Chef Aamir Iqbal – the man behind exquisite cuisine talks about his passions and aspirations that made him an icon in his field.
Fashion Collection: Why and how did you decide to become a chef?
Chef Aamir: Firstly I didn’t have any clue about this industry, as most of my family members are in armed forces or teaching. So as per tradition and also to my liking, I applied for commission in PAK Army but sadly couldn’t make the cut. I felt disappointed, however with my mother’s encouragement I started exploring other career options. During that time, my elder maternal uncle had resigned from army and was working as director security at Karachi Sheraton Hotel. Once he asked me to visit him and suggested joining the hotel. So the F&B director there at that point of time suggested me to do a basic course of F&B production before joining the kitchen. So I enrolled myself in a six months certificate course at Pakistan Institute of Tourism & Hotel Management. That is the beginning of my career as a chef.
Fashion Collection: Did you go to culinary school? What credentials did you earn through your culinary studies?
Chef Aamir: I got myself certified from PITHM, where I am teaching as F&B instructor currently. Since I had no background in this field my certification helped me immensely in learning the basic skills and gaining the knowledge about the field.
Fashion Collection: What did you like best about the education experience? What did you like least?
Chef Aamir: The thing which was best for me was the basic skills I learned there, however when I was a student the course outline did not incorporated international trends and techniques. Thankfully this has changed now.
Fashion Collection: Where and how were you trained?
Chef Aamir: The basic training after my certification from PITHM in F&B production started at Karachi Sheraton Hotel under the supervision of some really skilled chefs and cooks and the Exe Chef then was Chef Robert Czeschka an Austrian chef. Apart from the on job training at Karachi Sheraton I have also acquired international trainings from UK, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, University of Hong Kong and many more. I truly believe that I am an eternal learner at heart and I hope to continue teaching and learning throughout my life.
Fashion Collection: What is your management style while working in a kitchen?
Chef Aamir: Generally I am an easy going person but when it comes to work I can be quite strict. I have a good rapport with my team and they always come to me with their personal and professional problems. At the same time they are fully aware that I never compromise on work ethics and quality.
Fashion Collection: Tell us about a difficult situation and how you handled it?
Chef Aamir: It was 2005 and I was working in COZMO a fine dining restaurant at Karachi Sheraton Hotel. It was a Thursday night and our theme was the steak night. The hotel business was high and the kitchens were insanely busy. Out of staff of 7 in my kitchen, four cooks were sent to take care of an outside catering, so that left us only three here, of which one was a trainee. The idea of the steak night was that we were supposed to cook all 3 kinds of proteins (beef, chicken & fish) on charcoal and beef had to be cooked according to the temperature ordered by the customer. This required lot of smartness not just in terms of technique but also in terms of planning and execution so I asked my two boys to be smart and grill the vegetables, plate them in hot case. They also made sauces. Every single order of meat had different side and sauce. Finally the chaos ended. We started the ala carte orders at 7:30 and we ended the night at around 11:45. The very next day AGM called me and my boys in the HOD meeting and appreciated us hugely.
Fashion Collection: Is there a chef you admire the most? Who and why?
Chef Aamir: There are few chefs that I admire, but one Chef that I consider as my inspiration is Marco Pierre White. I like his philosophy, his techniques and the way he runs his kitchen. More importantly, the way he teaches his students and junior cooks. The most amazing part is his journey from Marco to Michelin Chef Marco Pierre White. His biography is named “The Devil in the Kitchen.”
Fashion Collection: What is your favorite cuisine to cook?
Chef Aamir: My favorite cuisines are Italian and Mediterranean. The important thing is to have knowledge and skill of different cuisines in the world. A good cook who has the knowledge and basic skills can develop himself as a specialist of any cuisine around the globe. As the industry is so diverse and never ending, I am working on doing a fusion of our own desi cuisine with different famous cuisines of the world.
Fashion Collection: What do you do to stay current on new trends? Describe two or three of the most interesting industry trends.
Chef Aamir: I hope to continue teaching and learning throughout my life. I recently did my certification in Science of Gastronomy from University of Hong Kong. I am a certified Lead Food Auditor from SGS Pakistan. I frequently teach and train students, people from the food industry & outside regarding nutrition, HACCP & workplace skills. I follow both the classic and current trends of the industry. In my opinion, the current three trends that are here to stay are Technofoodology, Food sustainability, NeuroNutrition & Bio Hacking.
Fashion Collection: When are you happiest at work?
Chef Aamir: When the food is cooked and served using all the basic and necessary rules and regulations and most importantly when I see that my customers are satisfied.
Fashion Collection: How do you maintain the quality of the ingredients?
Chef Aamir: Every chef uses his own different way and style to ensure the quality of ingredients, however there are a few basic guidelines which are used by every professional chef for instance ensuring a credible supplier, freshness, colour, smell, texture and how and where they were stored.