The Kitchen is a Place for all Genders: Chef Shagun Mehra
"There is a woman in every man and a man in every woman"
Chef Shagun Mehra shines bright in the small but powerful world of female chefs. Armed with training from Ecole Les Roches and Le Cordon Bleu, the Chef has led top luxury hotels, trained countless hospitality neophytes, co-founded the first accredited wine school in India and even judged a TV show. And how can we forget the various recipes that she has crafted for India Food Network? We decided to catch up with the beautiful and talented chef on the occasion of International Women's Day.
1. The world of chefs used to be male dominated. Do you think that has changed completely today or is there still room for improvement?
A commercial kitchen is still male dominated today. Yes, it has surely changed with some top female chefs but predominantly, most chefs are men. This can, and will hopefully change
2. Who does the cooking at home? Do male members also pitch in?
I have a female cook at home. I do a lot of cooking, but my partner is equally enthusiastic in the kitchen. He loves to cook and very often involves himself in the activity. I have grown up seeing my brother and father cook and help in the kitchen.
3. Have you ever faced differential (positive or negative) treatment at work because of your gender? Your comments please.
Well, in a commercial kitchen, I have realised that it is very hard for male chefs to take orders from a senior female chef. They are physically stronger and can lift big and heavy pots and pans, while we women often don’t have that kind of natural strength.
So I have faced jeering and raised eyebrows in the past and some loose comments about – if you’re commanding the kitchen, you should be able to do everything.
4. The kitchen has traditionally been seen as a 'woman's domain'. But don't you think everyone should learn to cook, given that we all need to eat?
I think the kitchen should be a place for all genders. Every man and woman should know how to cook. It is something we need to imbibe in the generations to come, to value cooking and not eat from pre-packaged foods. To cook from scratch is a very important skill.
I go a step further and even say that we should grow food and reap, even in small quantities to understand the beauty of food and how it nourishes us.
"It's very hard for male chefs to take orders from a senior female chef"
5. What are some tips that helped you reach where you are today? Your tips for other women who aspire to be top-notch chefs?
The most important thing to me is to be true to who I am. I back myself. I make mistakes and I learn from them. I give my goal my best, regardless of how much success I gain. It’s important to dedicate ourselves and not be dissuaded by what others want or expect from us.
6. Do you get annoyed by stereotypes like wine is a woman's drink, or that all women would give anything for chocolate? How do you react when confronted with such generalisations?
Lol! I come from a country where wine is just alcohol and ‘righteous women’ don’t DRINK! I am not someone who judges anyone for their likes and tastes of chocolate or the colour pink or lace or flounce.
In a day and age of homosexuals, bisexuals and heterosexuals, the world is our oyster and we should express ourselves the way we like. There is a woman in every man and a man in every woman.
7. What are your views on Women's Day? Just lip service or a genuine effort to move towards equality?
Women’s Day is to be celebrated by all; not just women. I have many men in my life - friends and family that love, cherish and respect feminine virtues. I am also aware that it’s women in my country who sometimes resort to killing a female child or involve themselves in dowry, child marriages and other female-relate social issues.
Women’s Day to me is the celebration of the feminine power in each and every one of us and the significance it holds in our lives, starting with growing inside the womb of a woman. It is she who gives life. It all starts there and evolves into a beautiful balance of male and female power.