Strong hands, strong will, and a whole lot of passion is a good place to start.
Freshly graduated from Culinary Arts Academy Switzerland, Malak Karakotly has already landed a feature interview in a local Saudi Arabian magazine. Beyond her talent and work ethic, she is a woman in the culinary industry – and in Saudi Arabia, this makes her unique.
Although Malak is Saudi, she grew up in Egypt and is working for the first time in her birth country at the 5-star property Rocco Forte in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. An eye-opening experience, Malak shares the challenges and opportunities that come with being a female chef in Saudi Arabia.
How rare is it to be a female chef in Saudi Arabia?
In the past it has been very rare to see women working in the hotel industry, but the government is working toward making changes.
Thanks to a government initiative more Saudi women are being hired directly from high school and trained in the hotels themselves but it remains very rare for a Saudi woman to have a culinary education.
Did you know that your journey to become a chef would be difficult?
It took me a very long time to convince my parents that I wanted to study culinary arts. In the end, it was my grandmother who gave me the support that I needed, both financially and emotionally. She brought me to Switzerland herself and paid the fees for my schooling. It was thanks to her, my parents finally said yes.
Are you treated differently as a woman in the industry?
Yes, I feel there is a difference in the way I am treated because I am a woman. I feel it most strongly from the locals who often don’t take working women seriously. There is a tendency to view work as something a woman would only do to pass time and make friends - not to actually have a career. With the new government initiative in place, I'm hoping this will gradually change and more women will be able to discover their passions.
Do you feel that you are at an advantage with your culinary arts degree?
The knowledge that I bring with me from Switzerland is definitely an advantage for me. The locals that are trained in the kitchens here are recruited directly from high school. Although they can master the technical skills, I see a knowledge gap in the understanding of the methodology behind certain skills. I believe it is this understanding of the underlying method that helps me the most in the kitchen and helps set me apart.
What was your experience like at Culinary Arts Academy Switzerland in Lucerne?
At Culinary Arts Academy, I felt like I belonged for the first time. Even though there were so many different nationalities, there was a very strong sense of family.
Looking back now, I especially appreciate the way the chefs taught us by putting us in high pressure situations. They truly showed us how to survive in the real world. I’m not sure I would be able to survive in this industry if I didn’t have the training I received.
What is the next step for you in your career?
As a young woman in the field with an international education, I believe that I am in a good position to help change the way people view this career path. I am very proud of what I have accomplished and I want to demonstrate to other young women that becoming a chef is possible for them too, even if it means we have to work twice as hard. I am passionate about this industry and I want to show the Arab world there is so much more to being a chef than just cooking!