‘It was challenging to make a mark in male-dominating culinary world’: Chef Michelle Karen Peris

The culinary world is no exception, where men outnumber women. But the tables are turning with women making their mark. Here is the story of chef Michelle Karen Peris

   

Historically, women have been seen as home cooks while men have been dominating professional kitchens across the world. From a very long time, men have enjoyed a great proportion of power in the culinary world. However, with the rise of the restaurant industry over the last decade and the emergence of food media have encouraged women to step out of the home kitchens and make a room for themselves in this male-dominated world.

One such culinary maven is Chef Michelle Karen Peris. A pastry chef with Academy of Pastry Arts, she has experience in plated desserts and menu development; and now, shares her knowledge with others to produce indulging sweet and savoury treats.

The “love for food, particularly pastries” made her what she is today – says the wedding and designer cake expert.

“It was the love that brought her to India for studies,” Peris shares. She grew up in Middle East (Bahrain and Dubai) and completed her schooling from there. Post which, she moved to India to complete her +2 and Degree in Hotel Management from Christ University, Bangalore. She used to work with the ITC Group of Hotels as Junior Sous chef, before moving to the Academy of Pastry Arts to teach.

Not all roses

Women have to prove, irrespective of the jobs they are into. Peris also had her share of exhausting moments. In a conversation with SMEFutures, she talks about one of the biggest challenges she dealt with.

“Initially being in a male dominated industry, it was challenging to make a mark and have the team respond and respect you.” She further adds that it is still hard to cope up in the competitive environment, but “with time one understands how to work through these tough moments and grow professionally and personally.”

Being a professional cook also gets quite hectic in terms of working hours and constant standing in the kitchen, which does affect ones physical as well mental health being. “So, it’s important to remember why we started out in the first place and to understand where to draw a line,” continues Peris while sharing about the odds she experienced. 

Being in culinary world so long teaches how to tackle the situation in a tight time frame. On the other hand, health is one aspect you must take care of, she advises. “If the health is sound, you will always enjoy cooking for others.”

Commenting on the work-life balance, she admits that it is quite challenging to strike balance between work and life both. “On many days, it can be overwhelming. But it’s important to remember that health is a priority and I ensure I get a good night sleep for at least 8 hours, ensuring a relaxed state of mind.”

Talking about healthy food consumption and Peris being a pastry chef – are two contradictions. How she maintains a healthy food habits when tasting sweet stuffs is part of her job? On which, she answers healthy consumption and following a healthy regime in today’s lifestyle is extremely important.

“It is extremely important to remember that we must follow a healthy regime in order to stay fit and feel fit as well. Thankfully, I don’t have a sweet tooth, so I don’t find myself over-indulging. But yes, I do try and limit my diet to the required nutrition, ensuring not to go overboard.” Most days we are occupied with work and it becomes difficult to hit the gym, so ensuring the diet is under control is the best way forward!

Chef Michelle Karen Peris , Academy of Pastry Arts
Shattering the glass ceiling

There is always a slight discomfort with having a female colleague giving instructions as head chef – in this male-dominated profession. Despite that, women today are unstoppable and making their own rules. Women are making mark everywhere in every profession.

Take the instance of most famous American cooking teacher, author and television personality Julia Child. She was always ahead of her time and was the first women to have a television show and the first women to be inducted into the culinary institute of America’s hall of fame. She made French cuisine famous in all over America. Likewise, Indian culinary set-up has also changed a lot.

Talking about the women empowerment in the culinary space, the chief says, “Women empowerment is when we are looked at as professionals, irrespective of gender or experience; and where we are allowed to express ourselves freely without any bias.” In last many years, the culinary art has been highlighted much due to the food media bringing out more talents in the field. “The exposure from television is huge nowadays, this is helping us females coming out more,” she feels.

On the other hand, Peris says it is wonderful to see the growth of culinary and pastry in India – which is opening up opportunities in the field especially for women. “It has opened so many avenues for so many people. We now have more accessibility to ingredients, equipment and tools which makes it easier to further develop one’s skill.”

Though there is no such data on various culinary competitions, and how many chefs are coming out from there, it’s a fact that such platforms on television and social media have popularized the field, Peris believes. This has opened another avenue for people showcasing their talents.

“In fact, pastry world has its own World Cup all together. Yes, there are many colleges that offer students a chance to compete in such competitions. In last few years, there have been National as well as International competitions for pastry, which has helped India to get recognised and give a push to budding professionals in the field,” she informs.

In the digital media age where we are fortunate to get inspired by the works of so many talented chefs across the globe with the help of Instagram, it has opened so many avenues for networking as well, Peris notes.

Technology changing the culinary space – for good

Moving forward, the main aspect of ‘survival of the fittest’ is constant evolution and adaption. And, technology is playing a crucial role in experimenting, making the experience and the process better and faster.

The chef sees technology as a blessing to the culinary field. “The option of 3D printers, stencil printers, vacuum mould creators available has helped the culinary world tremendously in terms of innovation. It helps to create a surreal experience for the consumer,” Peris shares.

Striking the right balance

Being a culinary professional and a teacher, Peris believes that passion is something that drives you and is the energy that keeps us going.

“In my opinion, one must never lose the passion for what they love doing. That helps them move along, when things get difficult. I try and inspire my students by striking the right balance between work and fun and discipline. I am very particular about the way I conduct myself in my classes and ensure each person I interact with understands and feels rich in the knowledge they gain.”

“Being a pastry chef requires immense passion, dedication and discipline and this is what I try to share with people,” she signs off.

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