Chef Aminath Hameed and Chef Mohamed Adil are Maldives’ new favorite culinary duo. The two energetic chefs recently collaborated for a one-night only ‘4 HANDS DINNER’ experience - a gastronomic event of the highest caliber at the Salt Café and Restaurant in Malé. This time, they together crafted a fabulous 7 course dinner menu using the world’s finest ingredients for this exclusive dinner event. The islandchief had the pleasure of meeting them for an exclusive interview and they surely spoiled our taste buds.
Chef Aminath, who are your inspirations, both in and out of the kitchen?
I am inspired by many. From the Maldives, Adil is without a doubt my biggest inspiration. I have seen him preparing so many dishes; trying out recipes and combinations of many unique flavors. I see a lot of his work on Instagram as well, which inspires me a lot. Chef Vinesh Johny from India is also one of my biggest inspirations. He is an amazing Pastry Chef and if you see his Instagram, he showcases fantastic new trends and recipes. I get a lot of inspiration from him for my glazed cakes and art decorations.
What are your earliest memories of the kitchen you worked in, Chef Adil?
It was quite a while ago, but I remember every single moment of it and it doesn’t seem that long ago for me. I was interviewed for the Four Seasons Resorts Maldives Apprenticeship Programme and was selected as a Steward under contract. It was a lot of fun and I enjoyed every bit of it. I have fond memories of struggling to move the pots – they were huge and I was tiny. After completing my daily tasks, I would go explore other places in the staff area. I loved watching the pastry chefs and main kitchen chefs at work. They were very supportive. I used to go help them and I would get a pizza or a burger in return! Soon I began accumulating some skills and a month later, the day before the programme started, I found out that they put me on service. That night, I met the resort’s General Manager, and asked him if I could move to the kitchen. He told me to go for it. That was the best move I made in my life.
From dining at the guest villas’ private terrace, to ten restaurants, there’s a multitude of dining options at Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi. Which dining venue do all your bonbons and chocolate work end up, Chef Aminath?
At Waldorf Astoria there is an outlet called Terra; a treetop dining experience. It has won many awards in this one-year span. Guests get to dine among the treetops in one of seven bamboo nests. And then you have The Ledge by Dave Pynt – the founder of Burnt Ends, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Singapore. The Ledge is a fantastic, modern Australian barbecue style restaurant. All my bonbons go to these two venues. Every night, we would prepare unique flavours of bonbons as a petit four so it is very special.
Chef Adil, throughout your career, you have won numerous awards and medals, both at national and international levels. What has been your biggest takeaway from them?
All the international ones definitely mean a lot to me because I represent the country, and we’ve got some great national awards too. But I would have to say, what meant most to me was the award I got in 2016. I must have been 25 years old. It was my third competition, and the first time that I had ticked all the categories which would qualify me. It was a complete surprise, because I actually did quite badly in one of the categories. So, I didn’t expect it at all! I feel like that competition kept me going and gave me a massive motivational boost, because I felt like I could achieve many things.
Chef Aminath, how are you adapting to the changing trends in the culinary world, especially in patisserie? And what is your opinion about the pastry industry in the Maldives?
The trends are changing fast and there are so many new and unique techniques now. Whenever I get free time, I follow masterclasses online. I also learn a lot on social media, especially following inspiring chefs and seeing their work on Instagram. I think the pastry industry in Maldives is at a level where we have so many fantastic home-bakers. Chocolate is gradually taking a backseat and people are trying more unique flavors. When I visited Addu city during this lockdown, I noticed that almost everyone wanted to order chocolate cakes. So, I decided not to bake anymore chocolate cakes during those days, and began baking pandan cakes, mango gâteaux and more. And guess what, people loved it. I think we’ve started to let go of the usual chocolate cakes!
Chef Adil, considering the relatively few Maldivian chefs across the tourism and hospitality industry, do you think there’s enough opportunities available for locals to excel in this profession?
I’d have to say, there is always room for improvement, but if there's a will, there's always a way. If anyone wants to excel in this career, the Maldives is the perfect place to start. If you join a resort, you'll get exposed to a diverse range of cuisines and get to learn so much. With a lot of options, opportunities and results, starting out in the Maldives is the best idea in my opinion. Of course, you’ll have to work for it. It's just a matter of knowing what you want to excel at.
Tell us about the chain of events that led to your collaboration on the four hands dinner night at the Salt Café in October 2020? Did you both know each other before?
Chef Aminath: Yes, we have known each other for a while. The first time I saw him was at the 2018 Hotel Asia Culinary Challenge. He was working on this beef dish. Everybody was rushing, there were pots everywhere, but he was so calm and clean, getting everything done in such a cool way. I realised that there was something different about his style. I was an official so I was able to get closer, and watch him work. On the award night, he won the Best Maldivian Chef award. You know, I’ve seen him win numerous awards and he’s really good at what he does, so I really wanted to collaborate with him. We’ve both been waiting for this opportunity, and finally, we managed to do it – our very first collaboration.
Chef Adil: I feel the same way. For me, my favourite quality in Aminath and in everything she does is her perfection, uniqueness and fineness. I, too, am someone who seeks the ultimate fineness. She is so much better than me in certain areas. And when it comes to things like rush time in the hot kitchen it can get quite stressful, but during the collaboration I noticed that she kept her cool which tremendously helped me as well. We had been talking about this collab for probably about a year now. We actually had a plan to do this last year in one of the resorts, but I’m so glad it took place here in Malé, in Salt Café, because this is just the perfect place. When she decided to resign, she texted me saying, “Hey, I will be in Malé. I think this is the best time to do this!”, and we did.
Chef Animath: Many of us tend to come up with excuses like, “Oh, these chocolates would be impossible to make in Malé to the specific high standards,” but we wanted to take up the challenge and do it. We got amazing feedback in return. Plus, the owners of Salt were very helpful and supportive as well. It was all very well-planned and organised.
Chef Adil: Exactly. It played a significant role in it being the perfect venue for the Four Hands Dinner. We had the great view, the best team and fantastic owners of the café. Another thing is that we wanted to prove to everyone that this can definitely be done in Malé. We imported the ingredients that we wanted and we didn’t compromise on the quality. We had a ton of challenges, but it didn’t stop us. All our attendees of the night were thrilled. We were so happy to give them this magical experience.
What were some of the biggest challenges that you both faced while preparing and creating the Four Hands Dinner experience?
Chef Adil: Well there was the Jerusalem artichokes situation. I got them into the Maldives a month ago. They were very unique. And they are, to me, the king of vegetables. Not many people in the Maldives have had the pleasure of trying it out. As I started cooking, I said to Aminath that I really hope I don’t burn it! And guess what – I burned it. It took me almost eight hours to fix!
Chef Aminath: Yes, but it was unbelievably good. It had this fantastic smokey flavour. I have no idea what magic he did, but the final product was just amazing. It all happened for a good reason! Another small challenge we faced was selecting the perfect box for the petit fours, which I knew had to have the finest finish. Adil actually brought me a few sample boxes which were reasonably priced, and I didn’t like how they had cut it. So, I said that we will get laser-cut boxes, which turned out to be perfect. It was a little bit pricey, but we did not want to compromise on quality.
Chef Adil: Oh, we had many challenges finding that perfect box! Another thing I’d like to note is that the entire kitchen team was completely new to each other. Usually, to give an exceptional service, you need to have excellent coordination, and people who have worked together before. Sure, we didn’t have a team that fits into that criteria – even Aminath and I had never worked together – but we pulled off a great event. On the night of the dinner, everything was perfectly splendid. As for the service team, this was only their second time serving a multiple course dinner. So, it was quite new for them, which was also a bit of a challenge. Normally, to provide an experience like our Four Hands Dinner, everything has to be perfect. Our kitchen was not perfect, our equipment was not perfect, yet, we were overjoyed with the final product. We were just so happy with the team, and could not have asked for better people; everyone coordinated with each other effectively and completed their tasks. They pulled it off.
Chef Aminath: We were very lucky with our team. We had four hectic days of Adil and myself running around getting our mise en place ready. We even had to find edible flowers, microgreens and more. In Malé, you can find many unexpected things, it’s all about knowing where to look. On the day of the event we were able to work very calmly and hassle-free with great support.
Chef Adil: Yes, we even coordinated with Habitus Fresh and gave our orders two weeks ahead. It was all very well planned. I strongly believe that it doesn’t matter how good you are, you will always need help.
Chef Adil, the Four Seasons Maldives Apprenticeship Programme has been the stepping stone for your career in the hospitality industry. How would you describe it, in shaping the future stars of our hospitality industry?
This is very true. The Four Seasons Maldives Apprenticeship programme has been an immense support in my career. I believe they are still the best and if you want to start a career in the Maldives’ hospitality industry, they provide many opportunities. For example, if I choose the kitchen, not only be will I learn about the kitchen; I will also learn a lot of other things like culture, history, math – whatever you need. When I say they are the best, you’ll have to go and see it for yourself. You’ll also find a lot of leaders in the Maldives’ hospitality industry today who have been trained by them. So, I believe it is a proven fact and they are contributing so much to the industry. Supposing you meet a student who just completed a degree programme, if you compare that to a student who just passed the apprenticeship, the one that completed the apprenticeship will be more mature in skills. They have more hands-on experience with professional guidance, and will be more motivated as well. You see, when you first go to the resort for work, they assign you a mentor and a buddy, to ensure that you get all the necessary support and guidance. Members of the resort’s senior management team always approach you and have conversations to see if everything is going well. There are already some resorts that follow these cultures, and I think the ones that do not, should definitely implement it.
Chef Aminath, your creations are full of celebration and life, especially the quirky artisanal mirror glaze cakes. How do you come up with the ideas?
You know, when I first started making mirror glaze cakes as an intern in Conrad Maldives Rangali Island, I always used to ask the chef why it wasn’t turning out perfectly – the mirror effect was too little. She would always tell me not to worry, and that with practice, I would get to that stage eventually. These mirror glazes require many things, so it was quite difficult to do it in Malé; we need a blast freezer to set the mousse quickly, and various equipment such as silicon molds and so on. So, it was not an easy task. I always saw these talented Instagram chefs doing it perfectly and I wanted to try it out. I didn’t want to copy someone else’s piece, so I came up with some ideas, I just started pouring and making some interesting effects. When I moved to Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi, I continued practicing and perfecting it. I took masterclasses and kept on trying. You can’t imagine the number of attempts I had made before actually taking my mirror glaze cakes to Instagram. It’s quite a lot of hard work, but it is so very interesting
Where do you see yourself five to ten years down the road, Chef Adil? What upcoming works can we expect from you?
I have many goals. I set around ten goals at the start of every year, and divide them into categories like personal goals and long-term goals. In five to ten years, there’s so much you can achieve.
I’ve worked with my Executive Chef for a total of seven years. He has trained many chefs, and polished me in my career. Something I learned from him is that we must help others grow and give them the opportunity. So, one of my goals is that in the next five years, I want to be able to mentor others the way he did.
When talking about my career goals, a star is something that I most definitely would like to achieve. But right now, even more than that, I want to learn more about our Maldivian cuisine. If you see my Instagram, I have tried out many, but those are only based on what I’m taught and what I have eaten. I had always wanted to learn from my grandma; unfortunately, she passed away. Now, I feel the urge to travel around the islands of Maldives to learn the cuisine and try to bring those flavours in a unique and modern way. I want to explore ways to improvise and elevate them enough to serve at a fine dining restaurant. I am not there yet. Apart from that, I aim to become an Executive Chef, open up my very own restaurant, and tons of other exciting things.
Chef Aminath, if you had to give one piece of baking advice to the readers of The islandchief, what would it be?
Do it with passion, or don’t do it at all. When I was an intern, I started out at the fruits section and then on to pastry. We had to do fruit-cutting, pastry works, bread – bits of everything. There were three of us as interns. One day, we were all tasked with designing and creating fruit baskets. Once we were done, my Pastry Chef asks all of us, “Why is Aminath’s one different?”, and her answer was, “Because the other two baskets don’t have that special ingredient, which is passion”. If we don’t have passion, we do things just because we are asked to do it. But if you have that passion, it’s like magic. So, I always tell people to do it with passion, or not at all.
Chef Adil, what advice do you have for young undergraduates who are still looking for their calling in life?
There are many students in Maldives now who don’t know what they really want, and that’s a huge problem. Some may know that they want to go to a resort for work, but they don’t have any goals set. Firstly, you’ll need to find something that makes you happy, something you love, and work hard to achieve it. Of course, everything is challenging at the beginning, but if you have passion, if you are committed to it and have a positive attitude, you can achieve it. It's just a matter of time. I believe you have to explore all possibilities and see your career options to know what’s best for you and then go for it. I wish I knew earlier that this was my career path. If I did, I would have studied science education or something like that when I was younger. I studied commerce because my family is in business, and I thought I’d end up in business management. Once I got back from Sri Lanka, I thought I would take over my father's business, but when I started working over there, I got bored and realized it was not for me. So, if you knew what you wanted to do, that would be better.
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