She believed she could, so she did

From being an aspiring chef with stars in her eyes to one who met and took on all the challenges head-on, Ekta Jha has come a long way in not just finding success herself but sharing some of that stardust with her coworkers.

She hails from Bihar and attended college in Chennai at a time when it was uncommon for parents to send their daughters to other states to study. Her love of food was inherent but what motivated her to begin her culinary journey and do justice to her skills was a comment by her teacher and HOD. It was during one of her production classes. Having noticed the girls seated at the back of the class, he questioned their choice of seating and said, “You should come to the front and face the challenges. Face the heat.” Somehow that lit a fire within and then on she dedicated herself to production class.

As she gained more knowledge about cuisines and the culinary world, she learnt that there are so few women professionals in the field despite the scope and opportunity. It made her wonder why. As for her, she felt it fit in well with her skills and attitude and with faith in her abilities she leaped into the world of food wholeheartedly.

The challenges

She soon understood the reason for the inadequate number of women chefs in the country. In 2010, the industry was almost completely male-dominated. As a management trainee, she faced numerous hurdles- the biggest one being the non-acceptance of a young female management trainee who would likely wield authority over the experienced hands in the kitchen. She was met with similar resistance in every kitchen she went but with respect and patience won them over. She shared her knowledge and conducted training sessions and acknowledged and appreciated their successes.

Another challenge during the early phase of her career was the exhausting long hours which came with the job which she accepted as is. On the personal front, she missed weekends, festivals, and celebrations with family, however, her supportive husband and family are her biggest strengths.

In whichever kitchen I went, I was always met with resistance but whenever I left, I left with acceptance and affection – that is my reward.

Yet another challenge presented itself in the form of her loving and adorable baby. Caught in an emotional turmoil between multiple invites for interviews from renowned brands, and being there for her baby, she chose her baby. Having made her decision, Ekta was enjoying motherhood thoroughly when she got another interview call 2 years later from an MNC and her husband encouraged her to restart her career. With assurance from him and support from her parents, she donned her chef coat once more. Despite her unease with the idea of leaving her child in daycare, with a little encouragement from her husband she accepted the support when she saw her son adjusting beautifully.

Sodexo is the first company where I saw so many women chefs in the kitchen and I was so glad. Kudos to our HR team and their efforts.

One of her biggest inspirations is her mentor Chef Debraj Bhaumik, a tough and dedicated teacher who motivated her to push her limits, believe in her abilities and achieve a gold medal, something she had not thought possible as she had not performed well in her previous review.

She is not just passionate about but sensitive to the people she works with. She initiated a weekly connect with the women in her teams called, Shechef Connect wherein she invites them to share their journeys while she also encourages them to prioritize their health and fitness and gain financial independence.

While she can forget the rest of the world once she enters the kitchen, she has learnt to prioritize her health and family too.

If I get an hour for myself daily, some time for my family and the rest of the time for work, that is work-life balance for me. And that is something I’ve been able to achieve since joining Sodexo

Ekta also loves reading and traveling and shares that the experiences from travelling are enriching in the lesson for life.

Believe in yourself. Put your all in whatever you do and be positive. I believe that in the end, it all works out.

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