Cook for a cause: French Consulate gives hope to school dropouts aspiring to be chefs
Eighteen-year-old Pooja Halder, aspires to be a chef. She knows how to make perfect chicken quiche, marble cakes, salads, crepes and other French delicacies.
A resident of a slum in Chetla area in South Kolkata, Halder is a school dropout with an invalid father. She and her mother are the earning members in the family that comprises Pooja's two younger siblings. Her opportunity came when, earlier this year, a friend told this gutsy girl about LP4Y, a French NGO that trains and educates needy school dropouts between the age group of 17 and 24 years and makes them job-ready for the service industry.
For the past four months, Halder has been working at the NGO-run Cafe Toto in Chetla and has learnt many a French recipe.
As a part of the Diplomatie Solidaire Week, the French Consulate along with star hotel Novotel in New Town, organised a fun ‘cook for a cause’ training workshop to further boost the confidence of Halder and persons of her ilk. There were about a dozen trained workers from Cafe Toto, who came together to cook crepes -- savoury and sweet – along with the French deputy consul, Olivier Cassin and executive chef Neelabh Sahay of Novotel.
“Diplomacy Solidaire was launched by the French External Affairs Ministry a year ago. This is the second edition. During the week-long celebrations, we boost, encourage and help such NGOs with a French connection, so that the good work continues,” says Cassin.
LP4Y, which is present in nine countries, has been working in Kolkata for the past four years and has helped about 200 excluded young adults who live in extreme poverty. Working in collaboration with Indian NGO Tomorrow’s Foundtaion, it trains the underprivileged youth how to run a business, manage money, besides imparting skills on cooking French food.
“The training goes on for one year, and, if they learn well, we try to find a job for them, too,” says Charlotte Chouceau, a volunteer of LP4Y.
Cafe Toto, an initiative of LP4Y, also has an outlet within the Alliance Francaise premises besides another centre in Hussainpur. On special occasions, such as the Bastille Day celebrations, on July 14, last year, the young workers of the cafe ran a crepe counter at the Novotel Hotel.
“We always want to encourage such initiatives that help in the growth of entrepreneurial skills and invoke confidence in young people in a controlled and safe environment. If even some of them develop interest and learn the ropes of trade accurately, it will go a long way to help them to find a decent job in the service industry,” feels Chandan Thakur, executive assistant manager, Novotel Hotel Kolkata.
The cooking workshop primarily focussed on making sweet and savoury crepes and the ingredients included orange compote, a mix of corn and sun dried tomatoes, cheddar cheese and mozzarella mix, crepes flavoured with dried herbs, such as, oregano and parsley, besides sour cherry and chocolate sauce, banana and gems for toppings.
“We wanted to keep it simple and provide the basic ingredients, leaving the rest to the imagination of the participants. Cafe Toto and LP4Y have made the kids passionate about French food and we are glad to be a part of such a noble initiative,” says Neelabh Sahay, Chef, Novotel Hotel, Kolkata.