In the new eco system of businesses spawned from the travel, tourism, hospitality and culinary industries, there are an amazing number of careers and opportunities for students and young professionals. ISH recently hosted the India competition for women and it was a delight to be able to give the contestants our cutting-edge infrastructure to work with, and seeing their ease in creating some truly out of this world dessert, chocolate and sugar creations. My congratulations to all the young women participants and a special call out to the winner, Chef Tanvi Chandavarkar. The culinary world of the future is in great hands with emerging leaders like her.
I had recently read some contrarian views from two iconic chefs and this has prompted me to share my point of view.
Last year, two British living legends shared their views on women working in the culinary field. The outcome, which should have been inspiring, was, sadly, the exact opposite.
Both stated that women were less adept to work in a professional kitchen due to ‘difficulty lifting heavy pots’, with one stating women were fighting their career countdown against their ‘biological clock’, and the other saying women are ‘too emotional and take things too personally’ and that ‘men handle pressure better’.
A bold statement from a chef who would throw unhappy customers out of his restaurants, or, even more, get into physical fights with them.
Now let’s step into the shoes of female culinary students and professionals. The women who spend hours studying tirelessly to achieve their dream. The women who toil away in kitchens, carving out their own niche. These same women have followed the struggles and stories of male chefs and have pushed themselves more, telling themselves they too can reach the same success if they just work harder.
Now imagine them being told they’ll never be good enough. Imagine the young culinary student who has a dog-eared copy of White Heat in her room and knows it from cover to cover. Imagine her reading her hero telling her he thinks she’s too emotional and too physically weak to achieve her dream.
Most probably, she’s already spent years defending her dream from relatives and acquaintances. She’s already heard it all before. But she kept going. She would look up to these role models and dream of becoming just like them. Perhaps even meeting them one day and them saying they’re proud of her. Instead, she gets told that she’s not a man like them and won’t do as well as them. If that’s not enough to destroy a young person’s aspirations, I don’t know what is.
Comments like these reveal the murkier side of the gender disparity within the culinary world. In the United Kingdom, the origin country of the two aforementioned chefs, the number of female chefs is just 17%. In India, it’s even more evident. India, with its skyrocketing F&B sector, has female chefs making up a miniscule 3% of the workforce.
While times are changing – it’s also time for more change. As the founder of ISH, I am incredibly proud of our equal gender balance – our male and female students learning the craft in our kitchens is 50/50. Never, at any point in time, has a single female student been unable to perform in the same way as her male counterpart.
And never, at any point in time, has any student in our college been told they cannot pursue their ambitions because of their gender. That’s because we’re fostering professionals. We’re fostering restaurateurs. We’re fostering chefs. We’re fostering entrepreneurs. Every student under our roof, male or female is a future professional who is free to pursue their dream unshackled of restriction or outdated perceptions plaguing the industry.
By fostering a gender balanced environment, our male students internalize that having female counterparts alongside them in the culinary world is normal, and that they’re every bit as hardworking, dedicated, and passionate as they. For women, it’s about knowing they have the same right and ability to lead in the kitchen and forge their careers as professionals. There’s no gender in the kitchen. There’s only the art of food and the artists making it.
I am extremely grateful to so many amazing women leaders from the culinary world and multiple other sectors who have come to our campus and been a beacon of inspiration to our students and told us their stories of fighting against the norm.
My thank you to Ritu Dalmia, Anoothi Vishal, Manisha Bhasin, Katerina Gianoukka, Ragini Chopra, Anahita Dhondy and so many others for helping our female students dream bigger and bolder. Thank you for reminding them they are every part as equal, important and empowered as anyone else and that they are part of the rule – and not the exception.
The author is Founder & CEO, Indian School of Hospitality
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