By Malak Kolakotly
A young chef’s journey into the heart of the kitchen.
I am a Chef. I am what I’ve always aspired to be and what I hope to inspire people by. I have fought to earn this title but I am by no means entitled to it. Being a chef takes guts; it takes resilience, sacrifice and passion, but it also needs patience.
It took me over 7 years to convince my parents to send me to culinary school, but I always knew that I would eventually go; it was a feeling I had rooted deep within my bones, and here I am today.
I remember when I first started telling people about my passion for food, and plans to become a chef someday, I would get very hostile or sarcastic reactions and remarks like, “Oh, so you want to become a cook?!” or “Why don’t you just learn that from your mom or grandma at home?” All that made me question my dreams and made me feel ashamed and embarrassed to share them with people. However, that didn’t stop me; I still cooked for my family; I used to love the feedback I would get from them, and I used to live for the feeling of having somebody try my food and actually enjoying it.
Everyone saw cooking as just a hobby; nobody really understood why I wanted to pursue that professionally, and that’s ok- passion is hard to understand or explain; passion is a fever within you that radiates through your bones, so sooner or later, people will start to feel that heat from the fire that is burning so violently inside of you, so just be patient, and never submit to society’s pressures and conform to its cookie cutter standards of life.
Enrolling in culinary school really changed everything for me. It further cemented my dream of becoming a chef and it really opened my family’s eyes regarding my choice of career. They saw how much it meant to me and how serious I was about fulfilling my dreams, and today, I can really feel that my family is proud of what I have become, and that I have their full and genuine support in everything that I do. My parents could have easily reduced my passion to a mere hobby, but they didn’t. They may have resisted at first but when they really understood; when they really saw the changes happening within me, they knew that this is what I had to do.
Even in the kitchen, amongst other chefs, I face inadvertent discrimination. I am treated differently because I am a girl; people think that because I am a girl, I must be weaker than my male counterparts, but that just makes me work harder. I don’t care if I burn myself, I work in the kitchen; it’s inevitable. The funny thing is, people seem to care about my scars and the appearance of my hands more than I do- “be careful you’ll burn yourself, and nobody likes a girl with ugly scars” or “a lady should have nice, smooth hands!” Comments like these really get to me but I just smile and nod, because I know, that the best way to fight prejudice is with pride.
I still feel the need to break the stigma of being a chef in the Arab world, it seems that astigmatism is not just a physical defect in the way we see things but also a defect in the way society has programmed us to view certain aspects of life. The word stigma originally meant to have a mark or stamp, and that is exactly what I strive to leave behind. Many people ask me “Why don’t you just start your own business instead of slaving away at work?” The thing is, I believe in cooking things low and slow; when you take time to really sauté your onions you will get the most delicious sweet-mellow flavour; I find that to be the most perfect metaphor for life.
In order to start or run a business, one must be fully knowledgeable and aware of the ins and outs of their certain field of interest, and I don’t believe that I am there yet, and that’s ok. There is no shame in working to gain experience or working just because that is what you love to do. Many people dive in but end up belly flopping their way to closure; when it’s my time to dive in, I want to land that perfect 10.
I am a chef, but I still have a long way to go.
Kick Off Your Culinary Dreams with these Places in KSA:
The Culinary Arts Academy
Artistic Food Lab
Saudi Arabian Chefs Development Society