Donya Modir - Saudi’s youngest sous chef

Donya Modir - Saudi’s youngest sous chef


SchoolCulinary Arts Academy

ProgramSwiss Higher Diploma


CountrySaudi Arabia

Donya Modir CAAS graduate cooking in Kitchen

How would you describe the environment for aspiring female chefs in Saudi Arabia – and what advice would you offer them?

We see significant modernization with the women’s empowerment movement, and most importantly, I think that human capital is the new currency of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. 

As the kingdom is now reform-driven and is focused on implementing Vision 2030, there is no more excuse for a lack of productivity. The support that the society shows and the pride felt in having female Saudi chefs on the front line is heartwarming and motivating. 

My work at Saudi airport lounges allowed me to build connections and to interact with hundreds of people from all around the world on a daily basis. When people saw a young female who was bilingual, with a good cultural knowledge, they would ask me, “Where are you from?” and I would answer, “Oh, I am local”, and plenty of them were surprised. We live in such a small world where the word spreads fast, so people recognize you and will always remember you. 

My advice to aspiring female chefs is to never hold yourself back – go out there and embrace your profession! Working in the kitchen at the back of the house doesn’t mean that you should be kept behind the scene and not known for what you do. Remember, you are in a land of diverse and delectable culinary offerings that not only the locals are looking forward to seeing, but the whole world as well.

Challenge is what shapes us. There is no such thing as failure, rather it is this: “I made a mistake, I have learned, and now I’m ready to move on.” People will try to undermine you, that is an indicator that you are on the road to success. It is up to you to ignore that and to focus and outgrow the fear that you could plant in yourself because of the influence of others. 


What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced so far during your culinary journey?

Coming back to the kingdom with a formal level of education and finding myself up against people who have figured their way through the industry just with their own resources. Also people who are absolutely stubborn and sure that what they are doing is ‘the right way’; and people who have more experience and think they are better than you because of it – that others’ opinions are not important and to be heard.

I have been observing these kinds of people for over a year now. I am trying to adjust certain things for the better, but I can be rejected just because they believe that I am lacking experience and because I am only 22 years old. I give advice and tell people that certain steps are not advisable, but they don’t listen, so they make the mistake and then they expect me to fix it. 

Interference by other departments in our work can be a challenge. In Switzerland, I was educated in the birthplace of hospitality, where I was exposed to so much; I could learn from every place I went, whether a small restaurant, a Michelin star venue, or a hotel. I realized that there was no interference in the kitchen at all unless it was really necessary. Each department worked independently and harmoniously with the other departments in order to create the best environment and experience possible, for both employees and guests. 
I am not saying that I am performing at the top of my profession; what I am trying to convey is that some people look down on you because of limitations that are set ages ago in a different decade or era.

Students in food inspired kitchen

What or who inspired you to choose a culinary career?

Well, not my mother. She hates cooking and she absolutely can’t stand the smell of onions or garlic.

In our Middle Eastern culture, it’s normal to have a housekeeper and a cook who help in the house and do things for you. One day, my mother decided to give up their services and to have an independent life around the house, just the way she was raised in the North African culture. That was when I was around 14 years old. The chores were distributed, and so I became the cook of the house.

I have always had a passion for cooking. Especially as I grew up watching my grandmother back in Tunisia cook for the whole family. It was simply fascinating how a single person could bring the whole family together around one table, sharing the most fun activity – FOOD. It’s the one thing that never fails people on any occasion. Good food always brings a good mood.

You are the youngest sous chef Saudi Arabia has ever had. How have your qualification and experience at CAAS helped you to get to this achievement?

The education and experience empowered me to get where I am today. The focus each of our chefs – or I would say mentors – invested in us really made the difference. I was absolutely clueless when I first started at CAAS, to the extent that I didn't know the difference between a chef knife and a deboning knife, for example; they all looked the same to me. 

In addition, the huge attention CAAS paid to helping me complete and fulfill the internship…that was always at the top of the list of important objectives, not only for me, but for all the students. That is truly what shaped me into the person I am today.

What’s your career highlight so far?

Without a doubt my being selected to be featured on two important social media portals within just a few months of each other. 

The first was a live TV Interview on the Sayidaty Talk Show by Rotana Khalijia under the title, “A Success Story”. The second was being featured in Saudi Arabia’s “Highlight on Arab News”. I was surprise to be contacted by journalist Ms. Rahaf Jambi and by their interest in my success story. To be recognized by such a newspaper was a huge step, especially at a young age.

What are your aspirations for the future? 

I aspire to become more than a chef; I want to be an entrepreneur – a leader who aims to uplift, strengthen, and develop more quality, passion, and culture to the understanding of the food and beverage industry in the Arab world.  

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