Risen like a Phoenix – Chef Reetu Uday Kugaji

Ms. Sujata Guin
May 10, 2018
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May 14, 2018

 Risen like a Phoenix – Chef Reetu Uday Kugaji

Risen like a Phoenix from the Ashes, is how award winning Chef Reetu Uday Kugaji describes her life and professional journey so far. She says that it was her immense faith in God, her dedication, passion, and hard work towards the goal that helped her to rise like a phoenix from Ashes. She adds that the road to success has not been a cake walk. In conversation with this feisty lady and a chef mentor to many hospitality professionals. She is immensely motivating, she works with teams and takes pride in the achievements of her students whom she calls her ‘bachhas’ (kids). Here’s a glimpse of her inspirational and incredible professional journey.

Chef Reetu says, “Behind every successful woman there is another woman and that’s my mother.All that I am or ever hope to be, I owe to my angel mother in Heaven. 

She was a fantastic cook , she prepared the divine food for the entire family with the secret ingredient called “Love”.  

IWH: Tell us something about you, your growing up years, life through school, college etc.

Born in Chandigarh and brought up in Mumbai. With over 20+ years of experience in culinary and academics, I believe that food should not only touch hearts but also the souls of people relishing it. I simply loves experimenting with food, food styling and love food photography. A Punjabi by heart and married to a Maharashtrian I thank my family for supporting me during my career and helping me reach the peak of success. One thing that my parents taught me was no matter what “Always be proud of your roots” and be humble.

Education has always been very important in our family. Need to mention here as I am so blessed and proud to be born in the family that I am born in, who consider that their daughters are equal to their sons or even more loved and cared. My father Mr. M.S. Arora ensured that all his daughters were well educated and independent before they get married. So I owe all my success to my parents and now my soul mate my husband Mr. Uday B. Kugaji who has been a constant support and a source of inspiration to me.

Chef Sanjay R. Ghokshe had mentored me and taught me how to hold my chef knife, to cook and to take up challenges. I very well remember how scared I was of blood, and he ensured that I face my fears and make them my strength, he had placed me on my first Industrial training at the Leela Kempenski, Mumbai in the butchery. And now I can slaughter a whole lamb LOL, despite the fact that I am a pure vegetarian. I remember him tell all the students in my class that she might be the shortest but I measure her height from her brains. His confidence in me brought tremendous positive changes in my life making me more positive and a very confident person.

IWH: What made you select Hospitality as a career? Was it easy making that decision?

Becoming A Chef Was In My Genes. I belong to a broadminded Punjabi family, but opinions of relatives mattered too. I remember when almost all my relatives were strictly against my joining Hotel Management, the people who stood like a pillar were my parents. The myth those days was that, this profession is just not apt for girls. I owe all my success to my Mother, Mrs. Manjit Arora and my father, Mr. M.S.Arora, who supported me right from day 1. I made sure to make them proud by receiving the Certificate of Merit, thus kick-starting my journey into the world of Culinary. I received the certificate of merit and medal for dedication in academics from Dadasaheb that is Honorable Dr. D.Y Patil Sir, former Governor of Tripura and West Bengal and Honorable President, Dr. Vijay D. Patil, the man behind the absolutely fantastic Stadium –D.Y.Patil Stadium at Navi Mumbai.

IWH: What is your current role?

I do a lot of Food Blogging, food styling and food photography.

I am presently working as a Hospitality and Food Consultant, Speciality Chef and Food Author at www.plattershare.com , Chef Consultant and Culinary Expert at “FITMAG” http://www.fitmag.in/ ,Speciality Chef with www.Percept Knorigin.com , www.cinecurry.com , Oxygen Infotainment and www.chefsutra.com   and as a Food Author with www.pioneerchef.com , theurbanspice.com ,www.pinksworth.com , www.tanyamunshi.com, http://www.mangobunch.com/

 and, Chef, Food Author & Food Expert at http://womenpla.net/

 http://womenpla.net/author/reetu-uday-kugaji/

Food Author & Food expert at http://www.mangobunch.com/

I run a Facebook page “Food For Thought by Chef Mrs Reetu Uday Kugaji”.

I also have a Facebook group “Knowledge is Wisdom” wherein my students and I share a lot of Current / Latest trends in Hospitality, Food, Food Styling, Food Plating and Food Photography. 

I am a member of Western India Culinary Association (WICA) and a proud member of Indian Women in Hospitality (IWH).

Also, I am into writing articles related to culinary and hospitality, recipes both Desi that’s Indian & Videshi that’s International online and offline publications. 

In the past, I have worked as a Program Head- Culinary Arts, Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh at the ITM Institute of Hotel Management, Nerul, Navi Mumbai.

In the past, I have also worked as an Associate Professor-Food Production at D. Y. Patil University, School of Hospitality and Tourism Studies, Navi Mumbai.

IWH: How has your hospitality journey been so far? Pros, cons etc?

I have never had a dull moment in my kitchen, in my workplace. I learn from everyone I meet could be my students, colleagues, friends, relatives and also unknown people. Drop the negatives and pick up the positives. I have had the rare opportunity to meet and interact with people from all walks and corners of life. Cons… We work when others play LOLMAX. No jokes I am loving every bit of my journey. I will not fail to mention that I am madly in love with what I am and what I do “A Chef, Culinary Expert and a Very Proud Mentor” I hold a Title that many people hold as a dream.

IWH: Who has been your mentor or a role model? In what way has that person helped you?

All that I am or ever hope to be, I owe to my angel mother in Heaven. As a kid I have grown up seeing my mother Mrs. Manjit Arora cook the most delectable cuisines for the entire family. That gave the first click in my mind that, yes food is such an interesting and enormous art. I guess that I have got it through my genes. My mother is my inspiration and I knew that her fantastic cooking inspired me and her experimentation in food dishes always surprised me. As a child I knew I wanted to be a chef. I would also like to thank my role model Chef Satish Aroraji, a chef extraordinaire who has always been a constant source of inspiration for me. He has made our nation proud – a big obeisance to him.

IWH: What have been the high points of your career? Highlight at least 3.

  • I have prepared the most memorable and delectable 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.
  • My accomplishments are to see and witness my students grow in their careers and to be well renowned is a pat on my back, I feel extremely proud of that. The Noble profession that I am in itself inspires me to give my best to the Budding Chefs of tomorrow. I feel that I am indeed privileged and blessed to mentor so many students and the brightness of their success in their eyes and also of their parents, keeps inspiring me.
  • Winner in the Top 50 WeAreTheCity India’s Rising Stars 2017 – Hospitality
  • Featured / Published on the Cover Page and Interview published in Chef’s Platter Magazine.
  • Featured on the COVER PAGE of Food Service Magazine India – September October 2017. My Interview has also been published in the magazine.
  • Being featured as “A mentor with a Golden Heart” in the “Better Kitchen” Magazine by Ms. Ekta Bhargava, Managing Editor.
  • Woman at work was a campaign initiated by Ms. Poornima Batish , the Founder and Editor-in-chief of the magazine “WOMAN AT WORK” where the exceptional work of women was appreciated and recognized. There were nominations and voting for the same. With the grace of God, I was voted the most as one of the winners of that campaign.

Many More https://chefreetuudaykugaji.com/blog/2017/07/10/chef-reetu-uday-kugaji/

IWH:  What challenges have you faced as a woman in the industry? How did you deal with them?

Times have changed women have equal opportunities. Here what is considered is talent and not gender. We rock big time. If you are capable and have the calibre you are meant to stand out in the rest.

Other challenges that I faced were:

The major challenge is that that our work is both very demanding and requires constant change in this world of culinary. I have learnt a lot from every one I came in contact with. For me, it is very essential to keep learning and experimenting with food. Accepting the change and moving forward with it and of course never let your passion for curating food dishes die. The only Constant in Life is CHANGE.

Kitchen is my KINGDOM- A stress free Zone. I ardently believe in this quote

“In order to be irreplaceable, one must always be different.” My Mantra: The only ingredient required for cooking is “Passion”.

IWH: If there was anything that you could change about your life or career what would that be?

I strongly believe in “Real Chefs share and teach”. Absolutely nothing. I believe I am blessed and the chosen one to shape the careers of thousands and thousands of budding chefs. What more can I ask for. The immense respect and love that I receive from my students (my kids) is invaluable.

IWH: What do you think of IWH?

IWH is immensely close to my heart as my dear friend the founder of IWH , Ms. Laxmi Todiwan is the first woman who thought of bringing together all the other Indian women in Hospitality under one platform so that the work of many unsung heroes can be appreciated. A pat on her back. And want to tell the IWH that no matter what I am and will always be with the esteemed IWH. Thank you Ms. Laxmi Todiwan for doing IWH, it’s going to be so big one day that no one could have ever imagined. It’s an honor to be a member of IHW.

IWH: Your advice to the young professionals and students.

Never Give Up. You are here for a purpose. I believe we are the blessed and chosen ones. Make a positive difference…. Be humble and kind….. Follow your dreams and you will achieve your Goal. Besides being humble, be proud of your roots. Extreme faith in God almighty, Passion, Creativity and lots of Patience is the Mantra to be a great Chef. Dedication, commitment, and destiny will take you a long way.

IWH: Anything else you wish to share with our readers?

As Chefs we owe to the generations coming in to bring back the Lost Recipes of India. I am currently working on it and am proud to say that I had introduced this in the module- Culinary Concept Development and Production in the Queen Margaret University while I was working as a Program-Head Culinary Arts at the ITM IHM, Navi Mumbai.

A small initiative by me to incorporate Lost recipes of India in the modules and curriculum in my past work. One where my students had researched and prepared Zameen Doz and Kantee Gali Machli and had enjoyed preparing and serving these dishes to the external examiner Sr. Sous Chef Altamsh Patel of Taj SATS Air Catering Limited, Mumbai and other eminent examiners and had scored fantastic grades . We as Chefs, teachers and mentors to the Future generations to be proud of the roots of Indian Cuisine and its lost recipes.

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” ― Mahatma Gandhi.

Learning is an everlasting process, I learn from everyone be it my students, every person I know or don’t even know for that matter. Pick up the positives and drop the negatives. Also, don’t forget that upgrading oneself must be constant; be it skills, training, technology or recent trends in culinary and hospitality.

“Only a great teacher can mould a great student”.

With Culinary Regards,

Chef Reetu Uday Kugaji

My Blog: https://chefreetuudaykugaji.com/blog/

About Me: https://chefreetuudaykugaji.com/blog/2017/07/10/chef-reetu-uday-kugaji/

LinkedIn: http://linkedin.com/in/chef-mrs-reetu-uday-kugaji-5b69a178

My Facebook Page: Food for Thought by Chef Mrs Reetu Uday Kugaji

https://www.facebook.com/chefreetuudaykugaji/

My Facebook group- Closed group “Knowledge is Wisdom”.

Twitter- @chefreetuudayk

Instagram- @chefreetuudaykugaji  

It was a pleasure speaking to her, she is full of energy and positivity. Someone who keeps saying that whatever you take up you’ll be able to do wonders with it, just have faith and perseverance!

Laxmi Todiwan
Laxmi Todiwan
Founder Indian Women in Hospitality. She is a Professor, Corporate Trainer, Motivational Speaker and a Blogger. A hospitality professional with a career spanning over two decades; people engagement, training and development is close to her heart. She writes for hospitality journals, international websites and columns in the local newspapers. Married to a Master Mariner she loves to write on the maritime industry as well as the lives and relationships of the fraternity. She expresses her thoughts on her blog and website, www.theiwh.com

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