Happy Hybrid: A Chef's Journey From Kitchens to Offices

I'm gonna start this off by spitting facts. Had someone come up to me a year ago and said, "Hey, you're gonna be writing content while also working as a full-time chef", I would've laughed at their face. Like, straight up.

Fast forward to now, after jumping from kitchen to kitchen across different 5-star properties, here I am. How exactly I landed up in an up and company beverage start-up is probably a story for another time. But what I found within the 4 walls of this microbrewery cum kitchen space was a whole lot different than anything I had ever experienced before in my 3 years of training as a chef. You see, culinary school taught us amateur cooks the innumerable derivations of each mother sauce, every formula for the ideal food costing and even the scientific name of every species of bacteria affecting food (yeah, whoever says you don't have to study much to become a chef has never spent hours crammed in their hostel room on a Friday night trying to by-heart the baffling sequence of the French classical menu). All in all, they tried their very best, really, to brace us for what was about to come to our way post graduation.

Little did we know, that was all just the tip of the iceberg.

I don't know how many of you reading this have ever worked in the hospitality sector, but those of you who have, know of all the struggles behind the sparkly, glossy exteriors of grand hotels & extravagant restaurants. There's a lot that goes on behind that 'Staff Only' door, a stark contrast to what meets the guests' eyes, to say the least. Erratic shifts, standing hours so long you don't feel your feet, massive scales of production and scattered leaves (only if you're lucky though, but make sure to cancel all plans for Diwali, Eid or Christmas). All of this at a place that essentially never stops operating and greets everyone with a 24-watt smile no matter what time of the day. I can go on and on, but it all ends with this: it's a heck of a job.

Coming from a career background like that, when I packed my bags for Bangalore, I didn't know what to expect from the bustling city of start-ups. Everyone here is working on the next big idea, everyone's trying to become Forbe's next business mogul. But as stakes rise, budding small businesses fall. It's a highly competitive environment, one without the safety blanket of a luxury hotel chain that has stood the tests of time. Besides, there's always that bit of hesitation when you're about to start a new job, right?

Probably the most distinct part of working in a start-up as opposed to a hotel chain is the 'jack of all trades' factor. Allow me to paint you a few pictures. Electrical supply suddenly shut off with 10 sandwiches pending for a particularly esteemed customer? Guess what, you can't exactly run to the maintenance department to get one of their engineers to look into the fuse box. Your next best move? Grab the nearest screw driver & figure it out on your own because time is ticking. Got your brewery equipment in a fix? Watch n number of Youtube videos to finally understand the intricate mechanics, of course! Out of Worcestershire sauce and beef tenderloins? Ain't no dry store or butchery to call to with the requisition details in hand, ma'am. Go ahead and place an order directly with the two separate vendors, operating from two separate ends of the city so that the stars align perfectly for both of them to deliver the items on the exact day you need them. Phew!

From hiring new staff, punching numbers for recipe costings, designing marketing collateral, running the company's social media pages, shooting lip-smackin' photographs of The BEST GODDAMN Sandwiches, editing hours of raw footage after learning Adobe Premier Pro for even longer hours, setting meetings with clients, customer relations & PR, to the ever-going everyday production of around 100 SKUs...the different hats you need to put on and off throughout the day for simple tasks are seemingly limitless. Think of it as hopscotching between an array of skill sets that from a bird's eye view may not seem to be interlinked, but need a strong synergy in the grand scheme of things to run a business, however small.

But hey, who's complaining?

And perhaps if you truly, cross-my-heart-and-hope-to-die honestly enjoy doing what you do, then maybe it doesn't even matter where you're at.

The thing is, there's no reason to compare working as a professional chef in a traditional F&B setting like a hotel or restaurant, with one working in a start-up. The perils of one do not take away the other. And perhaps if you truly, cross-my-heart-and-hope-to-die honestly enjoy doing what you do, then maybe it doesn't even matter where you're at. I once heard someone say "Most jobs suck, that is why you get paid to do them. But every once in a while you'll find moments when it's not all that bad when you forget to count down the number of hours until your shift ends. It's those moments that make it all worthwhile." I say chase the people, the organization where you dream to never count down the number of hours until you head back home. I know it's easier said than done, but I kinda wanna pat my shoulders for pulling it off.

It's so easy to feel reduced down to your designation at a place where you feel your full potential isn't celebrated or explored. Where you feel you could do more, but the daily chores just don't let you. A few months ago, I was a full-time chef with a passion for content writing & editing. And I know it may seem like a bizarre combination of things to be excited about for a chef, but can we normalize chefs being excited about things apart from food? Heck, I know so many of my fellow culinary graduates with mad talent in and outside the kitchen. They're singers, writers, graffiti artists, athletes, dancers, photographers, content creators, brewers, marketers, and so much more. I don't know if I'm alone in this, but I do come across a certain stigma with regard to chefs leaving "traditional jobs" to pursue alternative career paths. It's 2022, I mean, c'mon. People wanna drop out of a 9-5 desk job to become chefs? Noopur freakin' Porwal would be proud. People wanna do the reverse? Go ahead, you do you! I'm just lucky to have somehow found a middle ground, I really couldn't ask for more than this happy hybrid. I get to write blogs like this, shoot and edit content for our recently launched Youtube channel, hang out with a bunch of fun people at exciting pop-ups who are always up for a good conversation, conduct food tastings and trials, help design one of the most forward-thinking spaces in the city, brew booch for days and so much more.

If I could leave you with one thing from this read, it would be this: Designations don't define potentials. Your happy hybrid is out there, don't let anyone tell you otherwise. I hope you can find your way to it, or even better, create it for yourself and for others.
Tarini Thakur

Tarini Thakur

Bangalore, India
A budding chef, food blogger and an eternal learner. Working at Local Ferment Co.'s microbrewery & gourmet kitchen.