In this issue, we bring you an exclusive interview with Chef Maha Naseer, the Secretary General of the Chefs Guild of Maldives and one of the most acclaimed chefs in the Maldives to find out her trajectory to culinary stardom.
1) Please tell us how you discovered your passion for food and how your culinary journey began.
With earliest baking inspirations stemming from patisserie and culinary pages on the magazines, I developed an instantaneous passion for baking, at the age of eight. With the pure and beautiful curiosity of a child, I began experimenting recipes from those magazines. The yearning was heightened from the immediate support and compliments received for my aptitude and natural talent as a baker. With the sole purpose of delivering my unbridled potential and creations to as many as possible, the dream commenced.
2) You have worked with Chef Mickaël Farina; one of the most talented and energetic chefs in the region. How has his philosophies and talents influenced your culinary philosophy?
When I first heard about Chef Mickaël Farina back in Maldives at Amilla Fushi, it felt like my heart sank. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the opportunity to meet or work with him. It would be one of my wildest dreams to have met him, Insha Allah One Day. It was inspiring how he was taking Maldives gastronomy to a whole new level and heard a lot about his cook books inspiring Maldivian flavors. I have also heard so much about him went I travelled to Amilla Fushi as a guest chef during the high season 2020-2021.
Then again, when I first began my journey with Amilla Fushi during the 2014 pre-opening to conduct an exclusive Maldivian inspired desserts and to train the pastry staffs there, I met Chef Luke Mangan. The most memorial thing I ever had was the breakfast I had at “Lonu” by Luke Mangan specially the omelet with fish jus. Until this date I remember all the flavors in it as if I just had it this morning.
3) Throughout your career, you have won numerous awards and medals both at national and international levels, what has been your biggest takeaway from them?
Every time I took part in a competition, it meant a lot me but the most memorable one would be the first competition I participated which is Hotel Asia Exhibition & Culinary Challenge 2006. The award I won at that competition made a huge impact on my culinary career and motivated me to thrive further. After competing in various culinary competitions, today I am a certified rookie judge at the prestigious World Association of Chefs Society (WACS).
At present, I am the Secretary General of the Chefs Guild of Maldives. The Chefs Guild of Maldives (CGM) is the first non-profit-making association for chefs working in the Maldives ever established. The association is dedicated solely to the advancement of the culinary art in the Maldives. The CGM was registered on 02nd October 2014, within less than a year, the CGM received its charter into World Association of Chefs Societies (WACS). World Association of Chefs Society endorses the CGM as the authorized Maldivian national culinary association. The CGM, thereby, has an international culinary focus and multi-national support for the staging of its various competitions, seminars and events. Any chef working the Maldives can join the association and become a member. I am very honored and humbled where I am today.
4) How do you adapt yourself to the evolving trends in the culinary field, especially in pastry arts?
I would say “Professional Connection” after attending culinary schools and training programs I try to keep in touch with my mentors, tutors and colleagues, even after graduation. During the programs it is very important for me to bound with people to stay up to date on the most recent developments in the industry. Networking is invaluable.
5) When talking about personal tastes, what has been your own favorite dish you have ever created, and why?
When I first visited Italy on 1997, I had the opportunity to taste their famous dessert “Tiramisu”. Ever since, I have been trying different recipes, methods and innovations to develop to perfection and master the flavors of Italian Tiramisu. And after nearly 10 years of trying, I can proudly say I have mastered the flavors and now it’s my signature dish, the heavenly tiramisu cake, is eagerly ordered almost daily by my regular and loyal customers.
6) What inspires you to wake up every morning to do what you love?
Helping and teaching others makes me complete. It pushes me to get up and do what I love to do. My 4 kids, they have been very patient with my work and very understanding. And a very supportive spouse, without him and my family I don’t think I would be where I am today.
7) What are the biggest challenges you faced in your career?
I haven’t really faced any huge obstacles except the flaws in the culinary system in the Maldives. This is a very male dominated industry and I would love to see more women, and especially Maldivians at executive level in the industry.
8) When discussing Maldives and its cuisine, what do you feel is the common link between its different regions as it relates to food and cooking?
The cuisine of the Maldives is a rich collection of traditional flavors with strong influences from its neighboring countries, such as India and Sri Lanka. In the past, Maldivians depended on essential ingredients such as fish, coconuts, breadfruit, millet and roots vegetables. Over time, with the influence of foreigners from early trade and travel, Maldivian cuisine developed a distinctive blend with its own unique flavors, symbolizing a unique culinary identity.
Maldivian cuisine is very versatile, consists of varieties of tastes and flavors, ranging from crunchy snacks and street foods, accompanied by wood-fired chapati to complex and deliciously spicy coconut cream curries. These are prepared using ancient cooking traditions that have been passed down through the generations. It varies from atoll to atoll and island to island. And there are some exclusive cuisine and flours in some regions.
9) Where do you see yourself in the next five to seven years? What upcoming events can we expect from you?
To pass on the good knowledge to enthusiasts and professionals. My mission is to educate the youth and all interested through establishing my own culinary school, Insha Allah.
10) What advice would you give to aspiring chefs who wish to follow your steps?
Work as hard as you can and keep your eyes open. Once you decide where you want to go, never look back. Do that and you’ll find your niche.
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