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Having worked as a marketing professional for 10 years, Rinki Saha dived into the deep end when she decided to give up her corporate career to follow her passion for the culinary arts. And the Kolkata-based chef followed all the steps: from going back to a culinary school to starting at the bottom in the job.

False start

Born and brought up in Kolkata, Saha moved to Mumbai to do her Master’s in Communication and Journalism. After two-and-a-half years at a public relations firm in Mumbai, she moved to FedEx, a courier service company, in a communications role. “However, since I discovered that I enjoyed marketing more, my role was changed to combine both. I was handling every aspect of marketing at FedEx—from advertising, direct marketing to digital," says Saha, who spent seven years with the organization.

The switch

While she had no complaint with her career trajectory within FedEx, Saha felt that there was something missing in her life. “I wasn’t completely happy doing what I was doing," she admits. During her time in Mumbai, Saha had discovered a passion for cooking. “Since I was living away from home, I started out with need-based cooking but I soon realized that I really liked cooking," she says. When she realized that she wanted to pursue her passion for food professionally, Saha decided to go to a culinary school. “It took me about a year or so to figure where to go and also convincing my family about it," says Saha, who came across Kendall College—a top culinary arts school in Chicago,US—through an education consultancy. From training across different sections of the kitchen to working for the restaurant within the college premises, Saha says the course opened her eyes to handling food professionally.

Turning point

The real learning, however, came when Saha had to intern with one-Michelin star French restaurant in Chicago called Everest. “In college, the faculty would handhold you through everything but in a restaurant no one has the time or patience to teach you. There’s a lot of heat, sweat and yelling," says Saha. Her persistence paid off and her internship was extended, which allowed her to spend an additional year at Everest. “In the last three months there, I got to co-manage the fish station along with the sous chef and I picked up a lot there," she adds.

Upon her return to Mumbai, Saha got in touch with Kendall alumni and F&B director of Aallia Hospitality, Kelvin Cheung, who appointed her as sous chef at Bastian. Describing her nine-month stint at the swish seafood restaurant as eventful, Saha admits that it took some getting used to commercial Indian kitchens. “To begin with, 80% of the staff in most Indian restaurant kitchens or at least the ones I got to visit, come from smaller towns or villages as opposed to formally-trained or college-educated trainees. It took some time to adjust to the new set-up," reveals Saha.

Earlier this year, she moved to Kolkata and worked for Kookie Jar, a well-known confectionary outlet. She has now quit the outlet and is preparing for a short- term internship at Gaa, a modern Indian food restaurant in Bangkok, Thailand.

Be brave and be prepared

Giving up a corporate career with a certain salary to start afresh in a new field is never easy. “You need to be aware of the challenges ahead—starting from the bottom, taking a pay cut, and changing your lifestyle to suit your new role and earnings," advises Saha. In the F&B industry in particular, starting salaries for chefs are as low as 13,000. Saha could fall back on her own savings as well as monetary help from her family to tide her through this change. The other challenge is to navigate your way through a new career where there’s no clear hierarchy, as in a mainstream corporate job. “At 37, I don’t have the luxury of time or the stamina to compete with the 25-year-olds in the business," says Saha, who has had to work smartly and plan every step. “That’s why I chose to work with successful stand-alone restaurants where the learning is faster. It’s long hours and a lot of work but worth it."

Learning from the past

While she doesn’t miss the nine-to-five routine, endless meetings or staring at a computer for hours on end, Saha does admit that she has gained a lot from her corporate experience. “Time management, for instance. Since I used to handle various projects at one time, I have learnt to compartmentalize my day better," she adds. Also, having worked with numbers and analytics, Saha is confident about being able to draw up her own business plan in the future without depending on a third person.

In the time being, Saha is happy that she gets to do what she loves every day: “I get to cook, think and innovate on food."

The Switch is a series that traces the journey of people who have made a 180-degree career change.

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