In Conversation with Rachita Raja – Our Savvy Student Services Manager

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I remember my first day at ICCA. It was Rachita who did my orientation and warmly welcomed me at my new workplace and made me comfortable in unfamiliar surroundings. As a Student Services Manager she is an unyielding professional when it comes to her work, but behind that sometimes tough exterior is a soft cookie.  She has a warm smile and a twinkle in her eye that’s endearing.

Interesting to know would be that Rachita is also a chef and an alumna of ICCA. Having done her professional cookery and patisserie program, I was intrigued to know why she chose a desk job instead of a career in the kitchen.

It was great chatting with her as she unfolded her dreams and aspirations. Let me share with you all what our Student Services Manager is all about.

SP:  Your academic background is in Hospitality. Share with us your journey so far?

RR: I have done a 4-year Hospitality Management course (B.Sc Honours) from Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management here in Dubai. During my studies, I worked as an intern with the Jumeirah and IHG Group for 6 months each, which was as much fun as was the learning.

After completing my first year in college, I joined ICCA to do the Culinary Professional Program which fitted in perfectly with my 3 months long break. Doing the course really helped me once I went back to college as I was able to understand the culinary aspect of the curriculum a lot better. Once I graduated from college I joined ICCA as part of the front office staff. I have been here since August 2012 which is a good 5 years and counting.

SP:  What is the nature of your job at ICCA? What exactly do you do?

RR: I started here as a moderator – correcting, making transcripts and certifications for the students. I have since forayed into different departments and now counsel students, sales and after service for the students till the time they graduate and move on.

SP:  What are some of the challenges that you face in your day to day work?

RR: As a student counselor, the biggest challenge I face is convincing some of them that ‘cheffing’ is a reputable profession. Parents especially feel embarrassed to admit that their wards are chefs and want to make culinary as their chosen career.
For them, a chef is just a cook and they do not realise that Culinary Art is just as much a valued and respected profession like any other esteemed traditional degree.

SP:  You are also a Professional Chef. How enjoyable was it being in the kitchen?

RR:  As a lay person I saw cooking just as adding some ingredients to the pot, follow the recipe and you have a meal ready. Only after I joined the program did I realise that cooking is serious business – with proper techniques to be followed, understanding the food properties, why things have to be done a particular way and so forth to create not only a meal but a dish that appeals to every sense.

I enjoyed the classes thoroughly. Exciting it was I must say.

SP:  What made you take up Student Services instead of donning the chef cap?

RR: As much as I enjoyed the course, working full time in the kitchen is not my scene. Management and Administration is more my kind of work and so I chose to take up an office job.

SP:  As a counselor to students, what do you think is the USP of being a chef?

RR: Having been in the shoes of a chef, I can understand the challenges of working in the kitchen and also of the industry, which helps me counsel them better and guide them correctly.

SP:  What about being a Student Services Manager you enjoy the most?

RR:  I get to meet a lot of people, provide solutions to their concerns, break the ice and make them feel at ease… It actually makes me feel good.

SP:  How lucrative is Dubai in terms of the Hospitality Industry?

RR: Dubai, as we know, is the Hub of Hospitality attracting a lot of tourists and professionals throughout the year. Also, it is a very cosmopolitan city that caters to people of all nationalities. The place is always lively with a lot of activity and is constantly evolving. The Expo 2020 is expected to bring in 25 million visitors to the UAE.

According to research carried out by Global Futures and Foresight – The Middle East tourism and hospitality sector will require 1.5 million employees by 2020 to sustain the breakneck speed of hotel development. The sector is bustling like never before.

SP:  What are some of your favourite food joints in Dubai?

RR: I love Japanese cuisine. My favourite would be Wagamama and Wokyo. I also like Indian street food for which one can find a lot of good places in Bur Dubai.

I also like Pizza. Of all the places I have had pizza, the pizza made at ICCA is the winner hands down, with Master Pizza Maker Angelo Lezzi, President of API (Associazione Pizzerie Italiane), Italy, himself teaching the Artisan Pizza Program at ICCA.

SP:  What’s buzzing now at ICCA?

RR: Last month we were at the World Skills Abu Dhabi 2017. Held once every 2 years the World Skills Competitions gets young talent from different countries to compete against each other in a chosen skill. With 77 countries, 51 skill sets and over 1500 participants, the event was of a massive proportion. ICCA students demonstrated recipes to the audience at the ICCA Chefs’ Theatre which everyone present at the event thoroughly enjoyed.

November will be busy with ‘Taste of Abu Dhabi’, ‘Formula 1’ and the ‘Air Show’. Later on, comes the ‘Taste of Dubai’ and ‘Gulf Food’. Never a dull moment at ICCA!

SP:  Most of your students come from outside Dubai. What advice would you like to give them?

RR: “Grass is not green on the other side. It is green where you water it.” And watering takes efforts.
Things just don’t happen on their own but we can make them happen if we are willing to work at it.

Likewise, learning to Cook the right way takes commitment and efforts. If you are willing to water your seed of ambition every day, soon you will be rewarded with a lush green orchard that will bear fruits in time to come.

Shagufta Patel

With an academic background in Marketing, Shagufta is also an Image Advisor, Life-Skill Coach and a NLP practitioner with a penchant for writing. She intends to add value as part of the marketing team at ICCA and grow through new experiences. As passionate about food as she is about people, she believes that cultures though diverse across the globe; the one thing that holds common for nations and its folks, is that everyone loves a hearty meal prepared with love and care. Food according to her is the melting pot where all differences just vaporise and she is happy to be part of a culinary potpourri.

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