Le Cordon Bleu certified Lahori chef, Bisma Raza is a powerhouse of talent, who is steadily working to pave the way to inspire future female chefs in the country.
How does a young Pakistani female manage to defy societal norms and end up graduating from the most prestigious culinary schools in the world? Well, to put it simply, it wasn’t easy. Before she could even prove her worth to the admission committee at the esteemed and uber-competitive Le Cordon Bleu, Bisma had another acceptance she needed to get first: her family’s.
”I was kind of forced into doing my Bachelor’s degree by my family, like many other families in Pakistan,” Bisma stated. “I knew where my interest was and what I had to do, so I left my degree and made sure my parents understood that being a Chef is a career and is not something to look down upon.”
For this Lahori chef, getting her family to understand her devotion to the culinary arts was no simple feat.
She elaborates on how first she had to ”prove [herself] in Pakistan” and enrolled in the Lahore-based culinary school, SCAFA, and earned certification with a distinction. Despite this, she adds that she had to resort to plenty of “rona dhona” to convince her family to let her pursue her culinary education in London at Le Cordon Bleu.
However, the tears didn’t stop once she managed to attend her dream school. In fact, she recounts how getting certified involved plenty of ”hard work, sweat, and literally blood and burns.”
”It was always crazy, being marked on every dish you make, there is too much mental and physical pressure involved. And YES! We have to study. The biggest misconception is that we don’t have to study.”
Despite all the mental anguish and struggle culinary school put her though, Bisma flaunts her ”war wounds” from the kitchen proudly.
In fact, she highlights the importance of getting a formal education for all those who want to pursue cooking professionally.
”I believe if you’re good at something, you should work hard to learn more about it, polish your skills, and be open to learning. What’s knowledge without skill, and skill without knowledge?”
”It’s very important to be educated about your profession and passion. Imagine, one day I decide to call myself a doctor without having to get a certification. Food education is very important. You learn skills that you can’t learn at home, you discover so much about temperatures, hygiene, food-borne illnesses (which are very common in Pakistan), how to prevent them, how a working place should be, how it should be run.”
“You learn about working with speed and accuracy because you don’t get second chances once you have an order waiting. It expands your horizon in many ways, gives you a deeper appreciation for food and culture – as food is art – and you get a deeper understanding of flavors.”
For Bisma, the quest of improving her culinary skills didn’t just cease with her graduation. Instead of rushing to launch her own business in Pakistan, she resolved to polish her leadership skills and started working at the highly prestigious Armani Hotel in Dubai.
She claims that working in a professional kitchen was a learning experience on its own since it accustomed her with ”practical management” such as ”dealing with customers, serious mise en place, teamwork, and facing challenging situations”.
Working in a professional setting also made Bisma far more aware of another obstacle that she had to tackle: the glaring misogyny in the kitchen.
”At first, I was treated like a “damsel in distress”, a very “nazuk” girl who needed help even when I didn’t ask for it. I had a chef telling me not to hold a big chef’s knife because I won’t be able to hold it properly. I was trained to do all of it, it bothered me a lot.”
Not one to back down from a challenge, she stuck to her guns (or, well, knives in this case) and remained determined to prove her mettle and worth in the kitchen.
“I REALLY had to work harder, take charge, and keep my head high to make my place, which I did.”
Time spent working at the Armani hotel not only refined Bisma’s culinary and managerial skills, but also made her far more sensitive and empathetic to the struggles that new chefs, especially women, face.
She aims to utilize the skills she’s been equipped with to create delicious and innovative dishes, but also desires to empower future cooks and create a safe working space. In fact, once the pandemic eases, this Lahori chef is adamant to revolutionize the food scene of Lahore by establishing her own restaurant, while promising to ensure a more conducive environment for chefs.
“When our lives get back to normal,” she states, “I will make sure I open a professional setting where women also feel safe to work, where new chefs apply for jobs and are proud to work there. I want customers to come to my restaurant and have a memorable experience with the food and environment.”
”I want to make sure that being a chef is respected in Pakistan and that this profession is as good as any other. I want to empower anyone who finds it hard to go and chase their dreams. ”
Moreover, she’s not letting the COVID-19 situation keep her away from her mission of feeding people delicious food.
Keeping her zeal of cooking alive, Bisma currently runs a home-based business that has a limited but extremely scrumptious menu that promises to tantalize customer’s taste buds while taking utmost care to maintain hygiene measures.
Moreover, she’s staying true to her mission in inspiring other people to pursue their passion for cooking and using Instagram and YouTube to share absolutely divine recipes online. While most chefs consider their recipes to be their most coveted possessions and shy away from sharing their secrets online, Bisma has no such qualms.
She reveals that “knowledge increases with sharing” and how her ultimate end goal is to invoke a passion for the culinary arts amongst people.
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Dough Ingredients Quantity Flour 5 cups (one cup separate) Melted butter 64 g Salt 2 tsp Baking powder 1 tsp Instant Yeast 8 g Milk 2 cups Sugar 1/2 cup Filling Ingredients Quantity Softened butter 70 g Brown Sugar 100 g Cinnamon powder 60 g Frosting Ingredients Quantity Icing sugar 1 cup milk 4 tsp (add more if you want a runny glaze Condensed milk 1/2 cup Method Dough and baking 1. Add milk, butter and sugar in a bowl, mix well. make sure milk isn’t hot, it should be at body temp, which is 35 degrees C. 2. Add the yeast, let it bloom for 5 mins. 3. As soon as the yeast blooms, add the 4 cups of flour, mix together cover and let it proof for an hour. (While you wait, make the filling) 4. When the dough doubles in size, add salt baking powder and one cup flour. 5. Transfer dough to the marble and knead for 10 mins (or use stand mixer on a dough hook) 6. Roll out the dough in a rectangle, spread the filling over it evenly. 7. Roll up the dough into a log, and cut out your buns with a dental floss or a knife. (floss works better) 8. place the buns on a buttered baking tray and leave for proofing for 30 mins. 9. bake at 180 degrees C for 20-30 mins. (make frosting while you wait) Filling 1. Mix together all the filling ingredients. 2. Whisk till it’s smooth and creamy. Frosting 1. Combine all frosting ingredients together and whisk. adjust quantity and consistency according to you liking. Serve Serve hot/warm. Pour frosting over the buns while still hot. ‘ . . . . . . . . . . #cinnamonrolls #cinnamonbuns #chefbisma #bismascookhouse #happycooking #chefsofinstagram #dessert #quarantinekitchen #dubai #london #lahore #bestcinnamonbuns #frosting #glaze
”I’m sure many people are talented and can make be good cooks if they try. Due to the stigma we spoke about earlier, I want them to know that they can pursue their passion as a career. Being a chef is a very prestigious thing.”
In fact, she’s already become a beacon of inspiration for young, aspiring chefs, and has actually amassed quite a following, especially amongst women who look up to her for guidance and knowledge.
While talking to MangoBaaz, Bisma divulges,
”You would be surprised if you saw my inbox. A lot of people, especially girls, message me to guide and motivate them, asking me how to convince their parents to be a chef because they think being a “bawarchi” isn’t very honorable.”
Ultimately, Bisma is determined to put her talent and knowledge to the test, and eventually, her biggest fantasy is to ”leave a mark in the culinary scene.”
Considering all that this extremely passionate Lahori chef has accomplished while still being in her early twenties, we are certain that there is nowhere to go but up for this incredible young woman, and we, at MangoBaaz, wish Bisma all the best.
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Cover image via @bismascookhouse/Instagram