Her Omnipresent Presence

This Woman’s Day, Salil Fadnis (Hotel Manager, Sahara Star) talks about how some of the best commercial kitchens in the country today reflect the teaching of our homemaker – the real culinary guardians and Chefs, in true sense of the word,

As told to Madhulika Dash

In my little over two decades of career as a Chef, I have seen many a kitchen, designed a few award-winning ones, led innumerable ones. I have had the opportunity to also lay the foundation of spaces that I am proud of, and have, thanks to a team of exceptional people, transformed a few to become the definition of my culinary philosophy. 

But it is lately as the Hotel Manager that I have begun to realise looking at one very distinct yet common character of a well put together kitchen –  not just mine but even those that are considered benchmark -  that they all are such wonderful reflections of our legacy, especially of the Chef spearheading the operations.  And when I say legacy, it is a unique amalgamation of the different practices that one has been seeing at his/her place, which extends to the homes of the aunts, grandmothers and even a loving neighbour. The realisation of how closely our commercial kitchens resembles that of our grandmother’s fort or our mother’s food haven has never been so plainsight as it is now. Some of the best practices that we as chefs instate in our kitchens’ today were traditionally thought, put together and brought to practice by these very individuals who taught us how to fall in love with food and speak their language.

Their contribution ranges from the most banal of things like the concept of keeping the food, belly warm, or the division between not just the hot and cold kitchens but segments that of meat, vegetarian to the most trending like the taste of waste practice or going seasonal. In fact, they are the reasons that we often find these little exciting practices that has changed the way we showcase food today, and even create experience. Think about it, most of the practices that get accolades today like fermentation, foraging or creating complex food that does more than just nourishes you have been their work. Courtesy their ingenuity we have some of the most fascinating use of ingredients. Take the case of Pithas – rice-based crepes that are eaten across the Western, Eastern, North Eastern and Southern part of India. High on innovation, it is a sheer wonderment how a fermented batter, which uses the bounty of rice available, could create such a wonderful array of food that are different in taste, texture and even functionality. 

An excellent example of this is the Odia cuisine repertoire, which aside Chakulis has a different range of sweet pithas which in look, feel and even in experience can rival any cake – not merely in taste but in terms of wellness. But pithas weren’t the only use of abundance of rice in India, the flour today is a much-preferred option to thickening gravies with taste. It is their understanding of our food and thinking that there are over a dozen different, tested to perfection, form of preserving that can allow us today to survive through any calamity because we can use the same ingredient in multiple formats. An excellent example of this is the Himalayan cuisine, which doesn’t really have a seasonal food culture like the rest of the country and often uses the art of preserving to create a feast that is worth any fine dining table. Of course, one may argue that there are no records of women being behind such innovation. But I tend to disagree. An innovation to become a practice needs practitioners. And they haven’t been any better choices than our mothers, aunt, sisters and 

even wives who have carried on the legacy by word of mouth – or by simply being gracious enough to accept their role of bringing up a family, done outstandingly well.

In fact, history has records of how women have been at the foundation of every single concept that makes the core of good hospitality. Be it Queen Catherine De Medici who designed the luxurious course menus’ Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria for High Tea and Tea parties or even our very own Queen Nur Jahan and Princess Jahanara Begum, who designed the art of Indian hospitality.

Indeed, our kitchens are reflection of the many exceptional women and their thought process. And it is time we show them our gratitude. THANK YOU, OUR ORIGINAL CHEFS!