The journey of a Food Technologist-Ms. Chetali Shah

Ms. Odette Mascarenhas
May 31, 2018
Ms. Bachi Daruwala
June 7, 2018

The journey of a Food Technologist-Ms. Chetali Shah

Being from a kutchi-gujarati community, it was difficult for a girl to even think about working post-graduation as they were expected to marry guys who have family businesses and limit themselves to kitchens. This was about more than a decade ago, obviously the scenario has changed now but I am glad my parents thought differently. While bringing up all the three daughters and a son, they did not differentiate based on our gender; we were all treated equally and provided with equal opportunity to become independent. I was the lucky one to have two elder sisters who guided me on my career front. Learning from their experience, they advised me against taking the Commerce stream and opt for a professional course, which will help me develop a career.

Being good with studies and scoring well in SSC led me to choose the science stream. Like every other student, I was in dilemma what to choose post HSC, given the plethora of career options available. At that time, I had seen my neighbour work in a five star hotel as a hygiene manager and the kind of work she did in hygiene and food safety excited me a lot and I followed her footsteps of choosing food technology as a specialisation course to pursue my career in.

I remember being asked by one of the professors during my college days, “Where do you see yourself five years down the line?” and my answer was “working in a five star hotel as a hygiene manager”. The naïve answer that I gave at that time had become a dream without even having the  slightest idea on how I was going to turn it into reality. Since then I knew I belonged to the hospitality industry although in a different field altogether. I worked very hard throughout my college days and topped my college too as I wanted the best internship. Being the topper, in 2004, I was given an option to choose from Cadburys (the organisation which every topper would aspire to join) and Hyatt Hotels (the firm which was taking food technologists as interns for their in-house hygiene lab, for the very first time). My heart knew what I wanted and it led me to choose Hyatt Regency for my internship. I worked hard during the internship to prove my mettle and that resulted in an offer to join their their Management Trainee Program post my graduation.

At that time, the Hygiene Manager of the hotel was Ms. Rupali Saxena, who eventually became my mentor, giving me guidance and helping me develop the necessary skills to succeed in the field.

Just when I was feeling happy with the way my career and life were shaping up, a personal loss struck me hard, four months after joining Hyatt. My father passed away. This put the financial responsibility of the house coupled with the responsibility of taking care of my mother and younger brother (who was still studying) on my shoulders (Since my sisters were already married by then)

The hardships that I faced in my life only made me stronger and mature as an individual. I completed the Management Trainee Program and graduated to becoming the Hygiene Officer. I could not move out of Mumbai, as I had a family here to take care of. So, although moving to a different city would have accelerated my career growth within the industry, I had to choose the more difficult option. But my perseverance paid off and I went on to become Assistant Manager- Hygiene and to finally heading the Hygiene function of the hotel as the Hygiene Manager of the hotel. I spent close to 12 years with the same organisation, which shocked a lot of people, given the high attrition rate in the industry, But I really enjoyed what I did – every bit of it. And this passion for my work was instrumental in the success that I achieved in this organisation.

There was a time when I was told to be mentally prepared to quit the job in case I don’t get married in a family that would allow me to work post marriage. I am grateful to God that I got married into a family who, along with my husband, were modern in their thinking and were supportive of me continuing to work even after marriage.

But it was an uphill task, trying to strike the balance between my personal and professional life. And when I became a mother, I thought it was an end to my career. Again, my mother-in-law came forward to support me and I joined back work, struggling with the guilt of leaving my baby at home. Career growth was not a priority at that point in my life , but the flexibility which this organisation offered to me, in term of work timings, helped me immensely to sail through this challenging phase of my life.

By this time, the food safety and hygiene function had become my passion and I was craving to do something for the betterment of the society. As a part of ‘green team’ of the hotel, I worked for quite a few projects related to environment sustainability and was also awarded the Hyinnovators award for suggesting and implementing the green concept of converting used vegetable oil into an eco-friendly product – Biodiesel.

I also became a part of hotel’s Global Hand Washing Day celebrations along with ‘Sundara Project’(which recycles used soaps obtained from Hotels) where in I was given an opportunity to a conduct training session on Hand Washing and Hand Hygiene for the children living in  slum areas. I got a chance to conduct hygiene sessions for various other children’s home too. I was the one who lead the project of ISO 22000 certification for the hotel and our hard work of almost three years lead to the final certification of the hotel. Being a part of this project, I worked very closely with different teams of the hotel – be it engineering, housekeeping, culinary, service, purchasing etc and integrating the concept of ISO 22000 into the system was not only challenging but also a great learning experience for me.

Being a part of Human Resources Team (surprisingly as I reported to the Director of Human Resources), again for which I need to be thankful to God , gave me an exposure to training, recruitment, payroll, employee engagement activities too  apart from my core Hygiene related work. My thirst for learning was always there which led me take up projects on my own and I kept learning something new every time. I could have moved to HR or Training but my true passion was for Hygiene and Food Safety. I knew that this field will have a great potential for growth in the near future and hence it made me stick to the same career field. As of today, I work with the Reliance Industries Ltd. whose next venture is into hospitality sector with one of the largest convention centre coming up, helping them set up food safety management systems is quite exciting and I look forward to growing in this field.

With the launch of food safety regulations in India, the food safety culture is changing in the country and the scope of growth for professionals like me is very high. It gives you an opportunity in training, auditing, consulting, R& D, Analysis and lot more. I really believe in the adage “If you want to be successful in this world, follow your passion not your paycheck”.

For all the women out there, who are struggling to be a super – woman, I only have one piece of advice, “It’s okay to not be perfect sometimes. You are doing a great job. Don’t give up on your dreams. Who says it’s going to be easy! But you have to keep going! A positive attitude can really make your dreams come true – it did for me”

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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