Rida Alam Khan, a sous chef at the newly opened and widely appreciated restaurant, Steak CFU, has been in the food industry for the last six years. When you walk into Steak CFU, you are blown away by her confidence, radiance and her personality overall. Therefore, I wanted to dig into her story, which has been far from a bed of roses.
MangoBaaz asked Rida about what she had to go through as a female chef in a highly competitive industry that is generally dominated by men.
It was saddening to know that a lot of people tried to bring her down solely on the basis of her gender. She said she “felt angered and sad” by the treatment she received at some of the previous restaurants she had worked for; “They don’t take you seriously if you are a female.”
Rida goes onto say, “An owner once told me, the kitchen staff isn’t comfortable working with you because you are a female, which was quite unbelievable.” She did, however, say that it was subjective and that many males she has worked with were highly supportive and motivating, giving a shout out to her head chef, Khurram. Her advice, though, was to “stay strong”.
Talking about how her passion for cooking came about Rida said: “It developed while I used to watch Chef Gordon Ramsay on BBC Food.”
“His passion in his approach to the work; the originality and authenticity in his recipes brought out the real culinarian in me which I, myself didn’t know about.”
Rida, in these six years, has worked towards a pretty successful career. She has worked at Marriott Hotel, Sakura Restaurant, Pearl Continental and many more. Now, she’s working at Steak CFU in Karachi.
“My first institution was my mother, always cooking fresh and healthy produce. Inspired by her, I would create different dishes using versatile products and fusing flavors together from a very early age.”
Rida mentioned how she did Food and Nutrition and Home Management for her O and A levels, after which she got a degree from The College of Tourism and Hotel Management. After that, completing her advanced diploma in Culinary Arts, she went on to do an apprenticeship for the Marriott Hotel, Karachi and this is where she says “it started professionally.”
According to her, her parents have always been her support system.
“My mom never once failed to teach me all her secrets about cooking at home (she’s one of the best cooks) and my dad never thought twice about funding my culinary education (since it’s highly expensive). Dad is still very supportive in everything I do and is always lifting me whenever I get disheartened. My brother was my very first culinary instructor. So overall, my family has supported me every step of the way and it’s a blessing.”
Talking about how working at Steak CFU in Karachi has been like, Rida had the following to say:
“CFU is a great work environment where the establishment gives me the opportunity to succeed.” According to her, the staff is “professional and respectful which makes shifts run smooth and effective.” She enthusiastically raved about working under Khurram Rasheed who is known as the “Steak Guru of Pakistan”- the only person who can do aged cured meats! To her, her head chef’s constant encouragement and the owner’s support is the reason for her constant growth at the restaurant.
When asked about her tricks to cool down in the kitchen, she stated the following:
“Being a successful chef means knowing how to manage your stress level properly. We deal with a huge amount of stress that includes long hours, communication breakdown and feelings of being undervalued. My tip to cool down in the kitchen is to drink a lot of water. Instead of stressing, try to figure out the closest ways of fixing the situation you’re in. Ask for help without hesitation as it makes fixing the problem faster and easier.” She believes the staff is like a family unit and everyone must feel free to talk and ask for help.
When asked if she has any hobbies other than cooking, here’s what she shared:
“I love experimenting with different makeup products and dressing up. I love Barbies – I have ever since I was a toddler. So, I buy Barbie dolls and keep them with me. It’s weird, I know.” She also mentioned her love for cats!
She had some advice for young girls wanting to make it into the food industry
“Many people want to become executive chefs right out of culinary school or become food network stars. But in reality its a cutthroat environment”. She advised girls to prepare themselves for long hours in the kitchen with minimum wage, initially, adding on to say that the working conditions aren’t ideal. She’s had to deal with extreme heat, sleep deprivation, spending less time with family and a lot more.
She added, “For me, it’s important to take on challenges and stretch my potential in my field. With each success and change, you learn and gain confidence.”
“Anyone can cook,” Rida states, “but to be a great chef you need to be passionate. It has to come from within you, from your soul.”
What do you think about her journey? Let us know in the comments.