This International Women's Day we attempt to inspire and breakdown stereotypes in the F&B space with 5 visionary women

In conversation with Gauri Devidayal, chef Seefah Ketchaiyo, chef Sarah Todd, chef Freny Fernandes and Avantika Malik, its time we broke down the barriers and make space for inclusivity

Update: 2024-03-08 03:58 GMT

Gender equality is a term that is quite popular in this day and age. In recognition of the contribution of all women towards society as we see it today, 8th March, International Women’s Day is celebrated to commemorate the visionary women all across the globe. In the 21st century, there is hardly any space that women have not tackled and the Food and Beverage industry is not a stranger to this spectacular phenomenon. From leading establishments to donning the kitchen space or manning the bar, The Food and Beverage industry has seen dedicated and daring women do it all—and if I may be a little biassed to the sisterhood, do it better.

Grabbing the opportunity to shine light on the achievements of women in this industry, we connected with five very brilliant women—Gauri Devidayal, chef Seefah Ketchaiyo, chef Sarah Todd, chef Freny Fernandes and Avantika Malik— to understand their experiences and motivations as significant and impressive leaders.

Continue reading to gain some insight into the world of these five trailblazers.

Edited excerpts from the interviews.

Gauri Devidayal
‘My inspiration to enter the food industry stemmed from the noticeable gap in Mumbai's dining scene around 2008-09. Following our return from San Francisco and London, my husband and I were craving more diverse dining options in Mumbai. Identifying this need, we decided to take action by introducing the kind of cuisine that we missed the most,’ said Gauri Devidayal, co-founder of Food Matter Group. As a female leader in the food industry, Gauri has strived to empower other women and promote diversity and inclusion. ‘While I realise that there's room for improvement, I aim to be a source of inspiration for women considering entrepreneurship. Within our organisation, we are actively working towards achieving gender balance in our workforce across all departments. Additionally, as a non-chef restaurateur, I emphasise the importance of business acumen and financial management, recognizing it as a common area of concern for many female entrepreneurs,’ she added.

Reflecting on her entrepreneurial journey, she shared with us one significant moment that was particularly impactful in her career. She said, ‘about 5-6 years ago I was invited to join the Managing Committee of the National Restaurant Association of India. Being one of the few women on the committee provided me with a seat at the table and the opportunity to influence crucial industry conversations. Today, I am proud to be one of the first women to hold an office bearer position within the NRAI. I hope my journey inspires more women to enter the industry and seize the opportunities available to them, irrespective of gender’.

Left: Gauri Devidayal | Right: chef Seefah Ketchaiyo

Chef Seefah Ketchaiyo
Chef Seefah Ketchaiyo is the co-founder and chef at Seefah restaurant and Seefah Bakery along with helming newer entrants like Asian Burgers. She claims that her journey into the food industry was sparked by her deep passion for food and cooking. ‘As someone who loves to eat, I found myself naturally drawn to this field, eager to recreate and share the dishes that bring me joy’ she said. ‘In my role as a female leader in the food industry, I am committed to empowering other women making sure everyone has equal chances and feels welcome’ she added. When it came to talking about the hurdles and challenges that she faced in her career, she said, ‘I have encountered numerous challenges as a woman in this industry. However, each challenge has only fueled me to break the stereotypes. I recollect this one instance, when I was expanding my restaurant from a small 16-seater to a 50-seater establishment, it was an experience that not only challenged me personally but also broadened my horizons, revealing new possibilities and opportunities in the culinary world’.

Chef Sarah Todd
You may remember Sarah Todd from her days in Masterchef Australia, but she is so much more than that. An international celebrity chef, model and author chef Sarah Todd owns Antares, an Australian restaurant in Goa. ‘I see food as a form of art, a means of expressing love, sharing cultures, and crafting lasting memories. For me, the kitchen is not just a workspace; it's a canvas where ingredients come together to tell stories, evoke emotions and bridge cultural divides. This fundamental belief in the connective power of food, its ability to jump barriers and foster shared experiences, fueled my passion to pursue this path’, she said. ‘As a female leader in the food industry, I like to lead by example. I've tried my best to cultivate a workplace where women feel valued, heard, and empowered to achieve their full potential. With 80% of my immediate team being led by women, we are not just colleagues; we are a testament to the incredible heights women can reach with the right opportunities and support. Through mentorship, offering flexible working arrangements, and actively advocating for gender equality, I am attempting to pave the way for a more inclusive industry’, she added. In her entrepreneurial journey, she narrates to us one incident that stands out—the decision to venture into the business world a decade ago. ‘It was the beginning of a challenging yet transformative journey, filled with lessons that tested my resilience, skills, and vision. The early years were especially tough, but they underscored the importance of education and continuous learning. Recognizing this, I've made a commitment to furthering my education each year, currently pursuing business acumen at Harvard, hoping to also inspire other women to never give up on learning’.

Left: chef Sarah Todd | Right: chef Freny Fernandes

Chef Freny Fernandes
Chef Freny Fernandes is the founder of Moner—a Bistro and Dessert Bar—and Freny’s—an all day dining and bar. ‘My journey into the food industry began with my deep passion for creating delicious dishes and the joy of seeing people's reactions when they taste my food. There's an unparalleled satisfaction in serving up a dish and witnessing the delight it brings to others’, said Freny when we asked her what inspired her to step foot in this industry.

Coming to more serious matters, we also asked her how she attempts to empower other women as well as foster inclusivity and diversity. ‘As a female leader in the food industry, I'm acutely aware of the gender disparities that exist, especially in kitchen environments. In India, women are often overlooked or underestimated in professional kitchens. That's why, when I opened my restaurant, I made it my mission to challenge these stereotypes. I wanted to create a space where women could thrive, where they would be treated as equals and given the same opportunities as their male counterparts. The camaraderie and support within a women's team are unparalleled, and I'm proud to foster an environment of openness and sharing, where aspiring chefs can learn and grow,’ she explained.

One of the most impactful, chef Freny recalls, in her entrepreneurial journey was realizing that some of the most valuable culinary knowledge she’s gained came from her own mother. ‘Despite working in Michelin-starred restaurants and learning from renowned chefs, it was through cooking alongside my mother at our restaurant, Freny's, that I truly understood the depth and richness of my culinary heritage. This experience not only brought me back to my roots but also reinforced the importance of embracing and celebrating my cultural identity in my culinary endeavours,’ she said.

Avantika Malik

Avantika Malik

‘Venturing into the world of mixology was quite serendipitous for me, to say the least’ explained mixologist Avantika, when we asked her how the opportunity posed itself. ’It all began when my brother, Vedant Malik, and his partner, Chef Lakhan Jethani, were opening Mizu. I found myself hanging around the restaurant all the time, wanting to contribute in a meaningful way and I noticed that the bar was being somewhat neglected amidst all the chaos, so I decided to take matters into my own hands. I booked a course first, starting with basic bartending since I had no previous experience, and then went on to do mixology, advanced mixology. And yeah, the rest is history, as they say. As a female leader in the mixology sector, I am acutely aware of the challenges women face in this predominantly male-dominated field. While progress is being made, there is still a long way to go in terms of gender diversity and inclusion. Personally, I feel that I haven't taken enough steps yet to empower women to enter this field, but I am committed to changing that. One of the ways I can contribute is by creating a welcoming and safe environment for female mixologists and bartenders to thrive. Whether it's through collaborating with them or providing opportunities in outlets I'm associated with, I am dedicated to fostering a culture of inclusivity and support,’ said Avantika, when we asked her what steps does she take to empower other women in the field to foster diversity and inclusion.

Reflecting on her journey, Avantika also mentioned, ‘I realise that every moment has been impactful for me as a woman navigating this male-dominated industry. It's been a constant battle to prove myself and earn the respect of my peers. However, this journey has also brought out the inner boss woman in me. Being recognized for my work and taken seriously by the industry has been incredibly empowering. It's a reminder that with determination and perseverance, women can break barriers and make their mark in any field’.


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