‘A successful chef never stops learning’

Chef Pankaj Bhadouria says her vision is to create an environment for students where they could appreciate the reasons with which the hospitality industry works

A schoolteacher by profession, she quit her 16-year-old job to be a part of the first edition of MasterChef India back in 2010. And she went on to win the show which Pankaj Bhadouria says was the turning point of her life as a chef-preneur. “It became the threshold to a new world for me. Post my victory, the question was: what next? And that is when I decided to set up the Pankaj Bhadouria Culinary Academy in Lucknow. So my prize money of Rs 1 crore went into establishing my dream in August 2012. The academy prepares budding chefs to step into the hospitality industry,” says Chef Pankaj.

From there to opening her own restaurant has been a journey full of challenges and varied experiences. “My husband too quit his job and we started working together as a team to make our entrepreneurial ventures a success. Now, we also have a studio and a social media company - Mettle Kettle. So I have to juggle my time between the academy, the restaurant, the studio, my social media content creation, books I am working on, TV shows as and when they happen, my travel as a speaker, events and activities and so on. Nevertheless, it is all great fun!” she avers.

To succeed in this industry, Chef Pankaj feels one needs Patience, perseverance, talent abd a pleasing personality. “These are the key ingredients that come together to make a successful chef. One needs to be innovative, a go-getter, someone for who doesn’t treat cooking as a mere job that needs to be finished but believes in it as an artist would believe in his creation. All the successful chefs today are the ones who have broken conventional barriers and elevated their art to a level of artistry. A successful chef never stops learning, find new things to enrapture him/ her, is ready to pleasantly surprise the guest with the excellence of his art. I feel, to rise above the ordinary, you have to stop being the ordinary and the day you do that, you will find your success mantra in life,” says Chef Pankaj who was the first MasterChef Winner worldwide to have an official MasterChef Cookbook in her name.

Chef Pankaj is also the official brand ambassador for MIT-WPU Department of Hospitality Management. On her association with the institution, she says, “My vision was to create an environment for the students where they could appreciate the reasons with which the hospitality industry works. To guide motivate and encourage them. Students who prepare themselves for the industry have a lot of questions, lots of apprehensions, so together we want to ensure that they are confident, well-trained, deft at what they set out to do and ready to face any challenges that may come their way. We want to create opportunities for them not only in our country but also worldwide so that they get,” explains Chef Pankaj adding that she sees herself as their guide, mentor and motivator. 

Sharing her take on the recently held ‘Pakwaan: The Taste of Indian Heritage —The Lost Recipe Contest’ by the department, she says that it was simply an effort to revive the traditional recipes of India. “In this fast-paced world where food is becoming more about sustenance and quick and easy recipes seem to be more the demand of the day, we have forgotten the taste of those leisurely made dishes that did take a little effort and time but were unique and amazing in their own way. Therefore, we wanted to recreate the same magic again,” explains Chef Pankaj.

Of all the entries received, a few selected ones were invited to recreate and share them at MIT-WPU Department of Hospitality Management campus. “One unique dish I remember was from the winner of the Pakwaan competition. She had handmade tiny rice with flour dough. It looked exactly like rice and could fool anyone with its appearance! Such unique recipes were what we were looking for in the competition. Therefore, these painstakingly made recipes were a revelation and in fact, some of them were quite new to me too! We hope to make this an annual calendar event, taking it to a larger scale, getting in more entries and documenting them too so that they can be preserved as a part of our culinary heritage,” she says.

On her views on women empowerment through culinary education, Chef Pankaj says that women have always been the culinary experts in domestic scene but somehow they were rarely seen professionally. “Fortunately, there has been a paradigm shift in the way their role is being perceived today. Women are making a mark for themselves in the hospitality industry, especially on culinary front. Imparting culinary education to women helps them not only find employment but become entrepreneurs,” explains Chef Pankaj who feels the biggest learning has been ‘never take success for granted’. 

“Success is sweet but short and to keep yourself alive and relevant is a constant effort. So winning MasterChef earned me immediate fame but it was just a beginning for me, the opening of a whole new world and I did not want to fade away into oblivion with time like any other reality show winners. You cannot stop learning. It is a continuous life-long process. It has been my biggest learning - to keep learning,” she feels.

Chef Pankaj opines that there is the need to make culinary education more relevant today. “As trends change on the culinary front, students who come out of colleges having learnt the traditional curriculum find themselves at a loss. What is happening in the real kitchens is different from what they theoretically learnt in the class!” she says adding that more of our own cultural aspect as well as the world at large needs to be included in the curriculum. “Regional cuisines, more popular international cuisines and new trends need to be included as it will help them find their feet easily in the industry. It will also help them meet any further crisis with any greater ease for they would be prepared to dish out the general, and the specific requirements more easily. It can also help them become budding entrepreneurs more easily,” she says. 

Her message to budding chefs: The world is on your plate! Go discover the world through it!


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