Samira Desai - Chef & Mentor at International Institute of Hotel Management (IIHM)
From 'on the go' to 'at home learning' and going the digital way in teaching her students, Chef Samira Desai shares her experience of adapting to new normal in the culinary world.
The impact of Covid-19 has been huge and unpredictable on the
hospitality sector. The consequences of measures taken nationwide
to curb the pandemic are having a growing impact on businesses
with hotels and restaurants being forced to shut, while some are trying
to struggle their way out of this situation. All businesses, regardless of
size are facing serious challenges.
Our guest Mrs. Samira Desai - A patisserie chef & mentor at the
IIHM (International Institute of Hotel Management) speaks about
the challenges, opportunities and adapting to the new normal amidst
“Being a Chef is prestigious and you have to sweat it out mentally and physically to earn it” believes Mrs. Desai who started cooking at the age of 14, fascinated towards the magical world of cooking and baking as she looked upto her grandfather who was a baker himself. She further shares, “I come from a family in which cooking and baking were taken seriously involved with passion and profession. I kind of grew up in that environment and that made me more and more certain to choose this line.” As years rolled by the little baker within her evolved and she decided to take this as her profession. “I remember my first job as a baker after completion of my course was in a restaurant where 40 men employees were there and I was the only female working in the kitchen along with them. That was a big challenge for me but my most memorable and best job. After working for few more years in different outlets I finally decided to open my own outlet which was called “Zagros (the Irani café bakery)’’ reveals Mrs. Desai.
With the world being hit by the pandemic everything around has changed dramatically and very quickly. People everywhere are developing and adapting to new practices and the new normal.
We ask Mrs. Desai what effect did pandemic had on her job as a Chef and as a mentor?
Pandemic has changed many things since the lockdown was announced. Students were called off the college, and hence there were no practical classes happening, and everything turned out to be online. We too started taking our practical classes online, either live or recorded sessions. The initial days were a bit challenging as we were figuring out how to connect with the students as far as practical classes were concerned, because theoretically, it is easier to get connected and deliver your content rather than practically.
How do you take your classes during the lockdown phase?
It was a bit challenging because I take only practical classes, but during lockdown we started conducting virtual classes either on live platform (like Zoom) or recorded. This was the time I started making some more interesting videos which could deliver the content and also engage and entertain the students to the level.
Is it difficult to conduct culinary classes on video calls? How do you deal with the queries of your students?
When it comes to culinary practical demo classes at home it is really difficult for teachers as you need a lot of equipment and facilities (especially for baking classes) to conduct the class and it must be of a professional level since we are a hospitality college. At home usually you are not that equipped, nevertheless as teachers we try to deliver the content even when taking culinary classes from home to our best according to the availability at home.
With lockdown going on and off in several states, do you think this would affect the restaurants and the culture of eating outside in India?
The culture of eating out may be affected temporarily, but as soon as everything comes back almost to normal, people would venture out to eat like before, because this is something which is a mixture of NEED-ENTERTAINMENT-PASSION. Speaking of restaurants, I believe those will survive more in the current situation, which is different from other restaurants in terms of hygiene, safety, and health standards.
Post Covid-19 work trends have changed worldwide (the work from home culture). What are your learnings from the new normal?
Pandemic has changed everything for everyone and how! I’ve learnt that we must remain stronger and deal with the situation in a more practical manner rather than cribbing or complaining about it. We all must not only accept but also enjoy the new normal if we want to be efficient, motivated and happy. Another very important thing which I’ve realised during these tough times is that we must try and be more updated or rather at- least be familiar with technology for communication, learning or be it using the social media for business for only that has kept us all going in such unprecedented times.
Do you use social media to interact with
Yes I do, I use Instagram as my main path to interact
and also YouTube. To me Instagram is very easy-to-access, glamorous, and informative social media platform.
Do you think cloud kitchens are the future of the restaurant business in the new normal?
Cloud kitchen which is also known as ghost kitchen would anyways become more popular even if pandemic was not there considering the busy schedules of people but it will definitely not replace the restaurant business. As I mentioned earlier eating and venturing out and spending some quality time in restaurants is a passion and kind of entertainment for people so it can never fade away.
Sharing her passion for baking, Mrs. Desai explains how creating cakes is not less than creating a piece of art for her which gives her immense happiness and satisfaction. “Bringing smile on people's face when they taste my dish, baking never gets repetitive to me. Everyday is a new beginning with new creation, new recipe and design” she says. With lockdown happening thanks to virtual learning and the world of YouTube many budding and self taught chefs have learnt and evolved in the art of cooking and baking. As a mentor of IIHM Mrs. Desai emphasises on the art of learning cooking and baking professionally if one chooses to make a career out of it. “Everyone can make household food but to know the art of cooking professionally and practicing the international and local standards and applying them in your food is very important. If you desire to become a professional chef one must learn the skill and science of cooking and especially baking. Knowing how to manage and operate the kitchen very efficiently, knowing the art of plating, the nutrition value and balancing the overall food and learning to appreciate cooking as an art and profession is of utmost importance in mastering the culinary art” she adds further.
“To all the future young chefs, I would confidently say you have chosen the best path as your career. Just go ahead and don’t think of pandemic or whatever comes in your way because professional cooking and baking is taking bigger and bigger turn day by day which can really lead you to the best destination. It’s no more only about cooking or baking but with several options like cake engineer-bread artist-food stylist and so on you can follow your choice of passion in this industry" advices the Chef to all the budding chefs.