good for us to pave the way for more women to join this industry.

What’s the most difficult part of being a woman in this profession?

What becomes tedious is the number of hours you put in this field. The hospitality industry doesn’t work on a 9 to 5 basis, it works around the clock, so there are times when I come back home at 12 or 1 am. So, you should have a family that is open-minded and one that completely supports you. It is also true that people don’t take a woman in a place of power seriously. For instance, at the age of 23, when I started in this profession, I realised that when someone has less experience, people don’t take them seriously. So, people felt I was still a junior and should not be taken seriously. But as I proved my mettle, worked alongside them, the perspective changed. Initially, I wasn’t as equally respected as a male chef because they didn’t think I was fit to be their boss at 23. But once I proved I am equally hard-working and was a team player, they started to respect me. 

Any memorable or funny moments that you would like to share with us?

It would be the moment when my entire team, in a team briefing, said, ‘Yes, Chef!’ with a huge amount of enthusiasm. That shook me to my core. At 23, I also earned the respect of my colleagues who were much older to me and also had a lot more experience than me. There was no better feeling than that.  

What’s your comfort food, and why?

Dal-chawal and fresh tomato chutney. It’s basically simple dal with a tadka of jeera and garlic and plain rice along with a fresh tomato chutney which Parsis usually make. Or, I also like a simple aloo ki sabzi. Since I am surrounded by so much heavy and fancy food all day, when I come back home, I want simple home-cooked sabzis and dals. They give me so much joy.

 

Debarati Jain, commi 1, JW Marriott Hotel 

Debarati Jain
Caption

What does it mean to be a woman chef in India?

In India, lots of people think that a woman can’t be a chef as being a chef involves a lot of hard work. When I joined the profession, many people discouraged me to join the kitchen. They, in fact, asked me to become a part of lesser stressful departments like the front office and so on. Even when I went for my interview, I was suggested to join the bakery. But I was adamant to work in the main kitchen, so I refused. I believe a woman can do anything if she puts her mind to it.

What’s the most difficult part of being a woman in this profession?

Everything, actually. It’s a highly demanding job that can take a toll on you. Be it carrying around heavy equipments in the kitchen, or working with fire for long times, or the long working hours, the culinary world is definitely not easy. But I like to believe that if you love your job, such things won’t be an issue for you; you’ll start enjoying them instead. But to women who aspire to join this field, I would like to say that they should follow their heart and be whatever they aspire to be.

Any memorable or funny moments that you would like to share with us?

Since I love my job, every event that we do in the hotel makes me happy and is always memorable. Recently, we had put up a market in the hotel and all of us were busy. And, even during the Aero Show, we were doing lots of things. It was a very enjoyable atmosphere to work with everyone during such hectic times.

What is your comfort food, and why?

I love simple, home-cooked food like dal-roti and dal-chawal, I don’t think anything in the world can beat that. I also love a good risotto!

 

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Queens of the kitchen

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