MUMBAI: Sakina Fapehi has been wielding the wooden cooking spoon since she was 10. "My tryst with cooking started with the humble brownie, and has now reached all kinds of experiments in complex meat preparations," the 20-year-old said.
Bhavika Enamdar, another cookery buff, spent a significant part of her growing-up years watching cooking shows on TV.
"These shows were my inspiration to join the industry and that's how I am here today," said Enamdar , a food and beverages (F&B) employee at The Claridges in New Delhi. Fapehi and Enamdar make up the growing army of Gen-Y women food aficionados-brought up on a generous helping of TV cookery shows like 'MasterChef India', 'Kitchen Ke Khiladi' and 'Khana Khazana' - that is ready to invade the generally male-dominated hotel kitchens.
"To cook it in style like the chefs, I even have my own kitchen equipment collection, which includes julienne peelers, types of pastry brush and spatulas of different types" Fapehi said. "My aim is to become one of the top chefs." This growing passion is also seeing more women enquire about F&B jobs at hotel chains like Accor , Intercontinental, Marriott, ITC and The Claridges. For instance, women today make up nearly a third of Claridges' F&B staff, up from 10% in 2011. "There has been an increase in women working in F&B department, despite the fact that it is long working hours and more physical than any other area in the hotel," said its F&B director, Tarun Seth. "We are planning to take the ratio of women staff to 40% in the next six months." Siddharth Chaudhry, general manager at the Park Plaza in New Delhi, agrees.
"These are reality shows that tell us that anyone can cook as long as you follow a standard recipe. This has led to more and more women wanting to join the industry," he said. According to cookery writer and consultant Rushina M Ghildiyal, TV has brought food into the living room of homes. "This transcending of boundaries has led to more awareness about cooking and opened more opportunities for women to join the food industry workforce," said the Mumbai-based expert who runs cooking classes under the name 'APB Cook Studio'.
In view of the growing queries from women for F&B positions, the Park Plaza is planning to open an all-women restaurant, to be called 'Shish' , by February next year. "We have come up with this initiative of a restaurant in which-from the chef to the hostess-everyone would be a woman and it would also assure greater safety and comfort for female guests," said Chaudhry. ITC Hotels, which has produced two top women chefs-Manisha Bhasin and Madhu Krishnan-, has seen more women wanting to whisk, knead and blend. "It is more of a trend, as people ideate and make chefs as idols. Two of our women chefs became celebrity chefs and came on television often, so visibility was an influencing factor that made more women enter the kitchen," said Anil Sharma, vice-president, human resources.
At a recent career fair in Chandigarh , the InterContinental Hotel Group (IHG) interviewed 172 potential candidates, of which women aspirants for F&B jobs comprised a quarter. "Looking at the growing response from women, especially the Gen Y, we are planning to increase the female workforce in F&B and other areas by 10% in the next 8-10 months," said Kaval Verma, its director of human resources for Southwest Asia. Accor Hotels, too, is planning to accommodate talented Gen-Y women who want to innovate with varied cuisine cultures. Marriott International's HR director for the Indian subcontinent, Gurmeet Singh, said the confectionary and bakery section too sees a strong response from women jobseekers. In tandem with the growing demand for hotel jobs among women, the numbers at culinary courses too is rising. Welcomgroup Graduate School of Hotel Administration, Manipal, for example, has seen a significant rise in the number of women joining its culinary course.
"There has been a 300% rise in the number of women seeking admission for a professional degree in culinary arts, which would enable them to be gainfully employed in the leading hotels of the country," said Parvadhavardhini Gopalakrishnan, principal of the institute. For the Institute of Hotel Management, Catering Technology and Applied Nutrition in Mumbai, girl candidates vie for more than 50% seats in the bakery and cookery courses. However, donning a chef 's cap may not be as fun as it looks, according to some experts. "It is very tiring and sometimes we are so busy that we don't even have time to attend a nature's call," said Veena Arora, chef de cuisine at The Spice Route, in New Delhi's Imperial Hotel.
She, however, said, "Women are made for kitchens and they are the ones who can best represent hospitality." Madhu Krishnan, executive chef at ITC Hotels, pointed out that the number of women chefs winning coveted Michelin stars and James Beard awards is increasing every year.
"Women who have stuck it out and succeeded have a high sense of self worth and inspire not only young women chefs but young chefs in general. The number of women in hotels and restaurants is growing exponentially."