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What's brewing, lady...

Though cooking has been traditionally a woman's arena, invariably the chef at any five-star hotel turns out to be a man. Reclaiming the women's space among her male counterparts is Manisha Bhasin, the only woman chef in Delhi. Interestingly, she tells SANGEETA BAROOAH PISHAROTY that more and more women are opting to become professional chefs... .

Photo: Anu Pushkarna.

Reclaiming a female bastion... Manisha Bhasin at Marriott WelcomHotel.

IT IS nothing extraordinary if the daughter of a family is seen taking interest in the kitchen no matter what her age is. After all, cooking for the family is what she will have to lug on side by side irrespective of whether she goes out to work or not. Oh! A typical thought... but, believe me, this mindset is changing... you would say. But what is interestingly changing now is the reclaiming of this so-called women's forte by women themselves at five-star hotels.

The name to testify this is Manisha Bhasin, the Executive Chef at the Marriott WelcomHotel in South Delhi. Though she is the only woman chef in the First City, Manisha confirms that the trend for women to enter what has been men's job for all these years, has begun.

"Earlier, though women had been doing stitching, tailoring, etc, the one to open a tailoring shop was always a man. But, look at the change today. Not only women run tailoring shops, they have opened boutiques too. Cooking too is a similar arena. More and more women going for hotel management are seen opting to become chefs then being at the front desk, which is very encouraging," says Manisha while trying to balance her tall hat typically worn by a chef.

Not feeling "anything special" by being the only lady chef in the city five-star hotels, Manisha, the winner of the Best Chef of the Year 2002 award by Marriott worldwide from among over four hundred chefs, says, she is waiting for the day when she would be surrounded in the kitchen by women assistants more than their male counterparts as of now.

"People say women have this natural knack for cooking. But, I would say, it is because girls are conditioned that way from a very tender age. So, they become better equipped to deal with it. That also applies to house-keeping," comments Manisha. Completing her hotel management course from Bangalore, she joined the Welcomgroup in 1987 and since then, has opened about three restaurants in different hotels of the group.

Being western, cooking her stronghold, she launched the Westview restaurant in ITC Maurya Sheraton here, the PanAsian restaurant in Marriott besides another one at the Towers Club. Saying that she began to specialise on western cuisine "just by fluke," Manisha, at heart, instead wanted to concentrate on Indian food. After years of being where she is, she says, the problem with Indian cuisine, despite having "some amazing dishes" is the dearth of standardisation and categorisation of its ingredients.

"The western dishes have really gone ahead by standardising their food constituents. Their white sauce, come what may, will be the same while most of Indian additions vary from place to place. The only western cuisine, which is a bit like Indian food in this regard, can be found in the Mexican dishes," she says.

Though she has not planned any immediate effort at setting guidelines for Indian food, she definitely plans to turn her thoughts into practicality some day. Well, we say, all the best to you lady!

...and gentleman?

CONTRARY TO general belief, Manchester-born Shaun Kenworthy is perhaps a rare chef to say that more than making a dish better, "at times chefs do kill them". The Executive Chef at The Park, Kolkata, who is at present in New Delhi, counts French cuisine as one such victim, which fell into the trap of chefs' never-ending attempt to make them sound complicated.

"But surprisingly, the original French food is simple. Many chefs made it sound so complex that one thinks twice before cooking a French dish. Interestingly, the best food in France can be found at the most humble of restaurants," comments chef Shaun.

In the city to hold a demonstration of Italian food this week, he says, no matter what the décor is like, if the food is fresh, clean and tasty, people will always come back for more. As Chinese food caught the fancy of Indians some years ago, he feels the attention is now more towards Italian food simply because, "the cuisine is fresh, tasty, healthy and does not take long to prepare."

"If you follow the basics properly, you possibly cannot go wrong with Italian food," he says. In the demonstration, the chef prepared three pasta dishes, spaghetti with lemon and chilli, risotto, bruscetta of roasted Mediterranean vegetables besides desserts like French Custard.

Chef Shaun Kenworthy.

Working for The Park group for almost two years now, Chef Shaun is now "well acquainted" with Indian food, but saves a word or two on how better it could be made. "The food is good but does not look pretty when laid out. The fault is with our chefs. They have not done much experimentation," he opines. Though he has not started "playing with Indian cuisine" yet, he at times rolls out names like Oriental Chicken Tikka, etc.

Starting with country house hotels in England to working for the Conran restaurants for over eight years, the chef even today looks at the kitchen as "the emergency room in a hospital."

"The tension boils to a level intolerable at times. The tension of coming up to the right taste, you know," he says. Having noticed that Indians now want to read about food too, he has started dabbling with the pen. "I now enjoy researching on food and keep writing articles on food in magazines like Femina, Savvy and newspapers like The Telegraph and the British-based Chocolate Club," he informs.

"But one day, I shall write a book," he says. Ask him what specifically it would zero in on, he pastes a smile on his face and shrugs his shoulders. He needs time.


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