Maha Naseer: First Ever Maldivian Master Chef | Lonumedhu

Maha Naseer: First Ever Maldivian Master Chef

Category: Interviews

by Iyath Adam

We sit down with Maha Naseer, the first Maldivian chef to be awarded the title of Master Chef by the Master Chef Society of the World.

We discuss how she got into the culinary industry, her current position as the Creative Culinary Director at Oaga Resorts and her thoughts on remaining at the top of her field.

 

Lonumedhu: First of all, congratulations on becoming the first Maldivian chef to be awarded the title of Master Chef. How do you feel?

Maha: Thank you so much! I’m very honoured and humbled to have received the award and become the first Maldivian Master Chef. It’s been very emotional for me, and I think it has created an impact on my current career path as well. It has really inspired me and made me want to create a group of people who will be here to maintain this legacy even when I’m not here.  

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Lonumedhu: So, how did you get into the culinary industry? And what has led you to this point?

Maha: I chose the culinary field as a career path pretty late in life. When I was younger, I actually wanted to be a lawyer, but my parents weren’t fortunate enough to send me abroad for studies. After I had children, I wanted to do something that I could do while staying with my kids. And so, I thought this would be the best career for me as cooking is something that is important to me. It’s a very therapeutical experience for me and even when I was very small, the aromas of different foods would take me back to certain memories. It was a form of celebration and comfort, and particularly for me, a form of connection which has led me to experiment with Maldivian-fusion flavours and develop a lot of recipes on my own.

I’ve been catering to locals with my own food page for a while, but in 2011, I graduated from culinary school in Singapore. The reason I studied was because I wanted to go further in the field, and after that, I started catering to tourists as well, giving them the opportunity to taste Maldivian food.

Since then, I have worked as a guest chef and as a trainer at different resorts. I’ve done several pre-opening trainings for their chefs. Something I’m really proud of is the Amilla Fushi pre-opening where I trained their pastry team and taught them how to make different desserts using Maldivian ingredients like kashikeyo (screwpine fruit) and kanamadhu (sea almond), and they started selling them in their shops and it became a very fast-moving product.

I currently work as the Creative Culinary Director at Oaga Resorts.

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Lonumedhu: Tell us about it. What does your job as the Creative Culinary Director entail?

Maha: Currently, we’re at pre-opening. So right now, I’m creating the different food outlets, designing the menu, and all that.

Being here, I’m inspired by my team every day, who are so creative. Working with a team like this is such a joy, and every day I get to show up as the person I want to be. I’m so grateful to Oaga for giving me this opportunity; I joined as a freelance consultant first, but they saw the potential in me and offered me this position, which I accepted instantaneously. I didn’t even think about it, it felt like the natural next step.

Oaga has really given me a huge platform to showcase my talents creatively as well as to experiment. I have gotten similar offers from other resorts before, but there were certain limitations that came with the job; at Oaga there aren’t any and that’s something I really appreciate. It really is the place where I have to be right now.

 

Lonumedhu: I know that you’ve won a few other awards as well. What’s the award you’re most proud of?

Maha: I’ve won 1st and 2nd places and medals in a few culinary competitions, both in the Maldives and abroad. But I think the award I’m most proud of is my first award, in the Hotel Asia Culinary Challenge in 2006, where I got 3rd place from the whole competition. Winning the award was such a turning point for me that changed my whole career. I was really motivated to move forward and strive to the highest. I think that was what actually propelled my career forward. I’ve won many awards after that as well. Right now, I’m a certified rookie judge by the World Association of Chefs Societies, which wasn’t something I ever dreamt of then, but I think what made this possible was winning that first award.

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Lonumedhu: How do you ensure that you’re always at the top of your field?

Maha: There are many people I look up to for everyday knowledge. One female inspirational chef that I look up to is Alice Waters who is affectionately known as the inventor of California Cuisine. Like many famous female chefs, she had a love for French cooking techniques but also a passion for fresh, local produce and natural ingredients.

And every year, I try to train myself and gain more education in the field so that I am more knowledgeable and up to date with the latest emerging trends. During the pandemic, I couldn’t go abroad, but I tried to keep myself updated through the internet. I think it’s important to motivate yourself daily and to do something that brings you daily knowledge.

 

Lonumedhu: You’re one of the few female Executive Chefs in the Maldives right now. Why do you think there are so few women in the field? Are there fewer career opportunities available for women to move ahead?

Maha: I think the mentality of people needs to change, and it needs to start within our homes. Some parents are not very supportive of girls pursuing a career in the resort industry, but I don’t think it’s the worst place to be or somewhere that turns a person good or bad – that can happen anywhere. I also think it’s a very macho field which makes a lot of girls hesitant to join. I’ve been fortunate enough to not face obstacles like that in the kitchen; my colleagues, family and friends have always been really supportive.

I wouldn’t say this is something that you can’t do because you are a woman. I think if you set your heart to it, you can do whatever you want and achieve your goals.

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Lonumedhu: What advice do you have for young people who want to go out into the culinary field?

Maha: Be brave, continue to move forward, and you can reach your goals in no time for sure.

 

Lonumedhu: What’s your vision for the future, in terms of your career?

Maha: I think I have pretty much reached a level that I haven’t even dreamt of. I always tell my students that  “gaining knowledge is an endless process and it limitless.”

At Oaga, our chairman is very keen on building people. He is such an inspiration and a motivation for me. Right now, we are in the process of planning a culinary institute, and we look forward to build people in the industry and share our knowledge. I want to bring new creative talent into the industry, especially women.

 

Lonumedhu: We hope to see that in the future as well, Maha! Thank you so much for your time, and we’re excited to see what you bring us next.

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