I remember the first time I met Shivani. She had come in with her dad, Mihir to meet me. She had been introduced by a mutual friend. There I sat with a 17 year old, Std 12 student, before me, wondering what I was doing. It all started with a message from her on Facebook.
“I read about your work and your studio on the APB website and I’m very excited by what you do! I have a long, sustained passion when it comes to food, and cooking, and I’m certain that’s what I want my career to be in, but I’m still unclear as to what academic path to pursue in order to get there. To get some clarity, I am taking a gap year to try and gain a broader and deeper knowledge about food and the various possibilities of working with it. I plan to do this by doing internships to try to get an up-close and hands-on understanding. As you are someone with an extensive experience in food and related fields of work I would really appreciate and value your guidance, and advice in terms of how I can go about this, through internships and other approaches.”
I agreed to meet her. But I was really not sure if I could help her at all. With all the things I juggle, I did not want to make a commitment I could not keep. But as we spoke, I recognized in Shivani a certain spark. At 17, she showcased a clarity and presence of mind that I had not seen in too many people. And her parents were totally supportive of her. “She is on a sabbatical from formal education to figure her way around the various opportunities possible in the food industry.” I was stunned and inspired by this unorthodox approach to parenting; enough that I agreed to take on the responsibility of mentoring Shivani, WITH a lot of help from her Dad. I was nervous and unsure of being able to give her what she needed but I was also incredibly excited that they wanted APB to be a part of their exploratory adventure. And so Shivani Unakar came on board with us as our first APB intern.
I was glad I could offer a young person a little bit of experience. I remembered how I’d started out with no one to look up to, learning everything on my own and some of the kind people that took me under their wing and gave me direction. That early, rocky start ensured that mentoring and training others became an important priority for me. Moreover, for a ‘Cook Studio’ committed to inspiring people in the kitchen, Shivani was the perfect student.
And on the 2nd of September, Shivani joined us to jump straight into the kitchen with an assignment in recipe testing for a consulting client, surfacing only to return home at the end of the day, exhausted but inspired. And that was our routine for the next few months. Every morning, Shivani would report at the studio with her beat-up Mac, eager for a new day of exploration. And soon I found I was looking forward to those shining eyes and ready smile.
At our functional, professional kitchen, Shivani was the lowest in the feeding chain and so a lot of scut work was dumped on her; from peeling onions to chopping them, fetching and carrying, cleaning up, looking for elusive things in the store and so much more. And she did it with no complaints, in a far better manner than trained professionals much senior to her. This quality will stand her in good stead when working in the food industry.
An eager, motivated and hard worker, Shivani accomplished so much in the short 4 months she was here. From that first recipe testing exercise to the day she left after researching our next book project, I tried to ensure her learning curve was as varied as I could make it. From drafting newsletters and social media updates, to researching various ingredients, cooking techniques and diverse cuisines, from cooking staff lunches to assisting in classes. From interacting with chefs, food writers, farmers, restaurateurs, and as many food experts as we could to interviewing people across the city. I threw everything I could her way. And she dealt with it all gracefully. Her delight was infectious and animated our many conversations.
However, it was our ‘No Reservations’ World Cuisine course that had her eyes sparkling the most. From knife skills to understanding flavours to wine and cheese tastings, Shivani had a roller coaster ride in the world of food preparation. She got her hands dirty in the ‘Breads around the World’ class, cooked and ate her way through typical dishes from Italy, the Mediterranean, Spain, China and Thailand while picking up on nifty little cooking tips and tricks. This global exposure provided her plenty of fodder for her blog, ‘Chronicles of a Food Intern’.
And she has grown in the past few months, both figuratively and literally. She used to crib about the weight she put on with us. However, at the end of this trip, Team APB is going to miss our little ‘Bachoo’ and I certainly am going to miss her enthusiasm and never say die attitude. I‘m almost jealous for the kind of exposure and opportunity she is receiving at this formative stage. I wish I had that sense of possibility and expanded vision when I first started out as a food enthusiast.
Today on her 18th birthday, the day she leaves us and moves onto the next stage of her food journey, I wish her all the best in the world. I know that Shivani will do fabulously in her chosen path and I’m looking forward to cheering her on in her achievements. ‘Thank you’ Shivani, Swati and Mihir, for giving me and APB this opportunity, as with all enriching experiences, we are the better for it and we are not looking at this as the end, but rather the beginning.