The latest edition of Bombaywaali, SheThePeople’s interestingly diversified event, kickstarted with an intriguing discussion about the food scene in Bombay.
Eminent food writer Antoine Lewis moderated the panel on women driving the food scene in Bombay. Gauri Devidayal of The Table and Magazine Street Kitchen, Chef Sanjana Patel, Executive Pastry Chef at La Folie Patisserie, and Anisha Rachel Oommen, editor and co-founder of Goya Journal, formed the panel. They engaged in a reflective conversation about women and their collaboration and the ongoing hustle with food scenes on various platforms.
- The panelists discussed their calling and high-points in their respective careers by sharing their personal stories and challenges.
- The discussion focused on the significance of having more women in the food industry and what can be done to make the space for acceptable.
- The speakers discussed about standalone restaurant formats and large hotel chains from a woman's perspective.
- Sexual harassment at the workplace and measures to make their employees feel safer made some serious talk in the last leg of the discussion.
The food scene
Moderator Antoine initiated the subject, talking about the food scene and its working at large. The three women speakers, while talking about breakthroughs in their work, shared significant insights about their work processes respectively.
"In my experience, I would say, it It takes a lot to run a restaurant. It’s a reality very few are aware of," - Gauri Devidayal
Gauri, who runs a restaurant of her own, feels the food industry is an extremely exciting place to be in this age and time. She also pointed out that while it’s an appealing space, it’s also a hands on job to run food joints. “It’s not as glamorous as it looks. There’s a lot of dedication and commitment the food scene demands," she shared.
"For food scenes to emerge more strongly, we need to create a concept that we can achieve," - Sanjana Patel
Chef Sanjana added a compelling point to the discussion, saying that in order to survive and flourish in this particular industry, it’s highly crucial to have a set vision of what one wants to work towards. “We need to have a vision in what we’re trying to do. There are very few restaurants which are able to stick to what they stand for,” she urged.
"Social media trends are also what prove to be influential when we talk about diversification of food," - Anisha Rachel Oommen
Anisha had another interesting take on the workings of the industry. While touching upon the digital aspect, she said it’s highly encouraging to see the reach through social media. “We've moved to digital. We’ve all discovered with time that the digital space is not only exciting but also a need today,” she said.
Anisha also said how Instagram, through bloggers and other influential food personalities, is redefining the outlook we have towards approachability, food habits, relevant content and knowledge at a click.
Talking about Bombay's food scene, Anisha added that “while writing about food has been on the periphery of journalism, Bombay has given a lot of coverage and structure to the new age food concerned setups”.
Women and the food industry
Antoine brought forth a crucial conversation, asking the speakers about their opinion on why there are so few women helming and running the food scene. All three women, while sharing their personal challenges and celebrations, gave deeper insights regarding this.
Gauri, while stating that there aren’t many women restaurateurs, said she never considered about the workings through a gender lens. “I’ve never really given it a thought about how I am doing things differently than men,” she reflected. Gauri believes that what matters at the end of the day is that she found something that she loves and pursued it.
"It’s possible to achieve and manage everything together. We just have to realise and act on it. It’s a newer way of thinking," - Gauri Devidayal
Sharing her personal challenges, Gauri said there was a time, post having a child, when she faced immense social pressure when it came to returning to work and pursuing it full time.
"Even though I come from a very liberal family, after I had a kid, everyone around me told me that you don't need to work. Why are you working?", says @gauridetails #Bombaywaali #shethepeople @ColorsTV pic.twitter.com/3p9TKbl6VW— SheThePeople (@SheThePeopleTV) October 27, 2018
Gauri shared how her husband has been a huge support and equal partner in bringing up our kids. That, she believes, is the crux of how children, who have a great support system, can make the most of it.
"Women bring a certain nuance and thoughtfulness in what they do,"- Anisha Rachel Oommen
Anisha points out the vitality of organisations having a system in place when it comes to both, maternity and paternity leaves. “Women are chasing their dreams with the same conviction as men. They’re proving that they are indeed capable of doing everything. However, when it comes to managing families, both men and women require a support from their respective workplaces,” she urged.
Is it easier for women at independent food joints or standalone formats to flourish more than at large hotel setups and chains?
Sanjana had an interesting take on this. “Female chefs are flourishing in standalone formats as it is a much better positioning for them. Also, when we talk about big hotel chains, there’s so much internal politicisation. Technically, there are women who are shouldering everything alone, but these are the same women who are never spoken of,” she said.
She believes women in the food scene, when working independently, have the space to create a story of their own, stick to it, and make something worthwhile.
Antoine rightly touched the topic of sexual harassment at the workplace, discussing with the speakers about how they, in their power, tackle such incidents.
Gauri said such incidents require necessary inquiry followed by immediate actions. “If something does happen, there’s no rule for a discussion. We haven’t had to face such incidents in our space but yes, there are measures we can try and make our employees feel safer,” she added.
Sanjana said their workplace believes in catering to the safety of employees as a priority. She also shared an incident from the past, mentioning how they not only took care of it but also moved forward with even more precautions. “We decided upon safe working hours for female employees. We have also planned bifurcations with respect to timings and shifts and basically everything we could in our power,” she added.
Anisha, talking about harassment in the media space, said that working primarily with freelancers enables them to hear about such incidents and become aware. “We do hear about it when someone’s troubled due to such occurrences. Communication in the media space allows us to process and act swiftly through this line of defence,” she concluded.