- By Akhileshwari Anand Raj
Chef Bhakti Arora Manekar is one who has juggled many roles throughout her life and is best known as MasterChef India’s Season 4 runner up. She has worked as a cake artist, a menu consultant and owns a cafe called Bell Pepper Cafe – which serves European & American food; and Chak de Dhabbe which is a delivery only model serving authentic Punjabi food and makes cakes for order! We got the chance to interview her and understand more about her rise to fame after MasterChef, how it helped her with her profession and new ventures, and what her inspiration was to take up baking and continue with it.
What inspired you to participate in Masterchef and take your culinary skills to the next level?
It was my family who pushed me to try out for the show. Whenever I would have anyone visiting me, whether it was my friends and family, I would end up cooking a variety of exotic dishes and try some fusion. I would make a minimum of 12-15 items for a home party which would include all the courses. After these parties, everyone would come and tell me how good the food was and that it was so professional that it didn't feel like home-cooked food at all. After that, I decided to quit my hectic corporate life and took a break. I started exploring more about food and eventually started conducting cooking & baking workshops for people who wanted to learn more. In parallel, I started my own home catering business of gourmet food and decided to never get back to corporate life. This was all in Mumbai. Then we moved to Hyderabad and I had to start everything from scratch. I got to know about the MasterChef auditions and that it's vegetarian this time. Then, there was no looking back!
What inspired you to take up baking as a profession?
I do baking and cooking professionally. I have two brands running in Mumbai called Bell Pepper Cafe - which serves European & American food; and Chak de Dhabbe which is a delivery only model serving authentic Punjabi food. Both these brands are run and managed by my family in Mumbai. Apart from this, I also consult for menu development, caterings, and events across India as well as to conduct workshops whenever I get time. Here in Hyderabad, I am focused on baking because I find it convenient to operate out of the home. It gives me the time to manage my family and profession. When I started offering bakery & confectionery products in Hyderabad, not many players were present offering the kind of quality and taste which I do. I believe there is a huge market in Hyderabad, always looking out for premium quality products and flavours and hence I started to focus on my baking.
How much did competing in Masterchef help you with your own baking business?
MasterChef has had a huge impact on everything I do related to food - whether it is my workshops, bakery, restaurant or my consultancy. It trained me to think out of the box and to handle the pressure. I think these two things are very important to run any business. It's easy for me to come up with concepts and new flavour combinations which the market might not be offering. Last minute orders are something which we face a lot in our field and handling that pressure and executing an outstanding product comes easy to me thanks to MasterChef!
Have you had any role model or mentor in the cooking industry who has helped you get where you are today?
A lot of people inspire me thanks to social media. The fact is there is so much inspiration around us, whether it is professional chefs, other home bakers, or fabulous women who make amazing meals every day for their families. I have learnt something from everyone. But my mother has contributed to my culinary skills the most. I have grown up eating all varieties of delicious food and desserts at home. After my mom, something which I have learnt the most from is my travel. Thanks to travelling since childhood, I have learnt so much about food and flavours.
What are a few tips that you would give to newcomers in the field, including overcoming initial challenges?
Here are my tips -
- Be patient and keep your focus clear, and success will eventually come to you. Sooner for some, later for some. But it will come.
- Start small.
- Work towards making your every piece a masterpiece.
- Use good quality ingredients in everything you make.
- Focus on your strengths and build your brand around the same.
That was Chef Bhakti Arora Manekar, all uncut for you lovely bakers and fans out there. She is a true inspiration and her ideas and patience make her stand out.
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