I recently did a pop up at a leading restaurant in Mangalore, that’s where people realized I’m actually a professional chef and not a home cook – Shriya Shetty

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Dreams come true for those who have the courage to convert them into reality. ​While some of us spend ourselves procrastinating on possibilities, there is a lot that believes in risk, the one that fearlessly runs through each of the possibilities to weigh what works best, the one that does not wait for the ‘right time’, because they embrace ‘being in the moment’. And, one cannot deny the power in consciously relishing the present, just how fulfilling it can be calculating risks taken at the end of every single day, swimming into unknown directions, losing the sight of the shore and finding one again….

I had a great childhood. Amazing parents and an older sister with whom I would only fight. A common thread that knitted us all together was of food. We bonded over food. Food was never seen as something different, or exquisite, especially when both my parents cooked fantastically well. It was more of a regular thing for us. We also had our fair share of tasting sessions, daddy would bring something to eat on his way back from work, Sev Puri, or, Vadapao. Mum would get the seasonal fruits and vegetables. So, never was there a deficit in any spectrum of edibles. I loved going to school and was one of those naughty kids fairly known in the teacher’s circuit for their playfulness. In fact, all of my closest girlfriends are the ones I made in school or know from childhood days.

In the middle of all ease and fun, there were moments that took a while to absorb. I was #MeToo and no, I didn’t let that become a part of my identity. It just wasn’t me allowing people to say, “Oh! she was molested, yet, look how she’s risen.” Surely, I was young to understand the gravity of such situations, but I had the strength and courage to deal with them myself.

Ask me what future I held for myself, as I am revisiting older fragments of my life, I am kind of astounded thinking that precisely at this point I never wanted to be a Chef, I aspired to become a Fashion Designer.

Clearly, life had other plans!!

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The most intriguing part of our life is oblivion, its effervescence keeps up going. In patches and intensities, we make estimate and assumptions, but we never reach a point in life where we know everything that is about to unfold. Shriya’s life took a drastic turn, and all that fell perfectly in place at one point now had to be gathered piece by piece to create a picture that was quite distorted otherwise.

Daddy was the biggest food influence on me and my sister. Do you know, he used to call me a ‘dustbin’? I would practically eat anything and everything under the sun. Then one day, he was gone. I was 15-years-old that time. It was quick, he was there one day and the next day he wasn’t. I clearly remember how it all turned pitch dark for all three of us, absolutely no sign of revival.

20th January, dad’s birthday. My exams were on and we made it simple by cutting a small pastry. Daddy was the designated “cravings” fulfiller during our exams. I wanted a coffee, but he said he was really tired and asked me if he could sleep. Next morning, I was up at 5 A.M. to do some last-minute revision when he came to my room and asked if I wanted coffee, I politely denied. He insisted until I said OK. I kid you not, it was the best coffee I had ever had in my life. My mom is a fitness trainer. That morning, her car’s tire got punctured, she called dad, he quickly made egg bhurji for akkas tiffin and left. An hour later, I got a call from mum saying daddy was admitted to the hospital because he was breathless and had to be immediately taken to the Intensive Care Unit. She assured that there was nothing to worry and I should go write my paper…

A while after, I visited dad in the hospital when the doctor told us that he had slipped into a coma. I stayed over that night with my mom. For the first time, food conversations were of no help, we all were lost in the oblivion. It felt like a free fall. I woke up to mom’s silent sobbing around 4:30 A.M. Dad’s condition had worsened, BP dropped, and he was now on ventilator looking nothing like our father with all the funny wires and tubes attached.

Dad passed away at 8 in the morning.”

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Shriya started baking in college, just for fun.  Then, one fine day, her mom’s client asked her to bake cupcakes for her son and promised to pay. Who on earth knew this would give her ‘the spring’ she had patiently waited for – Pupkins Kitchen was born.

I was just 16 or 17.  The home business did quite well, and I wanted to learn more. My (then) boyfriend’s dad owned a hotel, he spoke to him and got me a one-month internship in their kitchen and I thought to myself this is so cool. That’s where I learnt all the baking and cooking and that’s where I realized my techniques and practices were so wrong!

One thing led to another and I joined a 3-month part time course at Dadar catering hoping to learn more. Contrary to my high hopes, the outcome was not as I had expected. I hardly attended any of the classes. The tables turned and famous food critic, Rashmi Uday Singh tasted my baked goods and wrote a review about me in BOMBAY TIMES, 23rd March 2013! The fact that my work got noticed gave me confidence to do more than what was in my capacity.

I started taking baking classes from home which did really well and got me some good money. In 2013, I did a Macaron class with Pooja Dhingra and checked if she’s looking for an intern, she wasn’t. I also approached Rakhee Vaswani where I attended my first ever cupcake baking workshop, showed her my work and asked for an internship but that also did not work out.

One day on Instagram, I came across a picture. It was of a Chef from a restaurant in Colaba experimenting with ice-cream.  I went to his profile, fell head over heels in love with his work and decided to ask him, if, he’ll allow me to work for free in his kitchen. His name was Chef Kelvin Cheung. I took the email from his profile and sent about 20 emails in a span of 2 weeks. Yes! you heard it right! 20 emails!!

My request was simple – an internship/dish-washing job or anything under the sun, as long as I was in the kitchen!

He didn’t reply for long, but I was persistent. In every email, I focused on why I wanted the job and never asked even once why he didn’t reply.

Finally, the reply came. He asked me to meet him at the restaurant in January.

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Shriya worked at Ellipsis for close to a year and a half after which she decided to apply for International Culinary Centre in the U.S and got a scholarship for 7000 USD. Just at the same time she had gotten to Gaggan, Bangkok.

I chose the latter. Gaggan was an eye opener, in a lot of ways. I got to work with 6 nationalities, realized why Indians don’t do very well in this field even though we are masters of taste. We’re such an under-confident lot. Given the diverse and rich experience, I was supposed to fall in love, but I did not like the kind of food they made. It was all science and powders and flip & flop.

I was supposed to be there only for 3 months, but they had agreed to extend my visa. They offered me a job, told me they would make me the best female chef and extended the opportunity to be a part of the opening team at their restaurant in India. It was all perfect until certain experiences didn’t allow me to stay there for long.

Here I was back to square one, in the middle of crisis – I wanted to move to Bangkok, but that required a job and the job market was all time low.”

Life is all about meeting people and drafting experiences. There will be those who would have a blink and miss appearance, then, those who would leave a bad taste, and then, those who would be instrumental to our growth. At any point in our life, we would seldom find ourselves alone if we choose to seek out.

Shriya had Varun, who she proudly calls her ‘saving grace’.

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“Oh, I love him. He was with me throughout my crisis, calling me up, listening to my woes, and making sure that I am fine. That’s where the difference lies. You don’t need to be there ‘with’ the person, you need to be there ‘for’ the person. I was very lucky in that aspect. I had my family and I had him.

In some time, I started looking for another job. I must have done something right, Chef Kelvin’s best friend, Chef Dan Bark had opened a restaurant in Bangkok and was ready to let me work for 2 weeks. I joined Mikellers and it was REDEMPTION. In these two weeks, I had learnt so much that I came to a point where I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I came back to India with a new agenda. There was no verity in sitting in another country and claiming to be the best Indian chef while working with international ingredients. I wanted to be the world famous Indian chef cooking with Indian ingredients in India.

I joined Chef Kelvin at his new restaurant while deciding my next step. I didn’t want to stay in Bombay. So, decided to move to Mangalore and learn the food of my ancestors.

We opened Pupkins in Mangalore, an artisan bakery and Culinary studio. It’s been over a year now, and there have been a lot of downs, but some great ups too. Pupkins is finally growing after 1.5 years of being open and there’s still a long way to go.”

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We all have dreams, and we are all equally competent to turn those dreams into reality. What sets us apart is the depth of our commitment to those dreams. Shriya’s story is unique not because she made it all the way to where she is today, but because she never turned her back to any incoming possibility that brought her even an inch closer to her dreams. Shriya’s final goal is to open her 30-seater fine dine restaurant celebrating Indian ingredients.

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(Exclusively shared with Real Life Heroes – By Manvi)

 

 

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