Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort on the Coral Coast has appointed Priya Darshani, 35, to the post of Executive Chef, taking over the reins from former executive chef Shailendra Naidu.
Whilst the executive chef role is traditionally dominated by male chefs, she has worked hard over her 17-year career to prove that kitchen management in a top resort is not gender-specific.
Her elevation is also a reflection of the dominant role of women in the kitchen at home.
Fiji is very different to many overseas countries, as the cultural dominance of women at home remains strong and provides advantages to those seeking a professional career.
Her humble upbringing in Vatunawa, Sigatoka, prepared her for what it really meant to become a great chef – learning to express love through cooking.
With a workforce that has become accustomed to male leadership, she will need to apply her own management style and maternal instincts to instil her inherent love of cooking for others in all those she leads.
Culinary Federation of Fiji president and renowned chef Lance Seeto said: “Coupled with professional training, exposure to international cuisine and a willingness to keep learning, Priya has paved the way for more women to follow in her footsteps.”
Education and Talent
The multi award-winning chef now heads a kitchen of more than 70 staff at the five-star property, but her greatest challenges were yet to come.
She creatively and profitably manages all food preparation and kitchen areas at the property, along with effective management of hosts, and most awarded young talented team.
She holds a Trade Certificate in commercial cookery from Fiji National University and has won numerous awards and recognition both on the national and international stage.
Ms Darshani’s career began in 2003 as a trainee chef at the Outrigger, rising through the ranks to ex-sous chef in 2014 where she excelled in every aspect of kitchen operations, including financial and operational duties.
She also experienced her culinary exposure at Sofitel as a demi chef in 2005 as a pre-opening team where she remained for three years.
Her achievements include winning Fiji Chef of the Year at the Moffat Salon Culinaire, Best Restaurant of the Year at the Excellence in Tourism AON Awards and Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort Manager of the Year in 2012.
She took home a bronze medal at the Global Chefs Challenge in Perth, Australia, competing against Australia, New Zealand and Pacific Island nations in 2013.
She was the Fijian Tourism Expo (FTE) master chef winner in 2014.
Ms Darshani is passionate about food and loves to experiment with the modern trends of culinary cuisines.
She believes: “Happy and successful cooking doesn’t rely on ‘know how, it comes from the heart.
“It needs enthusiasm and makes a great demand on your palate and a great love of food to bring it to life.”
When she is not in the kitchen, she would be travelling, catching up with her sleep and spending quality time with her family.
Below is an excerpt of an interview with Ms Naidu:
When did you get receive confirmation on your appointment as the executive chef ?
December 1, 2019, and was on an acting executive chef from June, 2019 to November last year.
How do you feel being one of the first local female executive chef in a five star property?
I feel blessed and thankful and very proud and would celebrate equally to see other industrial female chefs achieving this successfully.
This industry is a male dominated trade and tried my best to break that trend where we don’t see many female chefs in leading roles but hard work, dedication and right discipline in kitchen will lead to success.
How are you able to gel well where men take the top helm in the country?
I have sacrificed many precious family moments and juggled to take out time as our trade is such that the boom in tourism periods are unpredictable.
Prioritising work was the ladder to success, as we learn every day so I didn’t want to miss those culinary moments.
Got the support of many industrial chefs, the learning process is never ending. My personal belief is that with my new role I will have to lead by example, treat people like you want to be treated, and, self-respect and professionalism at all times. Also without forgetting the company values and visions.
What are your plans for the property?
Outrigger Kitchen is well known for its awards and acknowledgements in culinary journey both locally and internationally, therefore my aim is to spearhead the team together in achieving the vision and mission of the company.
What’s the total number of chefs?
Large kitchen operations of six restaurants including signature IVI and a bistro and highest number of weddings/corporate functions throughout the year.
Total number of chefs is – six senior chefs, 44 line chefs and 20 stewards.
Who do you attribute your success to?
My personal believe is success never comes easy, it needs a lot of hard work, dedication and enthusiasm.
Be creative and compete with yourself to meet your goals in a timely manner, never forget small changes can make a big difference.
Behind every successful man is a woman, but behind my success is a man, my husband (Director Cuvu Kava supplies Salesh Singh), son Neil, 8-years old and parents and in-laws. My mum would be so proud of this feat.
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