The food service industry is relatively immune to the economic environment than most other industries. Compared to other sectors that are visibly affected by upturns and downturns in economy including even those closely alligned with the food industry such as travel & tourism and hospitality, the food service sector is less buffeted by economic winds. After all, people, irrespective of the turns in economic weather, still need to eat. That perhaps explains the steady increase and growth of food outlets everywhere, be it the metros or smaller cities and towns. For these existing outlets, and their newer siblings waiting to enter, the need for more and more trained hands for kitchens is leading to a concomitant rise in demand for trained chefs.
The Indian baking industry is one of the fastest growing segments in the food service industry. The patisserie and chocolate segment is growing at around 15-18 per cent and the bread segment is growing by 4-5 per cent, majorly on the back of steadily rising demand for healthy ingredients like high fibre and multi-grain bread. At the same time, F&B services at hotels are proving to be big revenue earners, thereby augmenting the scope for value addition in food services, which is getting recognised as a high-priority area.
By 2018, it is estimated that the food service industry in the country will reach US$ 78 billion. With such a big business opportunity looming, restaurants, bars, bistros, cafes and takeaways are getting into the act. Not to be left behind, cooking schools and specialised institutes providing training in culinary arts are also looking to surf the wave of business opportunity by enlarging their footprint through better presence in the hot catchment areas. Some, like The Academy of Pastry Arts in India at Gurgaon, have made a timely move in this direction by stepping in to fill the booming demand for skilled pastry chefs in the bakery industry. “There is a huge demand for trained chefs in the Horeca sector for making pastries, desserts, chocolates, breads and baked confections that match international quality and are in step with global trends,” says Dinesh Rawat, director of pastry studies at the Academy.
Barely off the blocks since opening about a month ago, Rawat says the Academy has been getting an increasing number of queries seeking admission to the different and varying duration of courses run by the institute. “We decided to open our first establishment in Gurgaon next to the city’s cyber hub so as to be closer to the market and our customers. The locality is peopled by upwardly mobile white collar professionals who are exposed to refined food habits and the place abounds in a plethora of fine dining outlets,” says Rawat.
Also, with increasing exposure through travelling and by way of wider cultural transference and osmosis, consumer tastes are becoming more refined and attitudes towards cooking have undergone a sea change. As a result, a large number of people are taking to cooking and learning culinary arts not only as a creative form or hobby but also for pursuing a career and for entrepreneurial reasons. “The interesting thing is that as many youngsters and men show interest in taking up the training as do women and female amateur home bakers,” informs Rawat.
“I have trainees who run their own bakery business but have enrolled to get advanced training in pastry making skills. Then there are those who are or wish to be home bakers with business ambitions,” says Rawat, who foresees increased demand momentum for products like breakfast pastries, travel and wedding cakes, tarts, chocolates and ice creams from diverse consumer segments. “There is a movement towards change and as people’s tastes are becoming more informed, increasingly refined and health-focused, they are asking for endless varieties of pastries and breads with special ingredients and flavours.”
The surge in interest for pastry dishes is prompting many to take up baking as a profession even as trained and versatile chefs strive to push the frontiers of their culinary arts by coming up with more imaginative recipes, ingredients, shapes and tastes. “Chefs are looking out for more opportunities to participate in international competitions and contests in order to remain at the cutting edge of their profession and expand their repertoire,” says Rawat, adding that his Academy organises regular contests among trainee chefs to encourage innovative experimentation. “Our chef instructors, many of whom have over 15-20 years of experience, demonstrate how to mix special ingredients to create extraordinary tastes and confections.”
If chefs across the world are creating groundbreaking new desserts using ingredients both familiar and wildly unknown, sepecialised pastry schools are helping to impart the right knowledge, training, skills, and, just as importantly, the use of exceptional raw ingredients and equipment to make pastries, desserts, breads and confections more refined and mouth watering.