Taking a break from the kitchen, six women chefs met over lunch at Simply South, Jubilee Hills, hosted by chef Chalapathi Rao. Chalapati wanted to salute female chefs for making a mark in a male-dominated industry. The team at Simply South wanted the chefs to relax on a working day, eat on time and meet up with fellow professionals. Among the women present were two professional chefs, two home chefs and a chocolatier. There was sous chef Sanjam Chattwani of Trident, Hyderabad, pastry chef Tulika Singh of ITC Kakatiya, Chocolatier Deepa Reddy of Fonce, Home Chef Anjum of Anjum’s Kitchen Craft, Home Chef Samyra Ruheen of Ruheen’s Kitchen and first-ever MasterChef India- Telugu (Season 1) winner K Krishna Tejaswi.
Chef Chalapati says, “There are apprehensions about women entering the commercial kitchen owing to a number of factors, including the long working hours. However, women have entered this field and made a mark too.”
With so many chefs at one table with a common interest, can a discussion on food and recipes be far behind? Apart from exchanging some pro-tips to make garam masala, their favourite dishes and work, the women also wanted to learn about Chalapati Rao’s chicken recipe without tomato and chillies. Chalapati’s idea behind that recipe was to go back to the way our ancestors consumed food before tomatoes and chillies were introduced in India.
Talking about challenges at work, the women say the working hours are not an issue except when requests like grilled fish without butter and oil or requests for egg-less macaroons come in. The women also discussed at length, the vegetarian options in Indian cuisine. Chef Sanjam from Trident said she was taken by surprise with Chef Bala’s (a home chef from Chennai) raw banana fritter as a starter. “That was one dish that made me, a professional chef, think of the options we can innovate and rethink with Indian vegetables. The emphasis on eat-local is the right step towards going back to our recipes and ingredients.”
Chef Tulika from ITC Kakatiya said her respect for home chefs has gone up because of the stress they endure. “Working from home requires multitasking. The home needs to be managed even while food orders have to go on time. Add to this, the stress of chopping, cleaning and sourcing the right ingredients. At restaurant kitchens, it’s teamwork and work is segregated, which isn’t the case with home chefs.”
Home chef Anjum, a lawyer, took to cooking on a big scale during the lockdown to help neighbours. Now she takes party orders and finds cooking more rewarding than being a lawyer. Will she consider swapping her chef’s apron for the lawyer’s cloak? She laughs, “I don’t think so.”
They were all intrigued with Tejaswi’s journey to MasterChef. Her grit and determination to pursue what she loves made her quit her job and forget about the other academic degrees she had earned. She started as a home baker and loves to cook new dishes as a challenge. Tejaswi says, “I try till the time I succeed and feel good about the final product.”