My Culinary Commute: “Chef Jacket Over Lab Coat”

If there was ever a starting point to my culinary journey, I would have to say, it all started from watching a cooking show, talking all about baking. I have cousins my age, who would be watching SpongeBob; meanwhile, I would be busy scribbling down the ingredients to a recipe instead. It was all back in a setting where “culinary as a profession” did not develop its roots. Growing up in a Pakistani background, the troubles and struggles were spectacular.

Me and my colleagues with Chef Farouk Othman, on our final day of Advanced Diploma restaurant service! A celebratory end to third year of culinary.
Me, (third from right) and colleagues with Chef Farouk Othman (centre), during our celebratory end to third year of our culinary journey.

As a result of being obsessed with baking and being inspired by chefs on TV shows since childhood, I kept following recipes. One thing led to another, and soon I was the well-known and favourite baker in my (quite foodie) family, who ‘crowned’ me as the “Best chocolate fudge cake Baker”. Moreover, the fun part is that I’m still using an approximation of the same recipe! My story could easily have ended there, but eventually, I found myself moving out to Malaysia, where my wish was going to come true.  

My Culinary Pursuit

For me, it didn’t come out as a well thought plan. I had always planned to become a doctor. And I wanted to become one. Always. It consequently became one of the few reasons why the idea of being a chef didn’t quite hit me at first; hence I continued my O-level. Having studied science subjects privately, without help and getting to see all Bs on my grade sheet brought me an immense level of happiness. However, the story doesn’t always end where you want it to be, right? My career story was meant to have a different twist. A happy one, of course.

Along the way, I did hear and still hear comments like; “You could have chosen some other fields”, “You don’t need to study to be able to cook”, and “Oh, so now you are a baker. You know we can hire chefs and bakers as cheap labourers, right?(Half the time I do not know how exactly to explain the difference between a Cook and a Chef *facepalming*)

Coming back to my story: “WHY CULINARY?” I say, WHY NOT?

Doctor Or Chef?

Some of my favourite Culinary books that i have collected over the years.
Some of my personal culinary grails that I have collected over the years.

Flashback to 17 years ago: my five-year-old self had always imagined a Lab Coat over my well planned outfit, a stethoscope around my neck, walking down the hospital corridors towards my patients and “fixing” them. Always eager to be the first female doctor in my family, I thought I was sure of what I had to be when I grow up. But things don’t always go as planned, do they?

Back in 2011, when I moved to Malaysia after completing my O-level, it was time to decide on a vocation. After having visited a considerable number of universities, I finally chose Taylor’s University over the others. I headed there during their open day, where my education counsellor Mr Joaquim Dias, learnt of my previous interest and introduced me to Culinary and Food Studies. I got lucky. At that moment, I decided to swap the idea of being a doctor with being a chef instead.

Something did dawn upon me that day. Didn’t know how and why it just stuck to me. I wanted to be in the kitchen. And I think somewhere along the lines, Master Chef Australia and Master Chef US shows inspired me and nurtured a deeper interest within me. All of it was spontaneous. This decision. I gladly abandoned my childhood interest for this new one.

Opposition Against Culinary Studies

If you belong in an Asian family, you do realise that choosing Culinary studies over a “noble” profession in Medicine, is quite a frowned-upon thing, isn’t it? Never mean to say that doctor isn’t a good profession, just the fact that it has always been preferred literally over any other profession.

Medicine is a very common field after Engineering and Law in Pakistan as well and I wanted to do something different, something I fancy at the same time! With criticism from my closest of friends and family, I was told over and over to re-consider my decision. “It’s not something very difficult”, “Anyone can do that passively while pursuing higher education”, “Choose something more professional” and even statements like “You’re a female; you can’t work in a field like that.”

It wasn’t quite appreciated at that point in time, but I am glad I went against all odds and did something I loved, enjoyed, valued and favoured! I do not think there is anything more satisfying and fulfilling than doing what your heart desires the most. It was definitely a tough decision but eventually, my parents gave up on trying to change my mind.

My Journey With Taylor’s University

Taylor's University: where my dream of becoming a chef, came to liffe!
Taylor’s University Lakeside Campus: Where my culinary dreams came to life!
Source: EduAdvisor

I enrolled in Taylor’s University to begin my long awaited culinary journey, back in 2015. I started off with a Diploma, which was two years long. Then continued an Advanced Diploma in Patisserie and Gastronomic Cuisine, and have recently completed my Bachelors in Culinary Arts and Food Service Management (Hons). My journey hasn’t ended just yet. I am currently pursuing my Master’s Degree in Philosophy (Food Studies) with Taylor’s University.

How challenging is this profession is a story to be told another day. Briefly, for anyone who thinks Culinary is an easy-study, it has been tough and rough for me at times. But I have been there, done that and am determined to achieve my goals. I am glad, I completed what I started.

Present Day – A Proud Professional Chef

Graduated as a Professional Chef. From left: my mother, me, my friend (Amna) and her mother.
Graduated as a Chef. From left: My mother, me, my friend (Amna) and her mother.

My ten-year-old little baker self would not have imagined growing up to be a chef one day. Yet my pet peeve would be all the detractors, doubters and nay-sayers in my life. They now call me up asking for recipes and what not. But the most annoying question remains, “Oh when are you inviting me over and making me something delicious?” It’s the same people guys.

Who knew? If only I did.

I feel relieved and glad that I put down the Lab Coat, and picked up the Chef jacket instead! It took passion and drive to be on a path like mine.

Do what you love and love what you do, ALWAYS. *Flipping my beef steak over* Mark my words. It’ll forever pay off and it’s always worth it.

Thinking of choosing Chef as a profession, think no more!? Head over to Taylor’s University and see what grabs your attention! Also, don’t forget to thank yourself afterwards.

About Zernaish JUNAID

Professional chef, volunteer counsellor, poet, writer, blogger, Zernaish is unafraid to speak her mind, and is full of energy. But beware, her enthusiasm is pretty contagious too.

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