By Sujata Rajpal
It is said, “choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” Most of us wish to find such a job! We wish, we hope, we desire but there are a few like Maria Justina Minila who go ahead and live life by the above dictum. Pastry Chef Minila, a Mysurean who recently became the only female Pastry Chef to represent India at a competition held in Paris, France, spoke to ‘Star of Mysore’ over the phone about her love for baking, chocolate and the odd choice of a career as a Pastry Chef.
As a little girl, Minila loved to cook and try out new recipes deriving inspiration from her grandmother. After doing her PUC from St. Philomena’s College in Mysuru, she decided to pursue her passion by enrolling for Bachelor in Hotel Management at Christ College, Bengaluru. After working at the Taj Hotel for four years, she joined The Academy of Pastry Arts at Gurgaon as a Pastry Chef and Instructor.
Minila recently participated in the World Pastry Championship at Léon, France, where her team won the Best Team Spirit Award and was adjudged the 16th Best Team in the World.
Not a small feat to achieve considering this was India’s debutant team. The team comprised three chefs. Her other team-mates were Chef Mukesh Rawat (captain of the Team) and Chef Yogesh Sharma. The team was coached by Chef Niklesh Sharma, the Managing Director of the Pastry Academy.
Minila is all excited as she talks about the World Pastry Championship. “It’s like Cricket World Cup for Pastry Chefs and in this competition, Chefs introduce the latest trends and talents are discovered from across the world.”
Minila says that the profession of baking is still male-dominated and adds, “I might not have participated but for the encouragement from the Managing Director of the Pastry Academy. Chef Niklesh Sharma who said, a female chef can be as good as a male. I am glad I could prove him right.”
Minila is all gung-ho about her job as the Chef Instructor at the Academy. “Pastry Chef is a dream job for me and my Academy is like a state-of-the-art lab, there is so much to learn and experiment. The best part of this Academy is the opportunity to learn from the French Chefs. In India, there is very little knowledge about French pastries. I am fortunate to get an opportunity to do my bit to promote French pastries,” she adds.
Being a Pastry Chef, especially for a woman is unusual as a profession not only in India but in the world — Not surprising at Léon, out of 66 participants, there were only three women, one each from Sweden, India and Denmark.
While most parents would rather want their children pursue more mainstream professions, it is surprising that Minila was allowed to pursue her passion in pastry. When asked if her parents had any objection, she says: “My parents in that sense were very understanding and broad-minded. They always went that extra mile to support me; and my younger sister has been my biggest fan and cheering for me. So this kind of support is absolutely necessary to pursue one’s passion even if many feel it’s not a viable one.”
When asked how rewarding her profession was, Minila says that she took an education loan to fund her passion to study pastry which is an expensive course especially if one has to study in a prestigious institute.
She adds saying: “This profession is as rewarding as any other profession if you are good at it. Also after the course, the choices are umpteen, one can start one’s own venture, work in a hotel as a Pastry Chef or get into teaching. For me as an instructor, teaching and innovation are the most exciting part of my job, it is much more than just a job for me.”