When it comes to professional cooking, where are our women chefs?
Women have always been considered kings of the kitchen. Then why is it so difficult to accept that she can don the chef’s hat in high-end restaurants?
Does the modern Indian woman:
- Enjoy cooking?
- Cook at home?
- Cook professionally?
If the first two are the ones chosen, then voilà, the Indian woman is automatically elevated to the status of a ‘qualified Indian cook’. But what if she chooses the third option?
In India, a woman cook and a woman chef are altogether two different entities. Mention the kitchen in an Indian home, and what comes to your mind? An Indian mother churning out round rotis, mouth-watering halwas, spicy mutton biryani, sambhar sadam and what not!
Now, take a peek into some hotel kitchens, and one can easily figure out that this is a male-dominated industry. This may be due to several reasons. A lot of people have the notion that there is a lot of physical strain involved in hotel kitchens that a woman can’t bear on a daily basis. Chefs are expected to be on their feet constantly, and may even have to carry heavy loads of weight. Moreover, the working hours are unsociable. The profession isn’t really pro-family; there is a struggle involved, and one needs to be able to juggle between one’s career and family. But then again, every profession has its pros and cons, and it is the way in which they are tackled that counts.
Women have always been considered kings of the kitchen. Then why is it so difficult to accept that she can don the chef’s hat in high-end restaurants? From pastries to food trucks, women in India are now ready to make a mark on the culinary scene.
On par with the best
Let’s take the perspective of Divya Nichani. Divya, the founder of Puraw Vida, is a yoga practitioner and nutritionist who has been training people in the Iyengar Yoga style for the last decade, both in India and abroad. She is also a graduate of the world's premier raw culinary school, Living Light, in California, and is an associate chef, pastry chef and instructor. As a mother of a ten-year-old, she is very conscious about the need for mindfulness and healthy living. Her interest in healthy eating led her to choose her profession. Currently, she holds workshops and demos on how to prepare raw, vegan, plant-based foods, especially for kids.
While it is common for a woman to conquer the kitchen at home, when it comes to a restaurant, it seems to become a challenge, if you look at how dominated the scene is by men. However, the times are changing, and women are coming into the forefront and making themselves seen as glorious chefs worldwide, says Divya.
"People are fascinated with male chefs, not female chefs, because female chefs are doing what females are supposed to do: cook. But males are seen as doing something
extraordinary. When you think about food, it's often seen as a female domain, but as soon as it becomes something where you can win a crown, then the boys move in, right?
I admit that a hotel kitchen continues to be male-dominated because of its anti-sociable hours. It's mostly a choice between your career and your family life, and there’s a lot of compromise made by women chefs worldwide. When you are in a chef's uniform, you are not a man or a woman; you're a chef who creates different dishes, and at the end of it all, that's what matters,” she says.
When asked about what differences she has noticed between women chefs abroad and in India, Divya says, “The efficiency of any chef can be instantly recognised by the
presentation and quality of food they present to their customers. A chef not only needs to be versatile in his or her cooking, but should also be familiar with the cuisines of various other nationalities. The good news is that women chefs in India are at par with great chefs in other parts of the world.”
With the rise of programmes like Master Chef, this profession has gained a good deal of glamour and promise. Women have time and again proved that they are mind blowing chefs as well. Here are a few of the famous female chefs of India who have conquered the hotel industry. They are popular not only for their culinary skills and presentation style, but also for authoring cook books and hosting and owning shows that have won hearts across the globe.
Veena Arora is self-taught, and cooks by following her instincts. Born and brought up in Thailand, she moved to India in 1980 and turned her passion into a career. Veena is a consultant and Chef de Cuisine at The Imperial Hotel in New Delhi. She has also worked with top names like the Lalit. She is the winner of several awards, including the Best Lady Chef by the Ministry of Tourism and the Gourmet Guru Award by the magazine Food N Nightlife.
This Head Chef of the Oberoi ventured into cooking paneer tikka, chicken tikka, tandoori naan and ajwaini machhi. She started cooking at the age of ten, and says it is her favourite pastime even today. Tandoori dishes are her speciality, and they have been turning heads for a while now.
Ritu Dalmia is also a self-taught chef. She is known for her Italian cooking, and has hosted TV shows as well. Her interest in Italian cuisine took shape after a visit to Italy. At the age of 21, she launched her restaurant MezzaLuna in Delhi’s Hauz Khas village. Ritu today has seven restaurants in Delhi, and her most poular being, Diva in South Delhi.
Madhu Krishnan is considered to be one of the best chefs in India. She is the recipient of several awards, including the prestigious Hoteliers India Award, Chef of the Year, 2010, and Incredible India, National Tourism Award for Best Lady Chef of the Year (2005-2006).
Known for her hard work and remarkable choice of food, this chief executive chef at the ITC Grand Maratha in Mumbai was hugely credited for her contribution to the West View, ITC Maurya, which opened in 1996.
Among the handful of corporate chefs in India, Nita Nagaraj stands tall. This corporate chef of Jaypee Hotels started her journey as a chef thirty years ago. She says that cooking was never her dream, and actually asserts that in the first few months, she had wanted to quit.
She specialises in continental cuisine, and is a professionally trained chef. She had worked with the Oberoi and Taj Groups before joining Jaypee.
From pastas to ice creams to tandoori cooking, women have time and again sparked a revolution in the kitchen, giving the hotel industry a run for its money.
Kudos to all the kitchen queens!