An Interview with the star chef: Madhumita Mohanta
Food is undoubtedly one of the biggest pleasures in life and even though all of us can eat, not many of us can cook. Of all arts in the world, cooking is most selfless one, where a cook creates something that isn’t just a treat for your eyes, it’s also a treat for your tongue and soul. But as Julia Child says, a recipe has no soul; it is the chef, who brings the soul to the recipe. So today, we give you a peek into the life of a gifted chef- Madhumita Mohanta.
Madhumita is an Executive Chef at The Lalit Great Eastern Kolkata. She worked and lived abroad for over a decade and has cooked for extinguished personalities- from sportspersons to royalty. With great love and passion for her profession, Mohanta has managed to make a name for herself and is one of the top women chefs in the country today.
Her contribution to the culinary industry is both tremendous and inspiring. Her achievements represent how the modern Indian woman has come to lead in her own fields. In an interview with Shubhangini Arora, for SheThePeople.TV, Chef Mohanta talks about her journey and views on women in the field.
Your profession has taken you to places far and wide. From Kuwait to Singapore, from meeting Michael Schumacher to working for the royal family in Bahrain- you have worked for some really exceptional people. What have been your most enriching experiences?
It is always exciting to work for a celebrity. It is nice to know that they trust you with their events, weddings, parties, etc. I actually find it quite overwhelming because you know you make a difference and contribute to the event. And of course when they appreciate your efforts, all the hard work seems worth it.
What does it take to survive and excel as a woman chef in India, according to you?
You need to be very strong- physically and psychologically. You have to rub your shoulder with men every day, you have to work long hours… I came to work at eight in the morning yesterday and left at 10:40. You really need to be aggressive to get work done here.
All across the world there is a debate regarding the need for equal pay for both men and women. Is there a pay-gap in your profession? If yes, how do you feel about it?
I don’t think wage-gap is an issue here, at least not based on gender. I don’t think I get paid any less because of my gender. In this profession, you have to work hard and make your mark in the market- that decides your salary. If your work is good and people appreciate it, you will be rewarded.
When you had started out in the 90s, there weren’t many women chefs around. Please share with us what it was like to be in the kitchen back then.
Correction, there were none (laughs). May be there were a couple of women in the country but they were scattered, I didn’t know them. The truth is I enjoyed my work and that is why I am here. It was tough in the beginning, but I personally did not want to turn back so I kept going. People in the industry weren’t exactly welcoming, may be gender did play a role, but it was very subtle.
Why do you think there aren’t many female chefs in the country and what do you think can be done to encourage them?
It’s just a matter of personal choice. This is not an easy profession, absolutely de-glamourized and you have to work for long hours. I am single so I manage, I don’t mind being at work for 14 hours, but even I have my moments where I feel guilty for not spending time with my elderly mother. Think of a 25 year old young mother, she cannot afford to spend such long hours away from her family. Believe me it’s not the gender factor that keeps women away from the profession.
I am an HOD (head of department) at my place of work, out of 63 people who work under me, only 3 are women. There are many Hotel Management institutes in the country today, the male female ratio would be somewhere around 60:40? Still a very small number of women wish to choose this. Most people prefer to get a desk job- somewhere they get to look good, wear nice clothes; here your hair falls out and you get pimples.
Having traveled abroad extensively, how do you think the Indian food is received across the world?
Oh people love Indian food. It is very popular across the world. They may not know anything about your country or cuisine but they will always know Biriyani and Chicken Makhani.
[Picture Courtesy: The Hindu]