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You rest, you rust: Executive chef Madhumita Mohanta on how to thrive in F&B & hospitality

The executive chef of Kolkata’s The Lalit Great Eastern on fondest memories, high and lows and what matters most in the hospitality industry

Aatreyee Mohanta | Published 05.04.23, 02:26 PM

Photo by Amit Datta

Growing up, I was always surrounded by strong independent women — they were career-oriented, focused and ambitious. One of those women is my aunt, who also happens to be the executive chef of The Lalit Great Eastern, Kolkata (TLGE).

Madhumita Mohanta studied at the Institute of Hotel Management (IHM), Taratala, and kick-started her culinary career at The Park in Kolkata. She has been the most inspiring person in my life. She joined TLGE in March 2014 and has since been one of the most effervescent faces of this heritage property. From experimenting with dishes to appearing on television cookery shows, she’s panned the multiverse of food.


It’s not every day a niece gets to interview her awe-inspiring aunt, but then it’s not every day a woman steps into a decade of being the executive chef at one of the most prestigious star properties in town. In fact, Pipi was the only lady executive chef at a star hotel in Kolkata until she was recently joined by Chef Ishika Konar, executive chef of Hyatt Regency, Kolkata.

My Kolkata caught up with Chef Madhumita at TLGE bakery over coffee to trace her culinary journey.

My Kolkata: What have been some of your highest and lowest points in the last decade?

Chef Madhumita: The highest point was returning to my family and Kolkata in 2014, a city which has always felt like home. Cooking the kind of food that I’ve grown up with, and giving that cuisine a commercial face was a high point. I had never worked with Bengali cuisine in my career, so reconnecting with my roots has been the highest point of the last decade.

However, the low point was adjusting to the so-called ‘slow’ lifestyle of the city. Cities abroad and even other metro cities in India have a fast-paced life. The culture in the city, though ambitious, is slow. On the other hand, the need for a social life is very high in Kolkata and so is the work-life balance.

All in all, leaning into the needs of the city and watching the F&B industry of Kolkata evolve has been an exciting experience.

What’s a typical day like in the life of an executive chef?

I start my day with the meetings scheduled for the morning and move on to my departmental briefings along with checking plans for the events of the day. I also need to check if there are any VIPs arriving during the day so that my team can be ready to take care of their needs. We also have an activity calendar that needs to be followed. As the day moves forward, I attend managers’ briefings and that is always followed by food tasting and trials, and meeting the guests, as needed. This is followed by cooking, of course! That is the highlight of my day.

How has the profession changed? What were the challenges you faced initially and do any still exist?

The industry has changed in a big way! When I started, there were hardly any international hospitality brands in the country. Now, there are so many brands all over the country which have brought in a level of standardisation. While skill is the foundation of the profession, having a certain expertise in management, path orientation, career graphs and, most importantly, discipline is very important.

When it comes to challenges, I think my gender was the biggest hurdle back in the day. There was no one to listen to the grievances or even address the issues I was facing. People had inhibitions about hiring a woman in the kitchen and when faced with challenges, I was told, ‘You bargained for this position and wanted it so it’s your responsibility, not ours’. It wasn’t only about physical and emotional challenges but also the lack of recognition and disparity in pay. However, now there is a certain level of equality and discrimination based on gender has considerably reduced.

What will it take to see more women lead the kitchen in hospitality, especially in the hotel space?

The biggest challenge in my opinion is sustaining in this profession year after year. There are a lot of women who join the hospitality industry but not many can sustain working such long hours, for example, because the job can be extremely demanding. Many have other engagements and commitments to fulfil even outside work which makes it truly a challenge.

I think being ambitious and standing your ground is the only way to survive in this industry. You have to be at it, day in and day out to prove your capabilities.

How do you ensure repeat customers?

When it comes to having repeat customers, the thumb rule I follow is that of honesty, sincerity and consistency. We want people visiting us to become our patrons and continue their attachment to the hotel. This comes from quality product and service, ensuring the guests are always looked after and interacting with them as often as possible.

What percentage of revenue does F&B contribute to TLGE?

Initially, there was a norm of 60:40 Rooms: F&B. With time, these figures have flipped and now the F&B section of the hotel contributes 60 per cent to the revenue of the hotel.

What is your biggest market — weddings or banqueting?

Banqueting is a huge market for the hotel but I love organising weddings because they are never monotonous. The budget to plan a wedding is always huge which gives me the creative freedom to get involved in the process.

TLGE is a safe space for the LGBTQIA+ community. How have you and the team worked towards that?

The experience of planning Kitty Su events is truly unique. The footfall during these events is massive, so there is a lot of planning that goes on behind the scenes. At both the production side and budgeting because a lot of young people attend so we try to give them a luxury experience with a reasonable pocket pinch.

Our team has a number of people from the LGBTQIA+ community. We do everything in our power to help and support them, financially and in terms of skills, giving them the confidence to work. Personally, I believe no one should be discriminated against based on who they choose to love.

Would you say your mother (who is my grandmother!) is your source of inspiration?

Chef Madhumita with her mother Roma

Chef Madhumita with her mother Roma

Aatreyee Mohanta

A hundred times over! My mother (Roma) is my inspiration and my centre of affection and love. I have gained and learned so much from her and I am truly always grateful for having inherited her resilience.

You love to experiment and research ingredients before creating recipes. Which recipe did you enjoy creating the most?

This is like asking a mother who her favourite child is! (laughs)

I have too many recipes to pick from because I have a new fancy every season based on the seasonal produce. This year my crush is millet, as you know 2023 is the Year of the Millet. I think in our industry it is essential to keep evolving and experimenting because you rest, you rust!

On being Michael Scumacher’s personal chef for three consecutive Grand Prix:

This experience is truly my favourite. I had just moved to Bahrain from India and in 2004, if I remember correctly, was when Scumacher had come to participate. I was never a sports buff, so I didn’t know who he was or why he was being treated like royalty! I attended to him just as I would other guests, and one day he asked me which country I was from, noticing that I wasn’t really curious about him. He went on to ask me if I knew what Formula 1 was and I told him, “Yes, it’s very loud cars racing,” and he laughed!

I was his personal chef at the hotel for three consecutive years post that. Whenever he was in Bahrain for the Grand Prix, he would personally request my presence. He always used to order scrambled eggs and whey bread, he wasn’t fussy at all — it was truly a wonderful experience!

On winning the National Tourism Award (2015-16) for Best Lady Chef presented by The President:

I have to thank The Lalit Suri Hospitality Group for this. They were the ones who filled out the form and sent the application. When I first found out I was going to be the recipient of this award, it didn’t really sink in. It was only when I was in Delhi in 2017 for the event rehearsal that I realised, ‘Wow! This is really happening!’ After winning the awards, the whole team was ecstatic. We celebrated together, they put up a performance for me and even got me a sash!

Chef Madhumita winning the Best Lady Chef award in 2017 and (right) being felicitated by The Lalit team

Chef Madhumita winning the Best Lady Chef award in 2017 and (right) being felicitated by The Lalit team

Last updated on 07.04.23, 02:07 PM

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