With more youngsters entering the culinary world, Rehna Abdul Kareem talks to a few young guns in the city who have turned their passions into professions, creating drool-worthy wonders in the kitchen.

Fresh vegetables, succulent meat cuts and exotic spices — all ready to be turned into a culinary masterpiece. Age holds no bar for this kind of talent, as many youngsters are now turning to the ladle and pot, owing to the rising popularity of cooking, thanks to reality television and the general love for food. These youngsters share something in common – their undying dedication to the art, finesse in the kitchen and above all – their incredible love for food.

Chef Damu – a popular chef and TV show judge says that the reason for increasing popularity of food is the global TV audience that shows like Masterchef cater to. “Australia and United Kingdom have programmes like Masterchef Junior that show children as young as 10 whip up beautiful dishes in a matter of one hour!” A very interesting theory, Chef Damu says that one has to be independent when it comes to food. “Now that the mother and father are both working late hours, youngsters start right from their own kitchens. During weekends, they can go for training classes that are conducted by various hotels and of course, the parents can indulge the kids during the weekends.” Chef Damu applauds the courage that youngsters have nowadays and says that their lack of fear is appreciated. “They have lot of potential and are doing wonders in the kitchen. I feel there’s a lot to learn from their passion, courage and dedication.”

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Aaryyan Aathreya, 13

Who: Reality cooking show contestant

If you thought there was an age to cook and whip up mouth-watering treats, well, you had it all wrong! For a 13-year-old, his dedication and attitude are something to reckon with. When in 2011 his mother fell sick, Aaryyan decided to take matters into his own hands quite literally and started cooking for her. Although he’s got eliminated in the contest, Aaryyan is a popular face on Vijay TV in the reality cooking show, Kitchen Superstars.

Ask this vivacious young chef who his inspiration is and he says, “My mother is my first hero! When it comes to chefs, Chef Damu is my favourite. He has gone through several struggles and look at where he is now! Chef Venkatesh Bhatt at the Accord Chennai is another one of my favourite chefs!”

Aaryyan puts in four hours of practice every day behind the kitchen counter and believes that’s where his strength lies. “I consider my passion, love for cooking and dedicated practice my biggest strengths.” A student of Chettinad Vidyashram, Aaryyan has no formal training in cooking but has been visiting restaurants and learning from chefs on his own. “Vikram Cotah uncle of Radisson Blu and Vipin Sachdev uncle of Tuscana have been of great support and that’s how I have been learning.” He aims to become the Sous-Chef at Marina Bay Sands, Singapore, and is heading to Ireland for the World Edu Summit next month where he has been asked to demonstrate some healthy recipes for kids there.

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Mathangi Kumar, 24

Who: Owner and Chef at That Madras Place and conducts Gourmet cooking classes at The Flour Box

Area of specialisation: Casual European food

After completing a course on French cuisine at the reputed Le Cordon Bleu, Mathangi Kumar with her warm demeanour and exceptional love for food started The Flour Box that conducted Gourmet cooking classes. In 2013, she started a quirky little bistro named That Madras Place where she dished out scrumptious dishes blending casual European food with the earthy flavours of Madras.

“I was trained by chefs who worked in Michelin star restaurants,” says Mathangi. “During this training, I was introduced to a world of exotic-vegetables, herbs, meats and seafood that are not available easily. It was truly an enriching experience; which is why every single dish at That Madras Place is inspired by my favourite chefs from around the world.”

Mathangi feels that more youngsters are now foraying into this profession because of the exposure that we have to food. “Different types of cuisines like Japanese, Korean, Italian, Mexican and Greek are now gaining popularity, thanks to programmes like Masterchef. And the good part is a lot of speciality stores are now opening up in the city with ingredients that previously weren’t available.” With the love for food being universal, Mathangi feels that the opportunities are endless. “We have a wonderful palette of cuisines in India and the more we explore them, the more we learn.”

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Ardhendu Sekhar Dana, 24

Who: Commis-1 Chef, Radisson Blu Resort Temple Bay

Area of specialisation: Indian Hot section

For this young Bengali chef, the culinary journey started in 2006 after he completed his hotel management at Durgapur Society of Management Science, an institute tucked away in Durgapur, West Bengal. He was soon posted as a departmental trainee at Radisson Blu. Carrying dreams and hopes with him, Ardhendu was soon experiencing the energetic excitement that a kitchen holds. “I had long hours to work but the best part is when the guest appreciates the food and thanks us for the effort.” Ardhendu feels that passion and creativity are his strengths as a young chef. “I innovate with my presentation and preparation, and I stand out because I can communicate well.” When it comes to opportunities in the hospitality industry, Ardhendu is of the opinion that commitment, communication, innovation and punctuality are the core mantras for success. “The most exciting part of my job is meeting people from different geographical backgrounds and cultures. Thanks to their diverse food preferences and habits, I learn so much more.”

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Anil Sharma, 24

Who: Sous-Chef at Spectra, The Leela Chennai

Area of specialisation: Continental cuisine with a mix of Mediterranean, Arabic, Mexican and Italian. Also holds a fair knowledge of Indian and Asian cuisine.

Anil Sharma kick-started his culinary career with The Leela Palace Hotels and Resorts as a Kitchen Executive Trainee in Bangalore, after completing his hotel management from Institute of Hotel Management, Ahmedabad. With his exotic knowledge of food and breath-taking masterpieces in the kitchen, Anil went on to win the Most Outstanding Chef of the year at the Kerala State Culinary Competition, earning him a transfer to The Leela Palace, Chennai. Anil believes in the fact that one can never stop learning in this profession. “Being a chef allows you to explore various cultures, cuisines, cooking techniques, textures and taste in food. The beauty of food is that there is no hard and fast rule in terms of presentation or cooking the ingredients. A simple fish, egg, meat or vegetable can be cooked in ten different ways and can be presented differently every time. It all depends on one’s imagination, creativity and experience.”

Quiz him on whether his age gives him an advantage over the others and he says, “Being young in this industry is the most unique ability I have. Since I have grown to a respectable position so young, which people earlier took about 10 to 12 years to accomplish – I can learn so much more!” When it comes to opportunities for youngsters Anil says that this industry is an ‘evergreen’ one where career prospectives are growing and evolving. “Thanks to numerous cooking shows and media coverage, this is a promising passion to follow. However, a young chef must have a strong desire to learn. He must know his art, the science behind it and above all, be open-minded.” Anil talks about the excitement and energy in the kitchen and says that the most exciting moment in the kitchen is when you hear a guest appreciate your effort. “Each chef in particular cooks for almost ten hard hours every day, and when one hears a compliment coming our way we just feel ecstatic!” Chef Anil is inspired by Chef Danielle Humm, Chef Ferran Adria and Chef Heston Blumenthal for their exceptional and creative efforts.

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