by Iyath Adam
We have a sit down with Chef Adam Schihab, a renowned global chef from the Maldives, discussing about his expansive culinary journey, the newly launched second edition of his book and more.
Lonumedhu: First of all, congratulations on the launch of your new book, The Islander Chef Global! How do you feel?
Schihab: Thank you. I feel great, and the response has been stunning so far. I first published ‘The Islander Chef’ – the first edition of this book – back in 2018. But at the time, my publisher didn’t do a very good job on the writing, and I ended up getting some very bad reviews. So, I decided to re-write the book as a revision which is why this book is referred to as a second edition, ‘The Islander Chef Global.’ It’s referred to as ‘Global’ because 10 different chefs from all over the world have contributed recipes to the book.
Lonumedhu: How did you compile the recipes for the book?
Schihab: I have an Instagram page with my partner, which is all about promoting professional chefs and we are currently working on publishing a food magazine. So, I have a lot of contacts and friends in the culinary world, and I reached out to them, asked for recipes because I needed more recipes for the book. And I’m very happy to say that a lot of them contributed.
In my book, I talk a lot about sourdough bread, wheat and levain – what they are and how they’re processed, a lot of which I learned from my culinary journey all over the world. The book is basically a sharing of my experience, and the recipes reflect that.
Lonumedhu: You’ve had a long and illustrious career so far. So, tell us about yourself and your experience in the culinary industry.
Schihab: I’ve worked in 11 countries so far, including Saudi Arabia where I currently reside. My journey began in Four Seasons Maldives when I joined as a commis chef. After that, I worked in another resort and when the tsunami natural disaster happened in the Maldives, I moved to Ritz-Carlton, Doha, which was my first international experience. There, I met a transit chef from Atlanta, Georgia – a Michelin star chef and he offered me the opportunity to working at his restaurant in the USA.
So, once I finished my year in the Ritz-Carlton, I moved to the USA for some time. After that, I worked in Indonesia and then the Maldives for a few years. Then I moved to Egypt, then Papua New Guinea, Australia, and the Philippines. I honestly can’t remember all the details now; I was like a crazy person, travelling all around the globe, hahah.
I’ve been in Saudi Arabia for the past eight years. Currently, I’m working at a company called Mafaz Trading Company which owns about 20 restaurants and a lot of brands under them. I manage most of them and lead their research and development function as the company’s corporate chef.
Lonumedhu: What interested you to go into desserts and pastry making?
Schihab: There was a Swiss French chef I worked with at the Four Seasons; he was very passionate about his job. I saw him as my role model; he had travelled all over the world and that’s what I wanted to do as well. When he left the Four Seasons, he gave me a floppy drive – this was 20 years back! – full of dessert recipes. When I started working in different resorts, I started experimenting with his recipes and doing a lot of pastry courses as well.
Although most of my background and work experience is as a pastry chef or a pâtissier, I have worked as an executive chef, managing kitchens at corporate level as well.
Lonumedhu: What’s your favourite thing to bake/make? Why?
Schihab: Sourdough bread. Over the past few years, a lot of my friends have become very conscious about their health. And whenever I meet them or I make new friends, they would all be like, oh you’re a pastry chef, I can’t eat all these sweet confections, I’m on a diet etc. and it was just kind of hard for me with everyone basically saying that I don’t like what you do, hahaha.
So, I decided that I didn’t want to spend my time developing these foods. I think that was actually one of the reasons why I was interested to develop something like sourdough bread, which is such a healthy, gut friendly food. And I think that’s why I love it so much too. Plus, we make a lot of different kinds of sourdough bread here, some with jalapeno, cheese, zaatar and turmeric. It’s really amazing.
Lonumedhu: I know that you’ve won a few awards as well. Can you tell us about them?
Schihab: I can’t really recall all of the awards that I’ve won. But in particular, I remember a culinary exhibition in Doha, Qatar which I won and the Chaine des Rôtisseurs competition in the Philippines as well.
But for me, I don’t really want to be known or written about these awards. My purpose in life is about building a network of chefs and culinary professionals, sharing my knowledge for generations to come.
Lonumedhu: You’ve been abroad for quite a while. What food from the Maldives do you miss the most?
Schihab: I miss everything, hahah. I miss rihaakuru, thelli faiy, the good quality valhomas or smoked fish. If anyone is coming here from Maldives, I always ask them to bring me some of these foods. And the unfortunate thing is, I’m not very good at making Maldivian food – or hot cooking in general – because of my background as a pastry chef. But if it has anything to do with a dough, I can make it. For example, masroshi, I can do that because of the dough component.
Lonumedhu: What advice do you have for young people who want to go out into the culinary field?
Schihab: My advice for all young chefs is to learn, learn, learn. Knowledge is power and the more you learn, the more you earn. We say in Dhivehi also, right? Mammage ungun kavvalhah dhan dhen thauleemu haasil kuraasheve (from the womb to your grave, keep learning). If you don’t learn or if you don’t have the knowledge, then you won’t even know if you’re doing something wrong. Nowadays, everything is free – there are so many courses online, even ones from professional, well-known chefs. So, learn, test, and try these recipes and improve. Knowledge is what makes you who you are.
Lonumedhu: What do you have planned next? What’s your vision for the future?
Schihab: Right now, I’m very focused on building my own personal brand. I currently have a knife set which is under the ‘Adam Schihab’ brand, and my books as well. I want to create a brand with a lot of products under my name that people can purchase and use so that even if I stop working, the brand name and products will live on. So, this is something that you will hopefully see coming up over the next 5-6 years.
Lonumedhu: We certainly look forward to seeing that! We wish you all the success in your future endeavours, Schihab.