For one to become dedicated to a career in the culinary arts and work with the same vigor day in and day out, there obviously has to be a whole lot of passion that goes into it, as well as a continuous sense of contentment from the work they do. This is what goes through my mind as we sit down and have a chat with one of the most outstanding culinary teams in the hospitality industry of Maldives today. The team of chefs from Heritance Aarah speaks about their experiences with such fervor and spirit that one could easily be assured of their sincere love for the work.
After only a mere three months since they started operating in Raa Atoll as a luxury resort, Heritance Aarah has managed to achieve some incredible feats in the culinary world. This success is all thanks to the diligent executive chefs and their young team, who garnered much attention and admiration during the recent FHAM International Culinary Challenge. Despite being in the very beginning of their journey, they decided to partake in the challenge because they were keen to “show what Aarah is to the rest of the Maldives, and wanted to benchmark it” as Chef Amila put it.
“For you to participate in a competition and win, you really have to be very passionate about it. I mean, you’ll have to put your heart and soul in it, then only it will be successful”, expresses Chef Amila, stressing on how this mindset allowed them to persist through all the challenges and setbacks they had as a fresh, new addition to the industry.
The team from Heritance walked out of the competition with 19 gold medals and many honorable awards, including the Best Chef Award FHAM 2019 and Best Young Chef. Training a young team to accomplish such a significant victory would not have been an easy task, and according to Chefs Amila and Lalith, that in itself was a hurdle. “Training the boys was quite tough. It was a collective team effort. Everyone worked hard, even those who were behind the scenes. Lots of people put in time, effort and dedication. Everyone worked long hours and we all had sleepless nights”.
“The team had the trust and belief of these chefs because they have been in the culinary arts, and they had even taken part in the Culinary Olympics. They had the assurance that they could learn something from these senior chefs”, explains Chef Lalith contentedly, referring to the three executive chefs sitting beside him, who had helped the younger members of the team to prepare for the competition. It is clear that although the young team were the faces who represented the resort at the event, it could not have been successful without the guidance of these chefs who worked tirelessly to nurture their skills and talents.
“More than winning a medal, it’s how you come together as a team. That’s what I really like about it. So after a competition and all that hard work, when you achieve that milestone, you cannot describe that feeling in words. It really brings people together. More than winning a gold medal, that’s the beauty of it. In the kitchen, it’s all about teamwork. It becomes one family”, recalls Chef Amila fondly, speaking of his involvement in the preparation stages and the resort’s accomplishments.
Sharing their thoughts about the overall experience regarding the competition, the chefs highlighted how this year’s event was comparatively better, since the judges’ panel consisted of well-recognized members, and the contestants received constructive feedback from them. In addition to this, they also believed that the competition opened doors for those who wanted to showcase their talents and skills.
When you prepare for an event on this scale, you are bound to come across some unpredictable discoveries, often unpleasant, but sometimes inspiring. The chefs at Heritance witnessed this in Aminath Aaliya, who currently manages the resort’s art shop. Upon finding out about Aaliya’s interest in cooking, Chef Amila saw a golden opportunity, and encouraged her to join the team for the culinary challenge. “At that time we didn’t have any Maldivians on the team. Being in the Maldives, I thought we were lacking in something if we didn’t let any Maldivians take part. So we wanted to give that identity as well”, says Chef Amila, explaining why he decided to recruit Aaliya.
For Chef Amila and the rest of the team, bringing Aaliya into the kitchen proved to be something of a heaven-sent opportunity, especially since she managed to secure a medal for Creative Maldivian Cuisine only after two weeks of training. As for Aaliya herself, she is grateful for the experience, albeit tough and short-lived. Moreover, she feels that the chefs provided her with invaluable knowledge, guidance and support to move forward with.
“It was unexpectedly amazing, but hard. Every dish, everything I learned about, it was surprising. It’s not just about a plate and food. I realized that it’s more than that”, reflects Aaliya, telling us about her reaction when the chefs first took her under their wings. She goes on to tell us that although she has been enjoying cooking at home from a young age, it never occurred to her that she would end up working in a kitchen at a resort.
Albeit the fact that she went back to her regular job at the resort after the competition, Aaliya hopes to explore the world of culinary arts a bit further, and maybe one day join the kitchen as a chef. For aspiring young people like herself, Aaliya’s message is this – “Just go for it. Step out of your comfort zone. You may feel like giving up, but if you love the work, you can go through it”.
Like professionals in any other industry chefs are also bound to experience obstacles in their field of work, and these become multiplied when you work in a luxury resort such as Heritance. “The work is so demanding that you have to spend most of the time in the kitchen. So you have to be mentally and physically fit for it. You have to keep focus. We have many nationalities (of visitors), and we need to satisfy each and every one who comes here”. The executive chefs elaborate on their daily challenges.
With seven food outlets scattered across the island, Heritance Aarah offers a thrilling gastronomical adventure for its guests. From contemporary Sri Lankan cuisine at Ambula and international buffet at Ranba, to street food around the world at Hathaa, the resort serves up a myriad of tantalizing flavors every day. With such a vast and diverse food scene, the culinary team at Aarah sure has a lot on their plates, but being such a passionate group, they have certainly proved that they are ready to overcome any hurdles that may come their way.