There was a time when food and cooking were meant to be a mere secondary job confined to the four walls of domesticity. It was something that was expected of women as homemakers and restricted to Maharaj jis cooking in traditional Indian households.
There was also a time when eating out was also considered sacrilege and people seldom ate out. Eating out at restaurants was usually restricted to celebrate certain occasions such as anniversaries and birthdays, and seldom for the sheer experience of enjoying a myriad of cuisines from all over the world. As Indians, our palate was and sometimes still is restricted to the indigenous flavours, but we’re gradually stepping out of our comfort zones and trying out new flavours.
As times started changing, food became popular as a concept, as a hobby and as a career option, people started opening up their minds. With the onset of dedicated food channels, food blogging, food photography and much more, we have become much more receptive to what the world of food can have in store for us.
The Lifestyle Portal caught up with the multi-talented Chef Mrs Reetu Uday Kugaji, who against all odds became a chef and created a mark of her own. Currently, she’s working as a Speciality Chef with Chef Sutra, Percept Knorigin, Cine Curry and Oxygen Infotainment and as a Food Author with Pioneer Chef, Urban Spice, Pinksworth and Tanya Munshi’s Lifestyle Portal.
Her 20-year career includes having worked as a Hospitality and Food Consultant, Speciality Chef and Food Author at Platter Share, she has previously worked as a Program Head –Culinary Arts at the ITM, IHM, Navi Mumbai, Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh. She has also worked as an Associate Professor- Food production at the D.Y.Patil, School of Hospitality, Nerul, Navi Mumbai and is a member of Western India Culinary Association (WICA). Her master craftsmanship and experience also includes having prepared a cuisine designed to capture a delicious and exciting range of flavours, textures and aromas.
She has also been actively involved in the menu planning and has prepared the most delectable and exotic cuisines for the Former Hon. President Of India Her Excellency Smt. Pratibha Tai Patil, “The God of Cricket” Mr. Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar, “The Great Wall of Indian Cricket” Mr. Rahul Dravid and various other dignitaries and eminent personalities. She has cooked the most delectable cuisines for small to very large numbers; and has also handled special food preparations for IPL matches, T 20-20, International Cricket Matches at the D.Y. Patil Stadium, Navi Mumbai.
We caught up with this one powerhouse of a celebrity chef, who simply amazes us with her passion and love for food and zest for life. We had a chance to meet her in person and we truly impressed with her down to earth attitude when it comes to people she cares for and a no-nonsense attitude when it comes to food.
Read our latest feature on Celebrity Chef Reetu and her journey into being one of the most influential names in the food industry.
How did it all begin?
She recalls the time when almost all her relatives were strictly against her joining Hotel Management. It was at a time when this profession was not considered appropriate for girls, but the only people who stood by her were her parents.
“I owe all my success to my God Almighty, my mother Mrs. Manjit Arora and my Dad, Mr. M.S. Arora, who supported me right from day one. I made sure to make them proud by receiving the Certificate of Merit, thus kick-starting my journey into the world of foods.” I am also blessed to have such a supportive and motivating husband, my soul mate Uday Kugaji who supports, encourages and motivates me in my growth and success,” smiles Chef Reetu.
What food means to her
She further adds, “With 20+ years of experience in the world of culinary, I believe that food is like oxygen to me. Food for me is God. As my profession demands cooking and tasting non-vegetarian foods and in spite of being a pure vegetarian, I perform my duties religiously as I understand the cause behind it is holy and noble. I profoundly believe that food whether vegetarian or non-vegetarian, if cooked with utmost love and positivity touches the heart of a person relishing it.”
She feels privileged to be a Chef and a Mentor. If she has to say what is her biggest achievements have been, that would be shaping the careers and motivating thousands of students. “I am indeed blessed to see my students excel in their careers and holding immense respect, gratitude and love for me. I believe that the food that I cook and prepare should not only touch the hearts but also the souls of the people relishing it,” smiles Chef Reetu.
She’s a complete foodie who loves to experiment with foods, innovations and fusions in foods and beverages. She’s passionate about exploring new places and tasting and knowing about different types of cuisines. Chef Reetu’s eyes shine up when she talks about her love for food styling and food photography.
“I have an insatiable curiosity for new foods and love pairing flavours, foods and ideas from different parts of the world. It feels great to share my knowledge and skills with everyone,” mentions Chef Reetu.
What makes it unique?
Chef Reetu runs three very popular online platforms – ChefReetuUdayKugaji.com, a Blog and official Facebook page called ‘Food For Thought by Chef Mrs Reetu Uday. She set up these three platforms with the aim to inspire people for the love of cooking.
“Luckily I didn’t have to invest. When people start trusting me for the reliable and accurate information I share on my blog, things started to grow,” explains Chef Reetu.
The USP is its simplicity, the chef tips that she provides is simple to understand. She ensures that every person who reads it can connect with it and she also makes sure that she’s very responsive to questions asked.
She further adds, “My fans and followers trust me for providing them with accurate and reliable information, may it be recipes, articles or news. Yes, I do offer guidance all the time to my fellow colleagues and my rock star chefs of tomorrow, my students.”
“To be frank, by the grace of God, I didn’t face any problems. I am a very positive person, so even if I had problems like time restraints of managing it, I have stayed awake until 3 a.m. doing what I love doing the best and that is culinary, cooking, food photography, food styling and sharing my knowledge,” adds Chef Reetu. However, she does admit that time restraints have been one of her biggest challenges and she overcomes them by sticking to her schedule and setting up priorities.
The balancing act
Chef Reetu dons many hats – right from a wife, a daughter, to a chef, a mentor, a food photographer and a food writer. When we ask her the most challenging task here’s what she says – “It’s really difficult to choose, I love all of them. But must mention the biggest challenge is being a Mentor, as I am the role model for my kids i.e. my students, and I ensure that they remain positive under any given situation in life. I am a very organised and a disciplined person so to strike a balance between my professional and personal life I set my priorities and jot down my schedule and stick to it. I do a lot of time management and set targets for myself. I focus my time and attention on things I can control. I believe in Relax, take a break in between the tasks and refresh and get back with a bang.”
As for being a wife, Chef Reetu adds, “I am blessed to be married to Uday Kugaji who is a very supportive husband. We are more like bests of friends than husband and wife. He constantly motivates and encourages me to live life to the fullest.”
Visions & Dreams
She harbours the vision is to reach the entire world, through her work on her Facebook page, website and blog. She feels inspired by all the people who are positive and love to grasp the good things and believes in sharing knowledge without being insecure. Her aim is to create an awareness for the lost recipes as she feels there’s a need to treasure them, which she plans to launch across her online platforms too.
“I believe in being a very positive person. There is nothing like good people and bad people, its just situations make them what they are. I am not judgemental and biased. But yes, in life I don’t forget two kinds of people one who has done good to me and one who has been a little bad. The ones who have done good to me can expect me to give my life for them and the rest can be assured that I forgive but never forget so that I don’t allow them to repeat it again,” shares Chef Reetu.
She further adds, “Talking about memories, my kids (my students) rock. Each day spent with them is a memorable one. May it be their theory classes or Food Production Practicals. We have had a great time learning and sharing knowledge.”
Chef Reetu feels extremely proud for shaping the careers of thousands of budding chefs and students and witnessing them on being successful as human beings first and then as a Chef. As a mentor to them, she has ensured that this quality of being extremely humble and being proud of their roots is inculcated in her students as well.
How can food inspire people?
She quotes Michelin starred Indian Celebrity Chef Vikas Khanna who says it all “The Power of Food is really spiritual. It not only brings the whole family together on the same table, but also brings the whole world together.”
“As a chef, if I had to make a difference in this world, it would be no one remains hungry, no one sleeps empty stomach. We need to stop wasting food and for that, we should tie up with NGO’s to ensure that this aspect is taken care of where surplus good food is distributed among the less privileged people,” concludes Chef Reetu.
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