Women

From Newton’s Law to fig newtons- Rashida Ben T.

May 9, 2017
5

In conversation with Rashida Taher
Photography by Fatema A.

Rashida ben is a talented pastry and bakery chef based in Singapore. We had the good fortune of conversing with her, watching her in action, and stomaching her delicious creations.

Separator.

It was a life without gadgets. It was a life surrounded by nature.

Tell us a little bit about yourself. What was life like growing up for you?

During my years growing up, I had a very uncomplicated life. It was a life without gadgets. It was a life surrounded by nature.. It was a life in Mehsana, a small city in Gujarat.  I always had the pleasure of eating fresh and wholesome food (no processed or ready to eat food). Maybe that’s why I still prefer to prepare all my dishes from scratch….no shortcuts. Like everyone, I also had the world’s best cook in the house (my mom) so I never really felt the need to go in the kitchen and cook.

 

I always wanted to make food which was not just delicious, but healthy too.

What got you started?

During my college life, I was staying in a hostel, so again, there was no need to step into the kitchen. Like most girls of my generation, I got married when the time was right. To be married into a foodie family came with a little pressure. Because of experienced cooks in the family, I only got to do simple cooking. Then,  we moved to the Singapore… and, as they say- necessity is the mother of invention.

In Singapore, most of the food either tasted too strange to us or had added preservative. Sometimes we didn’t even know all the ingredients being used! To be on safe side, I started preparing picnic baskets at home for my family.  With small kids it’s best to have all-in-one dishes which are easy to carry and feed the children. Hence, again, out of necessity was born my first experiment – the ‘Pinwheel Pizza’. And with this dish my journey from physics graduate to chef had begun….

You must be wondering with just one dish??

During that time, the chef Sanjeev Kapoor was in Singapore for a contest to celebrate the completion of 500 episodes of his cookery show “Khana Khazana’.  With lots of pushing from my husband, I had submitted my recipe. The contestants had to make their creations and take it to the show for judging. And guess what??? From about 84 contestants, my dish made it to the top 10! And yes, it was the very same one… my first experiment- The Pinwheel Pizza.

This success gave me the confidence boost to start baking, cooking and experimenting in my kitchen. But following recipes never satisfied me.  I always wanted to make food which was not just delicious, but healthy too. Being a science student, it always amazed me how flour and water with few other simple things can give you delicious bread. So, when my children grew up I decided to enroll myself in a professional pastry and bakery course to learn about this amazing world of science.

1

 

The final product, besides being judged on taste, it is also judged on its appearance and aroma.

Tell us about your creative process.

Different items have different processes.

If I am developing a new recipe, the first thing I think about are the basic ingredients. From there, I work out the basic recipe. Then, thinking mode on for different types of combinations. After that I decide on a couple of combinations, one which I would love to eat (sometimes they’re completely weird combinations… but hey, if it tastes good then why not☺ ). And another one which I feel most people would love to eat. Sometimes both can be the same.

Then comes appearance. For that I roughly make the sketch of the final product.

Finally, I start working in my lab (kitchen).

The final product, besides being judged on taste, it is also judged on its appearance and aroma.

Getting all three factors right in a single product is always a challenge.

 

What’s your go-to comfort food?

Indian sweets give me instant comfort.

 

2

 

What’s your most loved creation so far?

I love each of my creations, whether if it’s a simple cake or fusion mithai cake served in FMB because each of them are prepared with lots of passion.

But the creation, which I hold dearest to my heart, is Muffadal Maula’s Milaad cake. It had representations of Roti making and Ilm(education) which are very dear to Maula.

 

Working on such a large scale was tough

What made you go into the airline catering industry – it was a tough course wasn’t it?

It was not entirely out of choice. During my bakery course, I needed to do a 1 year internship attached to a professional kitchen.  So just as luck would have it, I was assigned to SATS (the largest airline kitchen in Singapore). The day they informed me of the assignment, I was so worried! I could not sleep for a few nights. What is so terrifying about it, you ask?

Normally when you have food on an aircraft, you think about your meal and maybe 200 to 300 other meals which have been served on same flight. But in airlines kitchen you have to make around a thousand identical meals in a day! While meeting the standards of some of the best airlines in the world.

To  give you a rough idea – When you make a cake at home, the maximum quantity of flour you use may be approximately 2kg. But here we use approximately 50kg of flour a day. So, can you imagine the amount of just simple sponge cake  they produce in a day? More than 200kg! While making all these serving we have to be on our feet for around 8 to 10 hours.

Maula farmave che ke “Khuda tala je kare yeh apna better vastej hoy che.” Working on such a large scale was tough but it taught me to organize my work flow ahead of time and produce large quantities efficiently. It also helped me understand the value of teamwork in kitchen.

 

If you were an exotic ice-cream flavor, what would you be?

Roasted Red bell pepper with thyme…yumm.

 

3

 

A mix of both

Is your line of work more of an art or a science?

It is a mix of both. The art coming from display of the food and science being creation of different tastes and textures using a variety of ingredients, combinations and techniques.

Let me give you an example:

In bread making, we use salt and sugar, beside contributing in taste they have another important role too. Did you know that??  Sugar is kind of yeast’s food so it helps to activate yeast fast and salt controls the yeast’s activity, so your bread is properly puffed.

 

Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting that you can tell us about?

Here, serving guest with cookies is an Eid-ul-Fitr tradition along with sheerkhuma. So, I am working on creating two different savory cookies for this year. If you want to know more, visit me during Eid!

 

One person  you would want to be critiqued by?

It has always been my dream to be able to prepare different varieties in a Ziyafat thaal.

The smile on Maula’s face, when he tastes my creation is reward enough to last me a lifetime.

 

In this profession work life balance is always a challenge.

One piece of advice you would give a young woman pursuing culinary arts.

This is a very tough profession, which requires lot of hard work and passion. Usually when we gulp down the delicacy we don’t imagine the amount of effort and planning that goes into making those creations.

People always enjoy professionally made creations on their off days, which are normally weekends and holidays. So, guess who has to work on those days to cater to them??

So, in this profession work life balance is always a challenge.

But hey, nothing is impossible if you have passion for it.

6

 


 

     

      

 

 

You Might Also Like

No Comments

Leave a Reply