The world of television and streaming services tells us how difficult it is to become a professional chef. The contestants are tested on their skills, knowledge of food and other culinary capabilities. The pressure they endure under those glaring studio lights is so intense, only the best make the cut. Yet, not all cooking masters are born on the sets of a studio. Some of them, like Shreya, have faced these harsh tests in reality but still managed to grab their opportunities and make them count.
Ever since she was little, Shreya wanted to become a professional chef. She would see her father cooking for other people and knew that this was her calling in life. However, Shreya's journey into the world of cooking was dotted with hardships and struggles way beyond her tender years, with one grey cloud after another.
She was just four when she lost both her parents and was left only with her siblings - an older brother, an older sister and her younger brother. The trauma caused by losing her parents forced her older sister into depression and she eventually committed suicide. The shock of losing three people in the family, all at once, made her elder brother resort to drug abuse because he couldn't deal with the pain. After this series of disturbing incidents, only Shreya and her younger brother were left in Delhi.
Once her younger brother got adopted, Shreya was left to fend for herself. If that wasn't bad enough, she was evicted from her house because her brother couldn't repay a debt he had taken. It was at that point when she was forced to become a ragpicker. She eventually ended up living on the streets for almost three years and had to resort to begging. Being young and still having the vigour to study, an NGO admitted her into school. But soon after, a long-lost aunt got in touch. Tempted by the idea of living with family, she moved into their house. However, she had to give up studies and work at a shoe factory.
The aunt would physically abuse her if she wouldn't earn, beat her up and make her life miserable. But because she was family, Shreya still wanted to live with her. Her breaking point came when her aunt's son violated her and her elder brother came to her rescue.
She contacted Mr Harsh who had earlier helped her in getting in touch with an NGO to ask if he could assist her again. At that time she was pregnant and had to get an abortion done. Finally, she was admitted to a school and resumed her education in grade nine.
That's when Mr Anand Kapoor came into her life to make her life-long passion for cooking a reality. He got her a job at a restaurant and Shreya soon started learning the basics of the kitchen. Because of her hard work, she was promoted to work in the pantry where she made salads and burgers. She was a lone girl in a male-dominated kitchen, but she held her own and Mr Anand stood by her, counselled her and helped her throughout.
She then got promoted and started earning Rs. 10,000. The chef she was working under even gave her pocket money out of her own salary so Shreya could sustain herself. From there she started working in a bar in Delhi and got an even bigger salary hike.
Now, things are looking good for the whole family - her elder brother gave up drugs and the younger one is married and a father to a little child. And Shreya, of course, is living her best life and achieving even more success.
Through the years of studying culinary arts, she has developed an affinity towards Italian and European cuisines. She hopes to one day actually travel to these countries and cook there.
While talking exclusively to POPxo, Mr Kapoor, the founder of Creative Services Support Group said, "There's a deep connection that forms when people sit together over a meal, there's something so holistic about it so we thought doing a charity event like this would draw attention to the cause."
Every year they bring down Michelin star chefs to take master classes and teach underprivileged girls gourmet cooking and give them an opportunity of a lifetime to shine and grow.
Chef Alyn Williams says that this is a unique charity because it targets teenagers who others seem to overlook. Giving these kids opportunities and a fair playing field is what they deserve. Another Michelin star chef, Marcello also says, "I came in 2013 too and it's my third time here. The charity is fascinating and Anand gets all the credit for organising it."
So, if you think an initiative can actually transform a life completely, then it's true. Shreya and so many other girls like her shone brilliantly when given the right opportunities.
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