Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Being a chef is not an easy task. Before they can even enter the culinary workforce, chefs have to deal with societal pressures. 

For Craven D’Souza, chef at Jean-Georges fine dining restaurant in Dubai, it was a difficult step to enter into this industry. "Coming from an engineering background, it was hard for me to diversify into the food industry. Many people look at that choice of mine as hopeless." 

Craven however turned the negativity around and focused on his work, because of which he stands at a much better place today.

Abhishek Arora, a student at the Institute of Hotel Management, New Delhi, also went through a similar phase. "My family was pretty much okay about me doing this course. Relatives on the other hand made rude comments as they saw it as a lowly job but once I explained to them what the job was like, they stopped commenting."

The pressures of the kitchen are next to be tackled with. "Commercial kitchens are tough and nothing like the fantasy world the media portrays to us. Pressure is very high and minor mistakes could lead to some serious consequences. But the kitchen is for those who are tough at heart and strong in mind.”

The pressure is further aggravated when a gender divide is created in the kitchens. While more women are embracing the restaurant industry, the industry still continues to be dominated by men. According to a 2012 report by The U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, out of 403,000 people employed as chefs or head cooks in the United States, only 21.5 percent were women.

“The stereotype that women belong in home kitchens’ is slightly fading away as more females seem to be entering the industry. But to be frank, a male dominated environment is not exactly a congenial environment for women”, says Abhishek. “In a hotel where I had been to recently, most of the staff was ‘tharki’ (flirtatious).”

Amreen Khokawala, a student at Kohinoor IMI, Maharashtra with one of her creations.

Abhishek does not seem to be far off the mark with his observations. “For the short period of time that I’ve worked in the industry, I’ve faced a lot of stereotypical comments from men. It might vary from perverted comments to comments about you being weaker than others or sneaky gestures to show you that ‘women don’t belong here’”, says Amreen Khokawala, final year student at Kohinoor IMI, Maharashtra.

She further recalled an interview where she was asked a question that bothered her – “In the future, if you get married and have children, would your career still be your first priority?” Out of 30 students who are all boys, and her being the only girl, she wonders why this question was asked only to her. “They [batch mates] are going to get married and have kids too. So what’s the deal with being a woman and having kids?”

Craven agrees on the fact that there are differences in the way men and women are treated in the kitchen. But he also says that there are pros and cons to it. “As a woman, you get more leeway. You can be treated with a bit more care in general, but it depends on who is the kitchen boss. The con is that as a woman, you are already deemed to belong to the pastry field. If you’re more of a tomboy, you will go through a lot of gross conversations and some serious swearing. It depends on how the girl portrays herself and her abilities in the kitchen.”

So, in an industry where gender divide is prominent, how does one overcome this divide?

“It is sometimes a big demotivation, but when a person gets frustrated of always being brought down because of their gender, the same reason motivates them to prove themselves better than the others in the industry,” said Amreen.

By Kanika Mathur

The writer is a final year Media & Communication student specializing in Journalism.