Above 2,000 take chef courses every year from 25 institutes, graduates opting for chef career, sector suffers from lack of labs, skilled trainers
It's a job, a decent one. Being a chef in a restaurant or a hotel is no longer considered an odd job as it used to be, as a large number of young people are taking it up as their profession both at home and abroad.
And what is more, in the fight against hunger and malnutrition, chefs are now also playing an important role in inspiring people around the world to support sustainable food production, adopt healthy diets and avoid food waste.
Mohammad Jamal has been working as a chef since when he was 16 and was found preparing some grilled-chicken in the kitchen of a restaurant called ‘Cafe Al Baraka Grill’ at Pathapath in the capital.
He said he had not gone for any institutional training to become a chef.
“To begin with, I started working in a small hotel at Karwanbazar where my mentor taught me how to cook. After cooking for a period, I now teach people cooking and thus earn more than ever before,” he said.
There are many others like Jamal across the country who have no institutional training, yet can cook delicious dishes and are working as chef or baburchi in restaurants and hotels.
However, a professional training can add to their experience and there are some training facilities.
Training for chefs
Visiting Tommy Miah's Hospitality Management Institute in Banani, a group of students were found taking lessons in cooking in the institute’s kitchen.
Rashed, manager at the institute, said: “Cooking is an art and more and more students are coming to learn it. They are taking lessons in food preparation, culinary arts, and food garnishing. After going through the learning process, the students can go for internship.”
“Every year around 200 students complete the chef courses,” he informed, adding that 50% of these students were now working abroad.
“Good chefs are on demand worldwide. By providing international standard training in theory and practice, we can help an unemployed youth to build a bright career,” Rashed said.
“Some developed countries including Japan, Canada, and Australia hire chefs from our country, which brings in revenues from abroad. An untrained cook (baburchi) in Bangladesh earns Tk8,000 to Tk30,000 while a trained chef can earn from Tk30,000 to as much as Tk5,00,000 in our country. In other countries, the amount is more than Tk5 lakh to Tk12 lakh,” said Chef Tommy Miah, owner of Tommy Miah’s Hospitality Management Institute (TMHMI).
Ziaul Haq Howlader, manager (public relations & marketing) at the National Hotel and Tourism Training Institute (NHTTI) of Bangladesh Parjatan Corporation, said that 300 students pass out from the institute each year and of them, 95% go abroad.
“Besides, more than 1,500 people train as chef every year from different other institutes. There are above 25 institutes in Dhaka city, with only 15 to 17 providing quality training,” he added.
According to the Bangladesh Parjatan Corporation, to become an executive chef one must take courses offered in six departments, while there are seven steps to become a chef, the steps being commis 3, commis 2, commis 1, chef de partie, sous chef, executive sous chef, and executive chef.
“The courses offered in the six departments provide the students with expertise in making desert, pastry and bakery, and salad making, among others; on the other hand, the main courses involve preparing normal food, appetizer, and beverage,” Ziaul Haq Howlader added.
“After getting the training, they not only do the cooking as professional chefs, but also become entrepreneurs; for instance, Sumis Hot cake by Afroja Sumi,” he mentioned, adding that there were 11 private registered institutes getting support from Parjatan Corporation in areas, including training and examination.
Educated people are coming
Educated young people, even graduate students are now showing their interest for a chef career; whereas, there was a time when hardly a chef could be found with a degree higher than SSC.
“There are a lot of unemployed young people in the country. Chef is the best career to choose. Its demand will never end. Developed countries are hiring chef with high salary for their restaurants and hotels to serve their customers better. Chefs know the preparation of different food items and their nutrition values that a normal cook doesn’t know,” said Jaheda Begum, head of the department (deputy manager) and culinary consultant at the National Hotel and Tourism Training Institute.
“Although our country is yet to appreciate the significant role a chef plays, the society’s outlook on this is changing for the better. More and more restaurants and hotels are now being established and they are looking for chefs with professional training from institutions of good repute. So now, a door is open for young people who are thinking of choosing chef as their career,” she added.
Females also choosing it as career
Visiting some institutes, this correspondent found women taking chef courses along with their male counterparts. Some women are also working as chef in some hotels.
Sumaiya Islam, an honors English department student at Eastern University, is also a student at Tommy Miah’s Hospitality Institute. She expressed her wish to become a chef.
“I like cooking; so, I am doing one-year diploma. It’s been six months since I started learning at the institute. Cooking is my passion. Earlier I could not cook a lot, but now I can cook Indian, Chinese, continental, European, Italian, and English foods, which include pizza, pasta, chicken-fry, and garlic bread, to name a few. I even know the nutrition values of these food items,” she said.
Shahnaj Perveen, a chef at the Radisson Blue, completed a one-year diploma course at Tommy Miah’s Institute and subsequently joined as a chef in the Banquet Kitchen (kitchen for preparing the main dishes) of the hotel in 2018. Now she is working in the ‘pastry kitchen’ of the hotel.
She said she had pursued being a chef as her career after her graduation, as she found it to be a good career and in line with her passion.
“But, as I am a woman, I faced a lot of obstacles in the beginning. My neighbors did not consider being a chef an appropriate career for women. They used to ignore me, and say that a woman working in hotel and restaurants cannot be a good woman. Women should cook at home, they would say,” Shahnaj Perveen recalled.
“On the other hand, I also found the authorities of some hotels and restaurants unwilling to recruit women as chef; they think that women cannot and should not work with male chef and also perceive women too weak to cook standing all day. Nevertheless, I was determined to work in a hotel as a chef,” she said.
According to the Regency Hospitality Training Institute (RHTI), each year 120 students complete the food preparation course from the institute. More than 1,500 students pass similar courses every year from around 17 institutes that include BRAC Institute of Skills Development (BRAC-ISD), Tony Khan Culinary Institute and Hotel Management (TKCI), Institute of Hotel Management and Hospitality (IHMH), Bangladesh Hotel Management and Tourism Training Institute (BHMTTI).
Training institutes lack qualified trainers, lab facilities
There are 17 training institutions in Dhaka City under the Bangladesh Technical Institute Board (BTIB) that offer different courses to chefs. Yet, the sector suffers from lack of labs and skilled trainers.
“There are a lot of registered training institutions, as such, outside Dhaka that do not provide good training, as they lack adequate qualified trainers. This sector is yet to develop,” said Dr Sushil K Paul, controller at the BTIB.
AKM Bari, chairperson at the Tourism and Hospitality ISC, said that without labs students in this sector would not be skilled, since the courses were primarily focused on classroom learning.
“We offer training courses at our 15 institutes with labs on a regular basis round the year; these trainings are financed by the finance ministry as a part of the government’s initiative for skills development,” he said.
“We have a plan to train around 4,000 people by the end of this year, starting from 2017, and 7,500 people between 2020 and 2023. Employments of around 85-87% of the people who have so far been trained have been ensured through this skills training program. We are helping them get jobs in the related fields,” AKM Bari added.