Dubai There is nothing quite like the satisfaction of a great meal, with flavours and textures dancing on your palate bite after bite. To some, food is one of life’s greatest pleasures but to others, it is mere sustenance or even a calorie-laden demon. More often than not for today’s young, tasty equals a burger and fries. If you are a parent reading this, ask yourself, ‘Does my child know the difference between a zucchini and an aubergine? Does he even care? Does a hearty meal to him mean tossing Maltesers into a large bucket of the salted popcorn at the cinema?’ If the answers to the first to questions are disconcerting no and the answer to the last question is a yes, it’s not an ideal situation. As much as love for food is arguably a desirable quality, knowledge, respect and interest in food is unarguably an asset. Truth is, we all have to eat and regardless of the quality of the food, someone has to prepare it. Wouldn’t it be great if if both the unalterables found a happy medium to coexist? Even better would be to make the love for food a pursuit of excellence in the form of a career.
Given the increasing number of hotels, shopping malls and subsequently restaurants, springing up across the UAE, one family in particular believes it is time to look at the aspect of food in a different way. Not just eating it but making it into a career. It is with this belief in mind that Zaigham and Alisha Haque, a father and daughter duo, decided to take their love of food to the next level - by offering quality vocational culinary training to the UAE’s youth.
“Parents of high-school graduates have to decide what their children have to do next. The conventional route of university doesn’t apply to everyone,” says Zaigham Haque, CEO of the School of Culinary and Finishing Arts (Scafa). “Some kids don’t want to go to university, others can’t afford it, while some want to head straight into the workforce and Scafa provides one of those alternative routes.”
Located in Dubai’s Jumeirah Lake Towers, Scafa opened its doors at the end of last year. It is designed and equipped to train home-grown chefs and culinary experts. The school offers two professional programmes, fully licensed by Dubai’s Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), as well as a range of short and part-time courses.
Teaching techniques, not recipes
The full-time Professional Kitchen and Finishing Programmes, taken in succession, were put together by Chef Francisco Araya, director of Scafa’s programmes, comprehensively designed to kickstart a range of careers in the culinary arts.
“There are a lot of people taking up cooking classes but what is important for me is that our approach is student led, where they come to learn and not follow recipes,” says Araya. “We teach techniques. I don’t teach you how to make rice – I show you the ways to do so.”
In the classes at Scafa, whether they be short-term courses or full-fledged programmes, the recipe is 90 per cent hands-on and 10 per cent theory.
“The chef instructor gives guidelines and leaves plenty of room for students to practice and make mistakes, as well as find their own solutions,” says Araya. “Our programmes are designed that way and our classes go that way. Some students may feel lost (initially) because they are used to being spoon-fed at school, but this will give them room to think critically and get creative.”
A viable career option
During the month of February, Gulf News’ Education will hear from the Scafa team about why a career in the culinary arts might not be something to turn up your nose at, but instead celebrate it as a viable alternative to more conventional career paths. Chef Araya will tell us why it is important for children to know their food and how cooking can actually teach them skills outside the kitchen and help them make smarter food choices in life.
Alisha Haque, 24, and Scafa’s Ideator will address social stereotypes that often portray a woman’s place as being inside a kitchen, a domain she ends up in having put her university degree in cold storage. Alisha herself walked away from a successful career in dolphin and mammal training to join her father in the kitchen to grow the business from the ground up.
“I came on board because it was an opportunity I don’t think I’d get anywhere else,” she says. “It’s a huge learning experience and I get a lot of one-on-one training because I work with my father.”
She is leading by example, proving to other youngsters that a career in the culinary arts is exciting and rewarding and thoroughly aspirational.
For more information visit: www.scafa.ae
On the menu
1.The Professional Kitchen Certificate Programme: A 13-week full-time practical study course open to all students who will learn about everything from food safety and basic knife skills to modern culinary techniques and chef management, followed by a two-week externship.
2.The Professional Finishing Programme: A 11-week full-time practical study course open to students who have completed the professional kitchen programme where budding culinary experts will learn about fine dining, running a business in hospitality, palate development and restaurant management.
3.Mother and child classes: Designed as an after-school bonding activity, the two-hour class teaches a variety of skills from sushi to baking.