By Ashiya Hussain
Chefs are well-known for their culinary expertise, but their skills and talents extend far beyond the confines of a kitchen. Professional chefs are out there giving culinary consultations, guiding and training aspiring chefs, or sitting on culinary platforms to evaluate other chefs. Over the years, the Maldives’ culinary scene has flourished, thanks to the emergence of these exceptionally skilled chefs of both genders who are leaving their imprint on both local and international culinary platforms.
Taste sits down with one such incredible chef, who has advanced in her journey with both local and international experiences with the goal of reaching the very pinnacle of her profession. Chef Mariyam Shiuna – the second female, WACS licensed Continental Judge of the Maldives.
Shiuna’s passion for cooking was inspired by her father, who is very hands on when it comes to the kitchen. She recalled her childhood memories, eating something as simple as a Mas Banas (fish bun) and pondering over how it was made. While making tea for her younger siblings, she devoted particular care to neatly arrange the CreamCracker biscuits on the plates. Presentation was important to her even at a very young age.
Fast forward to the present day, we were sitting in her living room with Shiuna alongside her husband, Mohamed Raaidh, who she described as the pillar and the driving force behind her accomplishments. We could see her kitchen from where we were seated in her living room. From the array of blades on the wall, to the jars of varieties of spices and herbs carefully organised on floating shelves above the sink, it’s obvious that this is a chef’s home. Friends and family alike look forward to her well-prepared feasts, especially around holidays and Ramadan Iftar. This is only a snippet of her regular life at home.
With just a BTEC Diploma in hotel catering, Shiuna’s first accomplishment was on Rahathafaathu, where she competed with experienced chefs and cooks to win this, back then one of the most popular, culinary TV show. This motivated her to participate and train in locally available culinary training and courses. Despite her inexperience as a student in the field of culinary arts, she recalls having appeared on major local culinary platforms and won a number of awards. One of her very early experiences in the culinary industry would have been working in the President’s Palace during Dr. Waheed’s administration.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me to manage food and beverages at the President’s Palace,” Shiuna shared with us.
After completing Bachelor of Science in Culinary Arts Management at the Maldives National University; together with plenty of culinary skills she has gained locally, Shiuna sets sail to gain any knowledge and experience she can from the international arena. She has participated in culinary training in Asia and the Middle East. She mentioned her training in particular at the catering academy of Singapore Airlines (SATS), “SATS is widely considered to be among the most elite culinary institutes in Singapore, even in Asia. AlhamdhuliAllah, till today, I am the only Maldivian, who got the opportunity to train at the SATS Culinary Academy.”
Among other highlights of her chef’s life include her judging involvement in Culinary Art Food Expo, Sri Lanka; Culinaire Malaysia; World Halal Summit International Chefs Championship, Turkey; International Chefs Cup Kazan, Russia; Kerala Culinary Challenge & Exhibition, Cochin India; Philippines Culinary Cup, Manila Philippines; SICA Culinary & Challenge & Exhibition, Chennai India; Indonesia International Hotel Chef Competition, Jakarta Indonesia and both FHAM and Hotel Asia held in the Maldives.
Recently, her participation in a culinary festival in Mardin, Turkey, where she prepared live and displayed traditional Maldivian cuisine, had garnered a lot of admiration and appreciation for Maldivian food from visiting international chefs.
Her desire to pass on the torch of her culinary skills to the aspiring chefs drove her to work as an Associate Lecturer for culinary students at Maldives National University, where under her guidance students performed on major culinary platforms and won titles and awards. Furthermore she is a Visiting Lecturer and a National Assessor at the Maldives Institute of Technology (MIT). Her story does not end here.
From the remarkable experience and achievements gained both locally and globally, Shiuna has been granted the license of a Continental Judge from the World Association of Chefs Societies (WACS), the highest body of culinary arts. The path to achieving this dream has been a long journey which came with challenges.
“When I was selected in the first batch to complete the WACS judging seminar in Thailand in 2017, along with three other Maldives chefs, I was unable to attend due to financial constraints, but I never stopped achieving my dream. AlhamdhuliAllah, I was eventually granted the license in 2022”
With this license, she will be able to sit with the world-famous and renowned international judging panels to evaluate participating chefs. Her most recent participation as a judge was at the Indonesia International Hotel Chef Competition, held in Jakarta, Indonesia.
As a mother of two, Shiuna chose to work in Hulhumale’ and she is currently working as a Culinary Consultant and as a Part Time Lecturer on occasion. She is constantly on the lookout for new opportunities in her career and has the ambition to get to the very pinnacle of it
“I am very thankful for my family and specially my husband and the national association – ‘Chefs Guild of Maldives’ for their unceasing efforts to find new prospects and avenues for those working in the culinary industry. For the aspiring chefs, I would say chefs have a high level of social acceptance and respect, and working in this field is an excellent way to build financial stability and personal development.”