Article by Nazim
On an uninhabited island only accessible by speedboat sits a traditional Maldivian restaurant that has become a not-to-be-missed experience for luxury travellers from around the world. Here, the cuisine is uniquely Maldivian, prepared using traditional cooking methods, but with a modern twist.
This is Sobah’s Restaurant at the five star luxury resort Soneva Fushi in Baa atoll. The same atoll that is home to Sobah’s home island, Eydhafushi.
This beach restaurant bears the name of award-winning local chef Abdulla Sobah, who is one of the few Maldivians to have a namesake restaurant – that too in one of the most iconic resorts in the Maldives and perhaps the world!
Taste speaks to Chef Sobah, who currently serves as a Sous Chef at Soneva Fushi, about his culinary journey.
Taste: Let’s tell the readers a bit about yourself.
Abdulla Sobah: I joined Kuredu Island Resort in 1990 as a dishwasher. While working there, I participated in a two-week course organised by UNDP about F&B production. It opened my eyes and made me realise that this is what I have always wanted to do.
I moved on from Kuredu after a year and completed a three-year course at the Hotel School, after which I joined Rangali Island Resort. I worked there for six years before travelling to Sri Lanka for a training programme. Once back, I gained experience in a couple more resorts; Kihaadhuffaru, Coco Palm and Royal Island where I worked as a Chef de Partie for 10 years. Finally, I got promoted to the Sous Chef position at Royal Island, which paved the way to getting an offer from Soneva Fushi about six years ago.
T: What are your biggest accomplishments?
AS: I competed in a culinary competition for the first time in 2000, and has since won several silver and gold medals. Amongst the other notable awards are: Best Outstanding Chef and Best Maldivian Chef awards at an event organised by the Singapore Chefs Association in Malé in 2006; and Best Chef, Best Maldivian Chef and World Chef Association Asia Continental Director Medal at the Food and Hospitality Asia Maldives (FHAM) 2015. I was also part of a team of chefs from the Maldives that won a gold and silver in a competition held in Colombo by the Chefs Guild of Sri Lanka.
I’m amongst the first and only three Maldivians chefs who have completed a Judging Seminar of the World Association of Chefs Societies (WACS), which is the first step in becoming an approved judge of WACS. Currently, I’m completing the rest of the requirements in order to become a WACS-certified judge. It will give me the opportunity to attend prestigious culinary events worldwide and develop my culinary skills further.
T: What is your biggest encouragement?
AS: Every moment of my career is a memorable experience. I love the feedback I receive from guests every single day. When they find my dishes so appetizing, that they come to me in person to appreciate my work. In over two decades of working as a chef, I have never had a bad review or a complaint about my food.
I have also had the opportunity to cook for celebrities from around the world, most notably David Beckham and Gordon Ramsey. The compliments I got from them, especially from a culinary legend like Gordon Ramsey, are unforgettable!
T: Why are there so few local chefs in the hospitality industry?
AS: Things have improved from when I first started working. More and more children are helping their parents in the kitchen and learning about this industry. But we still have a long way to go, especially with regards to our mentality about being based on a resort. More and more local chefs are joining the industry every year and some have even climbed up to the level of Executive Chef and Chef de Cuisine. I have personally worked with two local chefs and one of them is amongst the most talented chefs I have ever seen in my carer.
There is qualified talent in the country. Resort owners and operators need to give more opportunities to local chefs, but chefs themselves need to prove themselves by working hard with a lot of passion. I have seen so many talented Maldivian chefs quit just because they found it too hard to climb up the ladder. Everyone should keep in mind that our field is a global playground where the competition is extremely strong. We need to be confident in our abilities, determined to overcome any obstacle and ready to go the distance to achieve our goals.
T: As a veteran in the industry, what are your efforts to develop young talent?
AS: For the past five years, I have been hosting a cooking competition and training programme for children aged 10-12. By working closely with the Baa Atoll Education Centre in my native island of Eydhafushi, we get dozens of children from neighbouring islands for a three-month training programme on how a professional kitchen is run and what it’s like to work in this industry. After the training programme, we host a cooking competition, where the kids prepare a three-course meal in one and a half hours using ingredients provided to them. Their dishes are judged by professional chefs from abroad. This allows them to broaden their skills, get a first-hand experience of working in a kitchen, and most importantly, and opportunity to explore their passion in the field.
T: What is your message to your students and any aspiring young chef?
AS: Being able to satisfy someone with your culinary skills is extremely rewarding. I specialise in local cuisine, so I get to show the world part of our identity with a different twist. That gives me a great deal of satisfaction, both personally and professionally. Anyone can attain that, if they work hard enough. So, the most important advice I can give is to never stop trying!