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Her expertise lies in storytelling through each dish
Monday, 03 June, 2024, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Chef Beena Norona is an artistic force in the culinary world. She is currently the head chef at Chrome Asia Hospitality, which owns and operates restaurants in Mumbai, such as Gigi, Eve, Demy, Donna Deli, Shy and a few more are in the pipeline.
 
She began her culinary journey as a trainee chef at a Michelin Star restaurant, Villa Rene Lalique, in France, followed by being the sous chef at St Regis and the executive Sous Chef at Opa Kipos. She also founded her own ventures like Makha Pao and Poori Baatein.

Drawing her inspiration from culinary hotspots like France, Italy, and Mexico, she crafts a unique culinary identity. Her expertise lies in merging progressive techniques and storytelling through each dish, creating a redefined gastronomic experience.

When asked about what inspired her journey in the culinary world and leading her to become a renowned chef, she said, “My culinary journey was ignited by an earnest fascination with the transformative power of food. The ability to turn simple ingredients into an artful, flavourful experience captivated my soul. Over the years, my passion deepened as I explored diverse culinary traditions during my various trips to different countries, learning that each dish tells a story. This quest for storytelling through food, coupled with a relentless pursuit of excellence, ultimately propelled me to become a renowned chef.”

Her experience as a trainee chef in France, she shared, “My experience as a trainee chef in France was like a roller coaster ride. There were lots of ups and downs, long and irregular hours of working, strict hierarchy and complex responsibilities. While it was challenging on many grounds, the growth and learning was umatched. Immersed in the rich culinary heritage of France, I learned the importance of precision, technique, and a profound respect for ingredients. The emphasis on craftsmanship and a meticulous approach to every aspect of cooking has significantly influenced my culinary philosophy, inspiring me to create dishes that reflect a harmonious balance of flavours and a commitment to culinary excellence."

Norona shared insights on the concept and inspiration behind her own venture Makha Pao, “I came back from France just before the first lockdown due to Covid-19. After a very long time I was back home living with my mom. So, this gave us a chance to connect and cook together. This experience made me realise how I felt about my traditional culinary heritage and wanted to share it with others. And that’s how Bombay Makha Pao was born. I wanted to start something which was deeply connected to my roots. Considering both traditional favourites and modern interpretations, I developed a menu that featured signature dishes and had a unique yet authentic experience to offer. Since I had many years of design and marketing experience, I put it to great use by designing the branding and packaging myself. I would even send a special note along with the food just to give a personalised touch and elevate their experience.”

She shared some memorable moments from the show 'Chef vs Fridge' on ZeeCafe, where she participated, “It was exciting to be part of a reality show. I had always only imagined being on a show like that as I watched MasterChef a lot. It was an honour to meet chef Vicky Ratnani, the celebrity judge on the show. I think cooking when there is a clock ticking behind you, can be extremely intense and particularly stressful. I almost lost track of what I was doing at some point which was challenging. But these shows teach one how much there is to learn and how much goes into making a reality show. There were so many people around and being in front of the camera is definitely not easy with all those lights flashing brighter than the sun. Kudos to the actors who do this day in and out!"

Her challenges in the culinary career, and how did she overcome them, she said, “In a culinary career, women chefs may face challenges such as gender stereotypes, unequal opportunities, and a demanding work environment. The kitchen usually doesn’t even have 5% women chefs. Also, there are a lot of old-school kind of chefs working at most of the prestigious establishments. It can get difficult to advocate modern ways of working. Overcoming these obstacles involves showcasing skills confidently, logical reasoning, fostering a supportive network, and advocating for equal recognition. Persistence, excellence, breaking stereotypes, and maintaining a passion for creativity contribute to knocking down barriers and navigating challenges successfully in the dynamic world of culinary arts.”

When asked, how she infuses storytelling into her dishes and what it adds to the overall gastronomic experience, Norona said, “Infusing storytelling into dishes involves combining flavours, textures, and presentation to evoke a narrative. By drawing inspiration from cultural influences, personal experiences, or the origin of ingredients, each dish becomes a chapter in a culinary story. This adds depth to the gastronomic experience, creating a memorable journey for diners. Storytelling enhances engagement, allowing guests to connect emotionally with the food, fostering a unique and immersive dining experience that goes beyond taste alone. I also try to bring a bit of my personality to the story telling part and to the dish so it’s more relatable or unique for the guests.”

How she balances innovation and tradition in her culinary creations, she said, “Balancing innovation and tradition in culinary creations involves respecting classic techniques while incorporating creative elements. I personally like to fuse traditional flavours and cooking methods with innovative ingredients and presentations. This approach allows me to maintain a connection to culinary roots while offering diners a fresh perspective and exciting experience.”

Her greatest strength as a chef, “My team is undeniably my greatest strength. My visionary team works day in and out to make dreams into vibrant reality. Comprising dedicated and talented individuals, we share a common commitment to culinary excellence. The synergy within our kitchen is the key to our success.”

Norona's future goals and aspirations as a chef, she shared, “As a chef, my long-term objectives entail constant learning and research of the culinary arts. My goal is to expand the creative horizons by experimenting with creative methods and diverse tastes. Long-term goals include developing a signature culinary style and even starting my own restaurant to provide distinctive culinary experiences to a wider clientele. And, most importantly, I hope to inspire the upcoming generation of chefs by mentoring and working together. I believe in this dance of knowledge, the master becomes the pupil, and the pupil, the master.”

Her advice for aspiring chefs who are looking to make a mark in the culinary industry, she said, “Embrace your passion, work persistently to perfect your craft, and have an open mind to new things if you want to become a chef. Discover your own culinary personality, balance tradition and innovation, and never back down from a challenge. Create a network of people who can help you, look for mentorship, and never forget that success in the food industry is a journey rather than a destination.”
 
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