Anahita Dhondy is a Chef Manager at the very famous SodaBottleOpenerWala. Being a Parsi herself, she brings in the trademark flavours of Parsi food at two restaurants of SodaBottleOpenerWala in Delhi(Khan Market) and Gurgaon (Cyberhub).
She speaks to OFFDHOOK on how challenging it is to be a female Chef and what does International Women’s Day means to her?
Coming from the Parsi culture, is it easy or difficult to do the justice with the cuisine? And how SodaBottleOpenerWala maintains the authenticity of the cuisine?
Being a Parsi, it isn’t difficult for me to cook and teach the cuisine I’ve grown up eating. There are however many hurdles that have come in the way as it’s a completely new cuisine for the general public to accept and enjoy. To maintain the authenticity of the cuisine, I have to personally check on all the dishes in the morning, and tasting is the only way to assure that. When we just opened our doors, I used to check every single thing myself, now my chefs have understood the cuisine, so they do the checking and I overlook.
There are not many female Chefs so what all challenges you face?
Well, this is a male dominated industry, and it isn’t easy for a female to get in or adjust. The beginning of your career in the food industry is pure labour, right from the first day till you own a restaurant. It’s not your regular 9-5 shift, it’s tough, its physical labour, long hours, crass language, so most females don’t wish to enter the industry knowing all this. The one’s who actually get into it, do have a tough time in the beginning, dealing with all the above, but it gets better as your skills advance and you climb the hierarchy.
That’s why you don’t see many females in the industry.
It is often debated that why there are so few women among the top Chefs. What do you think?
By the time a woman reaches a position where she handles enough responsibility, which takes a few years in her carrier, it’s time for her to get married and have children (in the Indian patriarchal society), which only allows her to quit her job and continue with family duties. Thus you don’t see too many women among the top chefs.
What motivated you to come in this profession?
I come from a family of creative people, my dad’s into advertising and marketing, and my mum is a home-baker and has been catering Parsi food from home for the past 25 years, much before anyone used to sell it in Delhi. My palette was exposed to the most different kinds of cuisines cooked at home, and travels, in India and abroad. By the time I was 10, I started helping my mum ice cakes, cook along with her, and that’s how I kept building my passion. Ever since then, there’s been no turning back. From the best tiffin in school, now it’s something the entire city is enjoying.
How it feels to be a youngest female chef in Delhi right now?
Firstly, I had no idea I was the youngest chef in Delhi. When I started as the Chef Manager at age 23, it does definitely feel young, but I took up all my responsibilities as a challenge. It was extremely difficult in the beginning, to handle a kitchen, the cooking etc, but every single day was a learning for me. What I was teaching my staff was there, but what they were teaching me was even greater! I always keep it to that, there’s so much to learn out there, from managing a staff of 14 in a kitchen to now handling two kitchens, it’s a great leap for me, and something that I am proud of. I obviously want to continue growing, and learning every single day!
What is your Idea of celebrating International women’s day? How much power do you think it gives to you and all other women around the world?
I don’t have any particular agenda on celebrating women’s day except doing what I best enjoy doing. Cooking, and as it’s a Sunday I will be working on that day. But I would love to spend it with all my girlfriends, with the women of my family, and toast to all our success, on how we manage things at home and the work front!
The International women’s day theme for 2015 is “Make it Happen” which basically fights for greater equality and celebrates women’s achievements all over the world. So, I guess from India, we’ll do our bit, we’ll fight to be at power with our male co-workers, and also celebrate all the other women who so beautifully handle work and their families. It indeed is an achievement in itself, and it needs to be applauded. Giving or naming a day doesn’t give you any power, it’s what you make of it from within that will give you the power to change or do something, and this change is gradual, so keeping at it will only “make it happen”.
Yes, I am handling two restaurants currently, the flagship one in Gurgaon, and the one we opened 5 months back at Khan Market. I juggle between the two, some days at the Gurgaon branch some days at the Khan Market one. Also constantly coordinating with both the kitchen teams, on recipes, new dishes, any complaints etc. It’s interesting, at the same time super challenging, the travelling is hectic, but all in all just needs enough planning, but a great feeling indeed!
What message would you like to give to budding female chefs?
I would like to tell them to be passionate! It is what will take them forward; it is what will help them grow. And obviously the most important thing is to not give up! It’s a tough road, less travelled, with many many bumps, but keep going, learn to fight it out in this big bad world, otherwise you’ll get left behind, and so will your dream to become the best chef! So don’t stop believing!! Give it all you’ve got, and keep going on.