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Celebrating women: These six Pakistani chefs are whipping up a storm

We're celebrating these hardworking and talented women who are making waves in the culinary world.
Published 10 Mar, 2022 10:56am

We've all heard lame and sexist jokes about a woman's place being in the kitchen. This month, we've rounded up a list of women who are proving that a woman's place is wherever she wants to be, even if that place is the kitchen. These chefs have worked their way up and are thriving in the culinary world.

As we celebrate women's month, here are six inspiring chefs who are here to inspire you.

Maryam Motiwala

Pastry Cook

Maryam Motiwala started baking from home and is now working at an upscale boulangerie in DHA, Karachi where she gets to make amazing desserts and pastries all day.

She started off baking just for fun but it soon turned into something her passion. She expanded her love for baking to summer camp classes for kids and then started a home business that eventually led her to a professional kitchen.

Talking to Images, she said that it's hard enough to be a woman in a male-dominated industry but as a young person, it's an even greater struggle to be taken seriously in this profession.

"Entering the hospitality industry means you have to be accepting of a complete change in lifestyle. This isn’t your average 9 to 5, there’s a lot of highs and equally as many lows. But persevere! Having someone genuinely enjoy a meal you’ve made is truly one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had so I’d say keep at it. We definitely need more female energy in the kitchen," said Motiwala.

Rozmeené

Sous Chef

Rozmeené was six years old when she discovered her love for cooking. It was the idea of serving people her own creations and being appreciated for it that enthralled her. As she grew, so did her love for cooking. She followed her father's advice to do what she loves most and realised there was one thing she loved — cooking.

Following her dreams came at the cost of people asking some irritating questions, however, that didn't stop her from being determined and sticking with her decision of becoming a chef.

Rozmeené worked as an apprentice at Marriot Pakistan and was nominated as the Middle East Youngest Chef of the Year before going on to become part of the Caesars Palace pre-opening team at Gordon Ramsay Hell’s Kitchen, Dubai. Currently, she works as a sous chef at Seva Experience, a vegan restaurant in Dubai.

"I'd be lying if I said being a chef, especially as a woman, is easy. I had to learn how to compete in a kitchen full of men. It wasn’t enough to just be a good cook; I had to work twice as hard to prove to them that I'm capable of working in a fast paced environment," she said.

Rozmeené believes that if women who want to become a chef genuinely think this is what they are passionate about, they need to follow their instinct and go for it.

Iqra Yasin

Chartered Accountant Chef

Iqra Yasin calls herself a chartered accountant chef. She worked in the competitive corporate world by day and by night she baked for close friends who'd send in orders. It all started about 13 years ago when, in the middle of the night, Yasin started to bake and found something she loved doing.

She made a lot of appearances on cooking channel Masala TV in her initial days as a cook when she started out with a Facebook page as a side hustle. But Yasin had bigger dreams. She later qualified for MasterChef Pakistan in 2014 and made it to the Top 10.

Yasin told Images that the challenges she faced were mainly around the fact that as a chartered accountant, it was always "frowned upon to leave the comfort zone of a well paying job" and work entirely as a chef.

"Life is too short, people come and go, so follow your dream, follow your passion," she said to women hoping to become chefs. "Also, don't let the setbacks in life get to you. If you fall hard, you rise up higher. Consistency and hard work is the key to making it and continuing to grow."

She also suggested women learn the tricks of trading and business as well as finances and taxes so "no one can fool you when you step in the sea full of sharks".

Neha Saqib

Chef

Neha Saqib is not someone who dreamed of becoming a chef since the very beginning. Her journey began later and was spurred on by her best friend, who always believed she would thrive as a chef, especially since she loved trying out new food. She started off as someone who reviewed restaurants.

It's been four years since Saqib started cooking professionally. When she started out, sadly there weren't many female chefs who had their own businesses online. Saqib mentioned that people found it funny and embarrassing that she wanted to become a chef and even today people don't consider it a 'reputable' profession. "Oh, you want to become a bawarchi (cook)," people would tell her.

But, Saqib believes that as a woman wanting to become a chef or in general you should always "listen to your parents," as their advice brought her this far in life. "It makes me so happy that I was the first women who worked in my family and now almost every women in my family works," she said.

Romana Husain

Chef and CEO The Bake Studio Pantry

Romana Husain described her relationship with the culinary arts as an "organic process". She started out as a home baker who made custom cakes for birthdays, weddings and other events. When it became a full-time job for her, she decided to go to culinary school. Her focus was pastry arts and after that, Husain went for industry training at the Four Seasons Hotel, Johannesburg in 2012.

She started out in the food business 17 years ago and said the culinary world is certainly a male-dominated industry. "Almost all of the more senior positions were held by men, including the executive chef and the sous. As a woman, the challenge I faced was balancing home, kids and work, so it was a lot more personal."

Another challenge she faced was related to Pakistani culture and people not taking her seriously. "I found that I really had to prove myself to be acknowledged as a professional," said Husain.

She has worked with three Michelin star chef Dirk Gieselmann and upon moving to the Middle East was approached by Masala TV for her own show called Bake at Home that ran for three seasons. The chef now runs her own business called The Bake Studio Pantry and an e-commerce store by the same name.

"For any young lady wanting a career the food industry, my advice is to take it very seriously. This is not a cooking class. It’s a long term commitment to a successful career, and you must invest your time in it."

Noorulhuda Asif

Chef and CEO Sublime Cuisine

A year-long fascination with experimenting with food drove Noorulhuda Asif to a profession in the culinary arts. She always liked the idea of playing with ingredients and creating a recipe rather than following one and cooking shows and books assured her that the culinary arts were the only answer for her creativity.

Asif pursued a diploma at a culinary school in Karachi. She also completed a six month internship programme at Espresso, Karachi.

"Culinary arts is a modern day career and mostly males are seen as chefs in hotels and restaurants. As a woman, you must deliver exemplary work to keep your head high and maintain your designation. Just like all women cook, women chefs are also not considered any different," she said. "Initially I had to struggle and work rigorously and show through my work how I can stand out among the crowd," explained Asif while discussing her struggles as a chef.

Asif's advice for women this month is to follow what they are most passionate about. As for chefs-to-be, "you should be fearless enough to not pay heed to any resistance that comes your way. This field is developing in Pakistan but I can assure you that there will be many opportunities that will come your way."