Maldivian Master Chef: An interview with Chef Sobah

by / Saturday, 28 May 2016 / Published in Maldives, Maldivians

Abdulla Sobah is one of the most famous local chefs working in Maldives currently. The winner of numerous awards, both local and international, Sobah has been working in the culinary industry for more than two decades now. It took a bit of effort, since Sobah is such a busy individual, but Eat magazine finally managed to secure an interview with him to ask about his past experiences and what he has planned for the future.

Tell us a bit about yourself and where you work.
My name is Abdulla Sobah, and I’m from Baa Eydhafushi. I am currently working as a Sous Chef at Soneva Fushifushi Resort. Although I’m basically the in-charge of all the cuisines, I specialize in Maldivian Cuisine.

How did you get started? Give us a brief history of your career.
I began my career in 1990, working at Kuredhu Resort as a dishwasher and steward. I spent about four months doing only that when I got a chance to do a short course in F&B production organized by UNDP. It was a two-week course but at the end of the course I realized that I wanted to pursue it as a career. I worked at Kuredhu for one year and then joined Hotel School to study it as a career. After three years of studying at Hotel School, I went to Rangali for further training. I ended up working there for six years and then the management changed and the resort was rebranded to Hilton Maldives. By then I was working at supervisor level job as the Chef de Partie.

Next I went through six months of training at Sri Lanka before moving to work at Kihaadhuffaru Resort. I stayed there for about six months but there were some problems within the management and things went south so I moved on and began working at Coco Palm. I stayed there for two years and then left to work at Royal Island. Even though I was hopping from one resort to another during the time, I was still a Chef de Partie and I worked in that position at Royal Island for ten years. During my time at Royal Island, I managed to achieve a lot of things I had set out to accomplish in my career and it was also during my time at Royal that I got promoted to Sous Chef. After a decade working at Royal Island, I joined Soneva Fushi and I have been working there now for three and half years now.

You mentioned that you accomplished a lot during your time at Royal Island. Can you elaborate on that?
I started competing in professional culinary challenges, exhibitions and competitions that were held in Maldives during my days at Royal. That was in the year 2000, I recall. I won lots of awards every year; silver medals and gold medals, but the biggest achievement for me was this year when I won several of the most prestigious awards, including Best Chef at the FHAM 2015 International Culinary Challenge & Exhibition held at Dharubaaruge in August. Other awards I won in the same event include Gold in Hot Cooking Lamb and Beef, and Best Maldivian Chef 2015 Award. I was also awarded the World Chef Association Asia Continental Director Medal, which was amazing! I never expected to win so many awards at the event so it was a fantastic night!

Earlier also, in 2006, I won Best Outstanding Chef and Best Maldivian Chef awards at an event organized by the Singapore Chef Association and held at Dharubaaruge in Male’. About 160 chefs from all over Maldives competed in the event so it was a huge accomplishment for me. Then again in 2007, I competed against around 1700 chefs at a competition organized by the Chefs Guild of Sri Lanka and held in Colombo. Actually, I competed in that event as part of a group of chefs from several Maldives resorts. We won a gold and silver medal there and I consider those as some of my biggest achievements. I also got the chance to visit several other countries such as Vietnam, Thailand and Bangkok, to experience and learn from the chefs there during those days.

While working at Soneva Fushi, I also achieved something completely new, yet just as important as the awards are for me. At Soneva Fushi I got the chance to pass on the knowledge I had gained over the years to others, the new generation. In some ways what I have achieved by training others in the art of cooking has been a lot more significant for me than any of my other achievements.

Are you happy with the number of local chefs working in the industry currently?
To be absolutely honest, no, there still aren’t enough chefs when you consider the amount of resorts and restaurants in the Maldives. But it was worse earlier, back when I had just begun my career. Back then there weren’t even 20 local chefs working in the industry. Now the number of local chefs are increasing every year and there are even locals working as Executive Chefs and Chefs de Cuisine. During my career I have managed to work with two other local chefs. One of them was among the most creative and talented chefs I have ever met. I am confident that we don’t need to hire chefs from abroad to work in Maldivian resorts and restaurants. We have enough talented people working in the industry even now but the problem is that most resort managements don’t want to take the chance. There is also another problem in that a lot of the locals with the potential and talent to become great don’t have the confidence and determination to go ahead, to go the distance, risk everything to become the best. I’ve personally seen many talented chefs with huge potential just give up halfway because they believe they have achieved all they can in their career. It’s sad to see that. Personally, I am very happy working at Soneva Fushi. The management is not afraid to give locals a chance and they nurture all forms of creativity. For instance, they have even opened a restaurant in Soneva Fushi named after me! This is a great honor they have bestowed on me. I don’t think there’s any other resort in the Maldives where they have a restaurant named after a local chef. To say this is an achievement is an understatement. I would like to take this opportunity to express my heartfelt gratitude and sincere thanks to Sonu and Eva for their trust and confidence in me.

Master Chef Sobah

Tell us about the most memorable experience you’ve had during your career.
There’s just too many beautiful and memorable experiences. Every time a customer finds a dish so appetizing they have to actually come over and personally thank me for the meal… that’s always amazing to hear. There have been some particularly unique instances also. For instance, there was a 48-year-old guest from Britain who was staying at Soneva Fushi who asked me to make a unique dish just for him. I used every bit of creativity I had to make him a broth with a local twist and when he tasted it he told me that in all his years he has never tasted a dish as delicious as what I had just made for him. He was very happy and that in turn made me extremely happy. Yes, there have been a lot of moments like that during career and each of those is very special to me. Another thing I’d like to note is that never in my entire career as a chef has a customer come up to me to say they didn’t like the food I had made. Never! That is also something I am very proud of.

Oh! I almost forgot. There was also the time that two guys named David Beckham and Gordon Ramsay were staying in Soneva Fushi and I got the chance to cook for them. The compliments I got from both of them, especially Gordon Ramsay, they are something I’ll never forget.

We’ve heard you organized a children’s cooking competition at Soneva Fushi. What’s the story behind that?
That is correct. These days I am focusing on hosting cooking competitions for children, aged between 10 and 12 mostly. We work closely with Baa Atoll Education Centre, reaching out to the children’s parents to get them to join. The aim is to teach children what the industry is about and what is possible for them if they choose this profession as a career. We train them for three months prior to the actual competition and during that time they learn everything about working in a professional kitchen and how a restaurant works. The competition is basically just like the TV show Master Chef, and we have a live audience too. The audience is comprised mostly of the children’s parents but many others interested in the contest also drop by from nearby islands to watch and cheer the children. All the ingredients needed for the training and the competition are provided by Soneva Fushi. We invite professional chefs from abroad to judge the contest. We haven’t really turned it into a TV show yet but that is also a possibility. The competition is now three years old and there’s always more than 80 contestants competing for the prize. We award bronze, silver and gold medals for the winners and a very enticing cash prize, which has increased generously each year. In the future we plan to expand the contest to include children from all over the Maldives, competing between islands and atolls. Ultimately only the most talented little chefs from across the Maldives will compete in the final round.

Any advice for those interested in pursuing this as a career?
As a career, this is very rewarding both professionally and personally. The most important advice I can give to tell those who want to choose this as a career is to never give up, never stop learning and always work to improve yourself through experimenting and experiencing new things. There is no limit to what you can achieve down this path; it all depends on your creativity.

Adapted from: Eat Magazine
Authored by: –
Published Date: September 14, 2015

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