In every industry today, we can see women rising to the top on their own merit, making a name for themselves and carving the path for others. Fortunately, to some extent, the same can be said about the restaurant industry as well. It is often assumed that women don't want to work in professional kitchens because of the demanding nature of the job, the long hours and the stress of juggling work with family. Well, this clearly isn't always the case. From Anahita Dhondy of SodaBottleOpenerWala to Pooja Dhingra of Le 15, women are soaring to new heights in restaurants — one dish at a time.
We spoke to a few of these fabulous women chefs and restaurateurs and uncovered some of their secret ingredients for success.
Ivy & Bean, Delhi
Propelled by her love of food, Radhika Khandelwal trained to be a chef in Australia and ran her own cafe before moving to Delhi to open the doors to a lovely cafe, Ivy & Bean. Speaking of women in the professional kitchen she muses, "Things are changing, but it still isn't easy for staff to accept a female boss. They will take time to address you as chef' and not 'ma'am."
"In the beginning, they don't take you seriously, but with time they see your work and understand that you mean business."
The Bombaykery, Gurgaon
Having a mother who was a pastry chef and with a childhood spent in her family bakery in Mumbai, Mithali Sahani's The Bombaykery was sure to be a hit. She later trained to be a pastry chef and worked at five-star kitchens as an intern before starting her own endeavour. Mithali thinks times are changing for sure, but there still are a few problems in the industry for women, such as dealing with suppliers, building a team and — no surprises here — the male staff not wanting a woman boss.
"In five star kitchens, women still aren't taken as seriously as their male counterparts. It won't be incorrect to state it's mainly a male-dominated space."
Paris Cafe, Kolkata
Having been trained at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris to become a pastry chef, Sneha Singhi turned her dream of opening her own cafe into a reality in Kolkata. She has had a very positive experience working in Hyatt's kitchen. Her advice to young women who aspire to open their own eatery someday is to work under experienced chefs and learn as much as possible. There is no substitute for hard work, she says.
"In my experience, I haven't had faced any problems in a professional kitchen just because I was a girl. In fact, I was accepted wholeheartedly by the industry."
The Palms, Kolkata
Priyadarshini Dey always dreamed of opening her own restaurant. One which brought a luxury experience and affordable dining under the same roof. Currently in its ninth year, The Palms is still going strong. She says there are preconceived notions about obstacles in the restaurant industry for women. Her advice: Be clear to your family about your career and the working hours that come with it.
"If one is disciplined, willing to work hard and understands that it's not a regular job, anyone can work in a professional kitchen."
Barley & Grapes, Bangalore
Meghna Varkada, who owns and runs Barley & Grapes in Bangalore, has been a part of the restaurant industry for 16 years now. She says women now have the exposure and education to give them the wherewithal to move away from the routine of getting a degree and then a 9-5 job. Her family's support and an understanding partner are the keys to running a restaurant without compromising on personal life, she avers.
"A man is able to go out and work because he has his family back home supporting him. It's the same with women. When your family is your backbone, you can go out and accomplish anything."
Pure love of food and inspiration from travel are the core of the ethos at Kaficko in Hyderabad. Suma Chereddi opened the place a year and a half ago and has a pan-Asian restaurant in the works. According to Suma, the restaurant industry is like any other, and both men and women need to grapple with obstacles. Her cafe has inspired home cooks and others to start their own food ventures.
"I've build a personal relationship with my staff. We discuss everything together. They're like family to me and that's the kind of faith I have in them."
Me So Happi, Mumbai
Pooja Arambram's family has always been in the restaurant business and it was only natural for her to open one of her own. That's how Me So Happi happened. From bunny chow to dhansak, their menu has "comfort food" written all over it. Pooja believes that a keen eye for detail and a high level of care to the plate is what gives women an edge in the kitchen.
"Customers have evolved and so has food, and that has paved the way for many women to enter the professional kitchen."
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