Estimated read time: < 15 minutes
From being torn between journalism and becoming a chef, Megha Kohli in a natter with Team FNL tells us about her culinary journey and what it feels like being a female head chef in a male dominated industry.
Tinkering around her kitchen and cooking random things, Chef Megha Kohli’s passion for cooking began when she was only four years old. Once she passed out of school, she was determined to turn her passion into profession, and that’s when she came and stood at a crossroad — one path was that of journalism, and the other to become a chef. She finally decided to become a chef, and the main credit for this goes to her mother who saw the potential chef in her way before anyone else did.
She started her culinary journey with the STEP Programme by Oberoi Hotels and then joined The Oberoi School of Learning and Development. She trained with the Oberoi group of Hotels for the first five years of her career. After that she wanted to explore the world of fine dining restaurants and that’s when she took a leap of faith and joined Olive Beach, New Delhi. This decision turned out to be a good one as it was here that she met her mentor, Chef Sabyasachi Gorai.
After Olive Beach, she headed to the Olive Culinary Academy and then joined Chef Saby’s consultancy called Fabrica, where Megha was Project Head for all the projects. And finally, she became the Head Chef of Lavaash – a concept that Chef Saby and Megha worked on for more than two years.
Join her as she tells us how she stays updated about the latest food trends, her pet peeves, her favourite wine, her future plans, and much more…
Q. What have been your major milestones and accomplishments, and how have they shaped and influenced your career?
My journey till now has been wonderful and a few milestones that I have achieved in the process surely include getting selected by the US Embassy for a fully sponsored culinary tour for a month. I was the youngest chef in the delegation and this tour gave me the kind of exposure that opened my eyes to so many different cuisines and ingredients. Another accomplishment would be being invited to IIM Ahmedabad as a guest lecturer – to talk about being a female head chef in a male dominated industry, and the challenges that I have faced till now. And last, but not the least, would be when Lavaash opened. This place is the love of my life and my baby all put into one, and to finally see it come to life and receive so much love has simply been heart warming – these definitely have been some of the best moments of my career.
Q. Is there a chef you admire the most? Who and why?
I really admire Chef Dominique Crenn. Like any industry, women have a harder time to succeed – she inspires me to work very hard, be clear about my goals, try and sustain relationships with other women in the field, and to bring some new and unique experiences to my guests through my food every single time.
Q. What is your favourite wine?
‘Barolo’ or wines of Barbaresco. Barolo is a red wine produced in the Piedmont region of Italy. The wines are made from Nebbiolo – a small, thin-skinned red grape varietal, generally high in acid and tannins. I love wines that have a robust flavour of tannin and these two wines are my absolute favourites. They go extremely well with meats too!
My most recent, biggest pet peeve in the restaurant business is the amount of fake food allergies that… Click To Tweet
Q. Place you eat most often on days off?
Fig and Maple and Arriba
Q. Favourite ingredient to work with?
Q. First word that comes to mind when I say foodie?
Q. Last weekend on earth – what city are you eating in?
New York, New York, and New York!
Q. If you weren’t cooking, what would you do for a living?
Q. Person you would love to cook for?
Shah Rukh Khan!
Q. Do you have any pet peeves?
My most recent, biggest pet peeve in the restaurant business is the amount of fake food allergies that we get. Don’t get me wrong, we treat every allergy with respect and take extra time to make sure that the allergen has not come in contact with the food at all. What I am referring to are the people who can be allergic one minute, and if we are unable to change a dish due to ingredients, they suddenly can have it.
Q. What is it like to be asked ‘what it’s like to be a female chef’?
We are all chefs – male or female. A male chef is never asked,“hey what is it like to be a male chef”, so why are female chefs asked the same question over and over again? I want to help pave the way to make things better for female chefs in our industry, but that is mainly because of the mindset of all the people towards chefs who are women. I want all chefs who are women to be seen as chefs first and as females second.
Q. What do you do to stay educated about new trends?
I read a lot! After I get home from work, I read for at least an hour and a half about food trends, things happening in our industry worldwide, watch chefs table and other shows on Netflix, and try to keep myself updated all the time.
Q. What do you do to insure the quality of the food going out to customers?
Constant checking and supervision
Q. Tell me 3 things that you consider to be your strengths.
– My communication skills
– My tenacity and hardworking nature
– My warm and friendly, yet assertive nature
Q. Why do you think that there are so few female chefs?
Because of lack of family support towards female chefs. I have seen so many female chefs drop out of this industry because their family insisted that they had to be home by 6 pm, or that they were not allowed to work on weekends, etc. I think if female chefs get more support from their family, they will be able to put in more than 100% to their profession.
Q. What is your favourite food memory?
Going to Wengers with my father every Sunday morning and picking up almost everything that was on display – pastries, cakes and breads, and then going back home to a delicious lunch prepared by my mother (who is the best cook in this world), and relishing the Wengers sweet treats after a great homemade lunch!
Q. How do you get your inspiration?
By reading constantly about food, travelling, and speaking with different people about their food experiences.
Q. Best piece of advice you would give a home enthusiast?
Always keep your knives sharp and use fresh herbs.
Q. Best cooking tip for a novice just getting into the business?
Put your head down and just work and focus on learning the basics first.
Q. Funniest kitchen incident?
I was imitating my boss and owner of Lavaash by Saby, Chef Saby, without realising that he was standing right behind me in the kitchen. I went on and on for five minutes fully imitating him and then I turned back and he was standing right behind me! My kitchen team had the best laugh that day.
Q. What do you think is the most challenging ingredient to work with?
Paneer, simply because I don’t like it, and I also feel it has no flavour of its own and thus it has to be masked with other masalas, or ingredients to give it some flavour. I find it super challenging to come up with a paneer dish for my menus.
Q. What do you like to eat when you’re at home?
Home cooked food that has been cooked by my mother. It can be simple dal chawal, aloo jeera, a chicken or fish curry. Also, I love eating momos on all my off days.
Q. What is going to be the next big thing in the food world?
Q. If you had just one wish, what would it be?
To get a ticket to travel around the world, eat and experience food and local life in every country possible.
Q. Where do you see yourself in five years? Ten?
In five years, I see myself as a partner in a successful restaurant. And in ten years, I see myself as a partner in a successful restaurant that exists pan India, and to have published a book by then. Mainly, I see myself as a successful working professional with a good balance between my personal and professional life.
Image Credits: Lavaash by Saby | Feature Image Courtesy – Photographer Robi Chakraborty
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