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Chef Nirali Desai: Encouraging Female Chefs to Enter the Business

Chef Nirali Desai is self-made, promotes gender equality in hospitality and has excellent taste for what people want to eat.

Photo Credit : Twitter/@cakeareuni,

"’I'm full, and yet I know if I stop eating this, I'll regret it.’…@cakeareuni and @chefnirali is the Manish Malhotra of cakes and especially cupcakes.” Were you to go on Zomato and look for a particular bakery in the industrial area of Chandigarh by the name of CakeAReuni, then you will know what we are talking about.

Over the years, women have achieved in any and every field she has entered into. The same goes for the field of hospitality and culinary delights. In India, as is wont to be in most countries, the hospitality industry is still a man’s world and no woman’s place to be. Many a budding female chef would have been warned against a career in the industry because of the work pressures, the unending hours and the tireless shifts one will have to endure.

It would be archaic and contradictory to say things are not changing albeit at a slow pace. For there is one woman in Chandigarh who is living her culinary dreams. Chef Nirali Desai is self-made, strong willed and has excellent tastes for what the people want to eat.

Desai studied the craft of Patisserie at Le Cordon Bleu in London; there she realized her dream to become a chef then even conceived of becoming an entrepreneur who runs her very own café.

As a child, the media chronicles how Desai’s preferred diversion to play at keeping a kitchen or running a hotel. Up she would get with her other friends and a set of dolls, and away she would go acting out her adult career choice. Desai, the grown up now runs her own kitchen and business; she calls it CakeAReuni.

Desai hails from a family acquainted with business, naturally, it’s in her blood to assume her rightful place at the head of some commercial activity. Not of the ilk to work for someone else, nor was she of identical stock to her family as she chose not the business her family was used to be but one where you make cakes and pastries.

She came back home to India after studying in London. In Mumbai over the course of two years, she worked at Novotel, Petite Plaisir Patisseries and La Folie. At Novotel, she was the only female in a staff of 12 chefs and she worked just as they did, 16 hours a day for six days a week.

 “Everybody expected me to quit within a week, but I stuck it out with them and did not give up and today they respect me for it,” Desai is quoted on media site, Women of Courage.

Desai has fashioned CakeAReuni as a patisserie in Chandigarh in themes of European café. The flavors and culinary sensitivities of Europe are brought to India through a plethora of bread, sandwiches, cakes and other delectable desserts.

Desai has also made her business an all-female affair with the entire team of chefs consisting of women.

“Hospitality industry is male dominated. It is difficult for girls to get into this industry because of the long odd working hours and back breaking work. And CakeAReuni helps get more female chefs to work and grow in an environment, which is safer and more women friendly,” Desai is quoted on the same website.

Bringing gender balance to the industry is noble and good but the universe does not bless you with a free pass to success regardless of honor in character. Desai’s path was not free of obstacles as she started out of a small nook t run her bakery and training chefs to be world class with limited resources couldn’t be a pleasant experience either. Nor was it convenient to put forth European food with limited access to the quintessential ingredients needed to make authentic European baked goods. But we think she may have made it out of the days of trouble; one of her best work days has been, “The day we sold 500 cakes. Although it seems small now, it was a major milestone for us back then.”

Desai acts out other roles in addition to chef and business owner, she is also a wife and a daughter-in-law. Hers is a blessing to have a family that supports her demanding career aspirations. No matter what Desai says the family does make it a point to always have dinner together.

 “And there is always dessert to share at the end of the day.”

Her mantra according to website Women of Courage is Richard Branson’s, “Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.”

Chef Desai’s aim is to open up her brand across India and train as many female chefs as she can for bringing balance to the workplace is a burning desire for her. “You gain strength from failures. Never let the expectations of your gender stop you”.

And to the world at large she says, “Don’t give up on your dreams. Work hard and one day you will be rewarded. Whatever you have learned, at whatever stage in life, will be useful.”



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