'A rewarding career in hospitality and culinary arts' reads the headline of an ad for a hotel management institute. One of many hundreds which have sprung up all over India.
You would think, yes, there is a huge demand for hotel management professionals. And chefs in particular, looking at the rise of speciality restaurants and their exotic offerings. At truly exotic prices!
I recently met a girl who came to Bombay all the way from Assam because she always wanted to be in the hotel industry. She joined the 'Craft Course in Baking and Confectionary' at Sophia Polytech in Mumbai. This course is 1 year, full time and open to anyone who's completed HSC with 45% marks. But many, like this girl, choose to take it up after graduation.
During that one year you'll learn everything from the science of yeast to the "eight golden rules of recipe balancing". You become well versed with cookies, international desserts, shape cakes and Christmas cakes.
It's little wonder that students are highly regarded in the industry and land internships with prestigious 5 star hotels. Here, they slog from 6 am to 7 pm, training under experienced chefs to create new and varied sweet temptations. "We prepare 9 dessserts a day and don't repeat them for a whole week!"
It's back breaking, physical work although in pleasant and aromatic surroundings. During the trainee period you get paid a stipend of Rs 500 which does not even cover your to and fro travel. If you do well, you may be offered a job - at Rs 45,000 p.a. or Rs 4000 per month!
That's an amount that won't even get you a decent PG in Bombay these days. Unless you share the room with someone!
Well, maybe this is the price you pay to learn the tricks of the trade. The intern sighs and says,"Someone who's worked here 2 years gets Rs 6000... " And this is for a 12 hour shift which could be morning, afternoon or late evening.
This girl plans to pack up her bags, go back home and set up her own cake making business. But the question that bothers me is why - why should the hotel industry be so exploitative?
A single pastry at the hotel cake shop sells for Rs 80 and desserts Rs 200 upwards. Surely if trainees and junior bakers are paid a little more, it won't hurt them. Are they simply not bothered about attrition?
Because the hotel industry is booming in India, but hotel management graduates are on rather unhappy with their prospects. From the non-culinary side, many are joining BPOs and other 'service industries'. Those in the cooking side of things aren't as mobile but veering towards foreign cruise liners or starting their own catering business.
No doubt - if you stick on with a big hotel and make it through the struggle - you will eventually be rewarded. But are young people today willing to wait that long?
On the other hand we have the MBA. Forget final job placements. A student from a prestigious MBA institute would get Rs 12-15,000 p.m. as a summer trainee. And he/ she would spend the two months fooling around with xl worksheets doing an 'industry analysis'.
This girl, who can make the most luscious cakes and desserts (I've had some and can vouch for it!) can't dream of getting Rs 12-15,000 even after 3 years of slog in a 5 star hotel.
Remember how Marie Antoinette once sparked off a revolution with her "Let them eat cake... " statement? Well, someday we may see 'cake labour' rise up and declare, "Let them eat XL sheets!"
pic: from www.gothampastry.com