James Beard says,
“Food is our common ground, a universal experience”
and we couldn’t agree more. Our #FridayFeature story this week focuses on, *drum rolls* FOOD!!
In today’s #SuperWomen segment, we tell the story of a woman who took up the debate of “Cooking is a science Vs. Cooking is an art” in the most literal way, by choosing both science and cooking, as her profession.
Niralee Patel, a PhD. scholar and a baker (or as she prefers to be called, a ‘Home Chef’), tells us how she got into both these varied fields. Here is her story, as narrated by her:
“When someone asks me what I do, the practical me says ‘I am a research student pursuing my PhD in biotechnology, but the brave and passionate me says, ‘I am a home chef’. As a PhD scholar I have to be confined within the lab and the university, but as a chef I get to travel and explore different places and their food styles. Though the latter is obviously more exciting, I do like my work as a PhD scholar just as much. How did I get into such varied fields?
Well, as for PhD, that happened because I refused to be stuck in a monotonous 9-6. Landing the first (corporate) job after completing my M.Sc. in biotechnology wasn’t easy. But, letting go of it was even more difficult. However, just within two weeks of joining a firm as big as Claris Pharma, I knew I couldn’t do it. I’m the most impatient person from all the people that I know, and being a topper during my school days, added to my mounting frustrations, when despite studying hard for almost a year, I failed to crack NET (the qualifying examination for pursuing lecturship)
The support of my family and their unending faith in me (sometimes even more than myself) kept me going as I continued to appear for these examinations and finally ended up enrolling for a PhD with government fellowship. It was a day of excitement and nervousness combined, when I qualified GATE with a good score, but had to move out of my hometown for pursuing it further. I took off “Aaknhon mein sapne liye” and registered for a PhD, with an enthusiasm like never before. No, it never was, and it is not easy, even today. Every day brings forth new experiences and harder challenges to overcome. A new home, new roommates (some good and some bad), and of course my life as a PhD scholar, have taught me much more than I would ever have vouched for. A year or so into the PhD, I had almost given up. Everything around me was out my comfort zone and a few bad experiences, at work and with roommates, began to make me feel like I couldn’t do it. A lot of sleepless nights followed too, where I blamed myself and kept pondering about why the people around me were behaving in this manner. But, even at this point, my family continued to support me. This gave me strength; from someone who could not utter more than a few words when faced with uncomfortable situations, I have now become a ‘no-nonsense’ kind of person who always speaks her mind and takes a stand for herself. I was blessed with good roommates too, who made me understand and realize why I should not give up something I had worked so hard for. Sharing a house and my space was no longer unpleasant, and my life too, wasn’t boring anymore. My roommates became my everyday boosters; they were my family, away from my family.
It was when I was pursuing my masters that my father took seriously ill. This became a turning point in my life. My father was advised not to eat outside food, and my mother, who is very health conscious, took it upon herself to make every fancy dish that one could eat at a restaurant, at home itself. Once my father was back to normal, this became a norm. We decided not to eat outside food at all. At least the things we were sure we could make at home, in a better and healthier manner, were completely avoided. Hence started my ‘Home Chef’ journey and it has now become my passion.
Cooking is something I had picked up right from 8th grade. I remember this instance when I had tried a simple homemade chocolate sponge cake. I thought to myself, “You can make this yourself too, Niralee” and so I did. You see, the ‘keeda’ of making a dish on my own, after trying it somewhere, or landing upon it somehow, was always there. My dad is my guinea pig when it comes to tasting and testing of anything new that I try out in the kitchen. He gives me honest feedback but the real food critic is my mother, who always finds ways to create a better technique or taste. It’s because of her that I’m getting better, with each passing day. The quote, “Family who eats together, stays together” aptly sums us up. My family, owing to my dad’s episode, leans on being health conscious and because of this, healthy dishes have now become my forte. There was an episode where I started doubting my cooking skills too. After participating in a few cooking competitions and failing to win them all, I absorbed myself in self- doubt so much that I stopped cooking completely for some time.
A colleague of mine and my younger brother encouraged me to follow my passion for cooking and thus began my foray into professional baking. They made me realize that losing a few competitions was not a parameter for my passion or for my cooking skills. That’s when ‘CoCoBerry’ was born. I now believe in the motto of ‘If I am giving my best, people will like my work’. I don’t hold any degree in culinary arts, but I learn from my everyday experiences. I pick up something new from anywhere I go or anything I watch. My best reward and feedback is watching people relish something baked by me. It gives me a kind of joy and pleasure which makes the hours of efforts seem trivial.
I believe in health first and keeping that in mind I create my own recipes. So, whoever says healthy cannot be tasty, need to try my CocoBerry delicacies.
Though it’s too soon, but me being a believer in ‘Never say Never’, here’s to my aim and dream of someday (before long) opening my own restaurant where you won’t have to compromise on your taste for having healthy food.
Here is where you can follow her works (as a professional ‘Home Chef’):