‘A better quality of life for every chef’
Ishwariya Rajamohan is the founder of Love Letters to Chefs and someone who has used her past experiences to promote positive messages and information about health & wellbeing to chefs.
In my recent interview below with Ishwariya, she discusses how she started Love Letters to Chefs as a platform to help chefs achieve a better quality of life and how she has grown and transitioned into becoming an educational platform.
What is your background?
In 2010 I was working as an architect, however due to the recession it was not a very optimistic industry to be in for a young architect. During this time in a strive to keep creative, I rediscovered an old childhood passion for baking. This is when I connected with the idea of changing careers to the food industry. I continued to practise baking and within a year I was training as a pastry chef and had moved from Wales to London.
How did you come up with the idea for Love Letters to Chefs?
My time in the kitchen was very brief, as very early on I was struck by things about the kitchen culture which seemed to be doing more harm than good. Some of the attitudes, behaviours and procedures just seemed really harmful to me. I knew that I didn’t want to stay and subscribe to that culture, as I felt that the values practised were not aligned with my own. I therefore took the decision to leave the kitchen.
However, it didn’t turn out to be the case of just leaving and never looking back, as what I saw still stayed with me. While I was exploring what to do next, I decided to set up a baking business. However, I realised quickly that I wasn’t ready to commit to the challenges that came with setting up an early stage business. This led to alot of personal development in discovering what I really wanted in life and what I had to offer.
During this discovery I realised that I still had something to say about what I saw in the kitchen and this is how I started Love Letters to Chefs. When I first started this five years ago, I didn’t know what trajectory it would take and whether there would be any appetite for the information and ideas that I was sharing.
However, I soon discovered that there were other companies who were also promoting wellbeing in the hospitality industry. The reception and feedback that I received when I first started was very positive and affirmed to me that I was doing the right thing. I first began by sharing my ideas on social media and on my website and blog. Since then Love Letters to Chefs has evolved in the past few years and has now taken the direction of becoming and educational platform.
I teach workshops mainly on work life balance and I also do one to one consultations for bigger issues chefs may need to discuss. As I also have a global community and following, I teach online workshops as this is an more effective way to reach everyone rather than just concentrating on UK based workshops.
What are the aims and values behind what you do?
One of the main reasons I started Love Letters to Chefs, is due to the culture I saw encouraged in the kitchen. This was a culture of negative self-worth and self esteem amongst chefs. I would hear so many chefs say ‘I am only a chef’ with negative thoughts of not feeling good enough.
It is the intangible things that I am trying to make visible. The culture of not feeling good enough and not valuing yourself enough, which ties into a lack of self-care and wellbeing.
I am not here to be an activist or fight for anything, my role is just to hold up a mirror to chefs and say this is what I see and this is how it is affecting you. I see my role as holding a mirror and reflecting what the truth and reality is about the industry and offering solutions.
Having grown into an educational platform, I now teach workshops on work life balance and share a lot of resources, advice, and strategies to help chefs understand how even small changes can help them to make their wellbeing a priority.
What advice would you give to anyone trying to pursue a career in the kitchen?
I would say to all chefs that you have to make wellbeing your priority. I see it as a question of professionalism, just as a professional athlete conditions themselves for their sport, as an example.
The work in the kitchen is very physical and you need to care for yourself in order to do well and excel. It’s not about just showing up and trying to do your best to get through a shift. There is also preparation which needs to come before your shift in order to ensure you are at your best to perform.
What have been your most challenging and rewarding experiences since starting Love Letters to Chef?
I haven’t really experienced any different challenges than anyone else starting a new project. However, as I am not connected to the industry anymore, one challenge is gaining access to chefs and communicating on a wider level.
There have been many rewarding experiences since starting Love Letters to Chefs. Hearing that a post I have written is what someone needed to hear that day, means a lot to me.
Also receiving positive feedback from chefs in other countries has been rewarding to hear, as it meant that what I was going through in the kitchen was not just an isolated experience which just happened to me in the UK. It proves that what I am doing resonates and means something to chefs, but also proves that what I am addressing is a global issue with deep roots.
Also knowing that there are other collaborators trying to achieve the same outcomes as me is rewarding. It feels like a little movement and makes me optimistic about trying to change things in the industry. Change will not come over night, but I am optimistic that we are moving in the right direction.
Do you have any upcoming projects that you will be working on?
Love letters to Chefs is still an early stage educational platform and I am still experimenting and finding the right way to speak about work life balance. It’s taken a while to get to this stage and navigate my role in trying to help people, therefore my goal at the moment is to continue building this platform via an educational vehicle.
I will hopefully be writing another workshop for when the industry becomes busy again, which will be based around work life balance from the perspective of team leaders and employers.