The Kitchen Warrior

All of 26 years old and at the helm of a 5-star pastry kitchen of a brand like Sheraton – that is the stuff that dreams are made of for most. Of course, it is not smooth sailing and even though Sous Chef-Patisserie Neha Malhotra likes to substitute the word ‘hurdle’ with ‘challenge’, her zest for modernity and experimentation makes it evident she feels the pressure.

This petite lady has an all-male team, most of whom have earned their chops over several years in the very same kitchen. She seems eerily collected on a weekday afternoon when we meet over coffee and talk about her early baking days where she was mentored by an ace baker, her grandmother.

Having grown up in a home where cakes, cupcakes and cookies were always homemade, it is only natural to presume she gets her serenity from her grandmother as well. An aura of calmness is an essential quality in a chef and unlike what popular TV shows portray, chefs can’t afford to be frenzied. That’s when mistakes happen.

The in-house pastry shop is one of Neha Malhotra's playgrounds where she gets to showcase artisan breads and breakfast bakery products like croissants, Danish, doughnuts and the usual.
The in-house pastry shop is one of Neha Malhotra’s playgrounds where she gets to showcase artisan breads and breakfast bakery products like croissants, Danish, doughnuts and the usual.

DOING THINGS DIFFERENTLY
Chef Neha has the enviable combination of a sense of peace and a furious curiosity to learn. Despite having to speak louder than she’d like to or proving her mettle by clocking over a dozen hours a day, earning the respect of her male colleagues hasn’t been easy. Luckily, she had anticipated it and prepared her psyche accordingly, knowing that only her work could settle the silent unrest as and when it cropped up!

She speaks of art in the same breath as pastry, she believes it is creativity that differentiates bakery kitchens and the WelcomHotel stamp helps it further. Her personal goal for the year ahead includes ‘pastry art’ and her creative cakes are making quite an impression on the city.

Apart from handling the pastry counters at banquets and events held at the hotel, she keeps busy with orders for occasion cakes and confections. The in-house pastry shop is also one of her playgrounds where she gets to showcase artisan breads and breakfast bakery products like croissants, Danish, doughnuts and the usual.

Here is a young woman who chose to become a pastry chef but not one who finds comfort in a personally owned kitchen. She actually enjoys her job of walking into a male-dominated industry with a burning passion to leave an indelible mark behind.

Parul Pratap Shirazi

Parul is a trained Chef, professional food stylist, cook, food blogger and social media strategist. She loves grapes in her salad.