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To earn their daily bread

HAVE THE CAKE AND EAT IT TOO Students learning to bake at the Chennai Culinary institute PHOTO: R.Ragu

HAVE THE CAKE AND EAT IT TOO Students learning to bake at the Chennai Culinary institute PHOTO: R.Ragu  

A three-month baking and confectionery training programme is being conducted for economically deprived students

Baking bread has a way of making its presence felt. The Chennai Culinary Institute's new headquarters is soaked in the delightful aromas of browning cakes and roasting cookies. But the cheerful air that permeates the place has more to do with its latest bunch of students, than their scrumptious handiwork.

In a project supported by the Rotary Club of Madras East, The Corporation of Chennai and The Chennai Culinary Institute (one of the many facets of Mahadevan of the Hot Breads fame), economically deprived students are being put though a three-month course on baking and confectionery under Chandri Bhat, to teach them independence. And while she's at it, she's also evidently building character.

"You should see the change in their body language," she says, discussing her students. "They came in as loners. Now they're happy. They have made friends. They eat together. And to think I expected rebellion!"

The students, aged between 18 and 21, who were identified by the Rotary and the Corporation, came with their own problems. Some were bad at academics; others too poor to study. "There's one boy here who is the only earning member," says Chandri, continuing, "There's another who learns to bake during the day and works as a labourer at night... there are plenty of sad stories here."

The remarkable fact is that all the 24 students have thrown themselves, heart and soul, into the training. "We believe, don't give them fish. Teach them how to fish," says Mahadevan, explaining why he equipped the centre with the best of machinery, and is trying to get his master chefs from around the world to come and teach these students.

"These kids don't have godfathers," he adds, stating they too deserve a chance to be successful. "After all, I came to Chennai with just Rs. 600 in my pocket," he smiles. The Institute will be tying up with the Indian Chefs Guild, so that students can find jobs once they complete their training. And, in order to make the project self-sufficient, the students will also be running a bakery called Winners from the premises. Winners (ph:24982423), which will eventually become a small coffee shop, now stock "everything - from truffles to baguettes." All reasonably priced. Because this is not about making a profit. It's about helping people stand on their own feet — with pride.

SHONALI MUTHALALY

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