March , the month when we celebrate women, more than we celebrate them through the year. Honestly , I had never heard of "women's place is in the kitchen" adage while I was growing up; my mother is a doctor, and my aunts are doctors and professionals. And yet , I didn't see many women in professional kitchens either.
This month I turn my focus on women in professional kitchens.
Meet Sonia Patil, someone I haven't met face to face, but I discovered her on Social Media. She is spunky , and opinionated (read below interview to find out), but more than that, she has dreams, and isn't afraid to work hard to achieve them.With a scholarship to Le Cordon Bleu, Australia, this girl is set to go places, and I am happy to feature her in my "women in the Kitchen" series.
No matter what field you are in, no matter what gender, and whether you work in a domestic kitchen or a professional one; it's important to have dreams, and the determination to go after them.
I am Sonia Manoj Patil.
I've recently completed a 3 year B.Sc in Hospitality and Hotel Administration from the Institute of Hotel Management, Catering Technology and Applied Nutrition, Goa, and have just begun my specialisation in culinary arts with a 2.3 year Advanced Diploma of Hospitality Management in Commercial Cookery from Le Cordon Bleu, Melbourne.
Your Goa connection?
Born and brought up in Goa with a Maharashtrian father and Kannadiga mother, who were also raised in Goa, leading to an amalgamation of food cultures in our very home.
Your food philosophy?
I've noticed that in this industry, animal products and meat are valued so much, with restaurants wanting to serve the freshest seafood, poultry, meat, even if sometimes it is required to present the guest with a live creature, for them to be allowed a choice at which creature they want to sentence to death. This often occurs with seafood. The methods of killing are often not humane, with live crab and lobster often being boiled alive in a pot, rattling and trying to climb out and escape, with the crab even detaching its claws/pincers from its body. The correct method would be to allow it to go into hibernation in a blast chiller or freezer before boiling it, but as this takes time and restaurants want to present live seafood to a consumer, it is not enforced.
I am no vegetarian myself, but I do believe in mercy and ethical methods of butchery, even though we'd all agree that there is nothing ethical about murder. But if we are to choose what we eat, let us choose consciously. Let us understand that every piece of meat, every cut, was once a part of a much larger live animal that lived, breathed and birthed, just like us. Let us respect the animals we choose to consume, believe in humane killing and try to enforce it, and not waste meat, and food in general.
From cuddling baby lambs to frenching a lamb rack; if I ever think too much about what it is that I really do in my profession, it stings. But it's a choice I've made and a job I must perform until I am independent and financially stable enough to make my own decisions about what I choose to cook. Nevertheless, be a conscious consumer and respect the animal you eat, and protect it from being tortured, murdered unethically and harmed. That's the least we can do in times where it seems as if we've lost all our humanity.
I have quite a lot I believe in.
Firstly; always have an intense hunger to learn; experiment; stay open to new ideas; share your knowledge.
Secondly; you can never do enough research; never study enough about food. There are no finite boundaries; no limits to how one can play around with ingredients and what one can do with them.
Thirdly; making food look beautiful is just as important as making it taste good, and vice versa. One eats with their eyes first, and if the food looks spectacular, it fools the mind into believing that it tastes spectacular, thus ensuring that the eater's taste buds are coaxed into enjoying the food even more than they would have if the food looked mediocre.
Fourthly; I have four tips to planning a good dish: Flavour, Texture, Colour, Aroma.
Finally; being an organised cook will save you so much time and allow you to work faster and give you better results. Cleanliness is extremely important.
Have you ever felt that being a woman in the kitchen has worked in your favour or to your disadvantage?
There are no men and women in a kitchen. Everyone has to be tough, and everyone needs to work just as hard. Yet, in the kitchens of restaurants and hotels in India, being a woman is a huge disadvantage because not every male cook is literate. They usually take up a cooks job because it pays well enough for them to keep their family fed, and doesn't require much education, only skill, which comes with experience and rigorous training. They don't often see women in professional kitchens and they work long hours, which results in many untoward incidents such as verbal and physical harassment and molestation. I have had a fair share of experiences myself and I think that this is one of the reasons why many women choose not to work in professional kitchens in India. I feel that a thorough character check should be conducted before hiring staff, and compulsory moral education should be provided.
Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?
I take every day as it comes even though I plan major goals years in advance. I've met my 7th std goal of studying at Le Cordon Bleu, 1.5 months ago.
Five years from now, I hope to be cooking better food than I do at this moment; working a restaurant kitchen job that makes me happy, and learning something new every day.
What is your best career moment?
Winning the Endeavour Vocational Education and Training Scholarship by the Australian Government, which sponsored so much of my education here in Le Cordon Bleu, and made me a part of a select group of high achievers here in Australia. It was the best career moment for me as it made all the years of studying hard to get good scores worth it, and now allows me the freedom to work without pay if I choose to, only because I am backed up financially, and independently.
What is your worst career moment?
Every time I have to present a dish that I have not been able to put my 100% into because of making stupid errors and ill judgement. Every time I paint a picture in my head and do not manage to get that up, and every time I do not perform to someone's expectations and let them down. I am a little bit of a perfectionist and even though I do not physically "practice", cooking something, I tend to ensure that I have done my research, looked at atleast 50 pictures, compared variations in recipes as well as plating styles, cooked it a couple of times in my head, and sometimes in my dreams too.
Rapid fire ( first word that comes to your mind)
Goa :Land of my favourite food.
Fish :Masala Rawa Fry, Curry, Recheado, Parra, Kismoor; can't live without them!
Chef life : Pretty tough, but so worth it!
Mentor :Met so many cooks who taught me so much. Can't name just one.
Favourite celebrity chef: Gordon Ramsey of course!
Fav woman chef: Honestly, don't really have one. Most of the ones I know and follow are celebrity chefs or authors. But the tastiest food I've eaten, is what Mum cooks, and I think that qualifies her to be my favourite woman chef.
Fav junk food: Burgers with a meat overload, wedges, extra crispy bacon on the side and an aerated beverage to wash it all down.
Fav healthy snack: I usually eat whatever I feel like eating at that moment, without worrying about calories and nutrition. But if I have to mention a favourite healthy snack, it would have to be hummus. Just a big bowl of warm creamy hummus, with olive oil drizzled over the top.It's interesting for me to see an age old vocation, which was always considered a "woman's job" actually being taken as a highly skilled and a competitive profession.
I have previously celebrated Home Chefs.
and you can read those blog articles by clicking on the links below.
Home chefs of Pune