A fair number of local culinary arts students has told me about the glamorous life they envision for themselves upon their graduations – working in a busy kitchen of perhaps an exotic resort, a luxurious hotel, a high-class restaurant etc. Namely, an establishment that has made a reputation for themselves in the culinary industry. This dream came true for one individual that I met recently; Ahmed Adam Manik, who happened to have had the opportunity to work in the kitchens of industry big names such as the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island’s renowned Airport Lounge, Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas and Waldorf Astoria Ithaafushi. But, there is a reason why after back and forth he finally decided to part ways from a culture that he describes as toxic.
Before you step foot in the kitchen, there are some hard truths you should know which are part of the job no matter what setting your daily shift is at – whether at a resort, a hotel, a restaurant etc. Other than hard and long work hours covered in grease, sweat and stains, Chef Ahmed describes life in your normal kitchen as an exhaustive routine with little to no chances to explore and achieve your creative potential. He evidences this with the story of one of his present employees; a culinary art student who went ahead to do an internship at an international hotel chain in the Maldives where his only task perhaps in a twelve to eighteen-hour shift was to peel and cut fruits. Moreover, this setting is practically inhumane and severe exploitation of other people’s skills and time for personal or commercial gain.
Chef Ahmed is a creative individual who is far away from the concept of ‘routine work’. He is a proud experimenter who is always looking for a new way to do things. Obviously, this is a personality that would not blend in well with the scenario described above. As a result, having been constantly disrespected and underappreciated despite knowing that you are more than capable, is what made him call quits on working for other people.
It is clear that Chef Ahmed is a victim of an absurd culture which really need not be that way. Nevertheless, leaving that environment was a victory for him. When he resigned from his last job, it was met with the untimely period of the lockdown in 2020 during the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Chef Ahmed used this to his advantage as a period of experimentation. With successes and failures, he highlights two things. One is Sale a Pepe, a personal business he had kicked off which is engaged in food consultancy and food business modeling. The second, I will say, is his greatest triumph: Nosh The Food Shelf.
Nosh The Food Shelf is a small and cozy bistro located away from the bustling streets of the city on the vehicle-free road, Fareedhee Goalhi. Nosh introduces a brand new concept to the country: heat and eat but with a finer touch. It is food that is already prepped, but fresh, quality and even healthy – perfect for busy bees. The multi-cultural menu seen at Nosh was carefully developed from scratch by Chef Ahmed. If you are ever up to Nosh, I tell you, try the cheese tea, its heavenly but so is everything else on the shelf.
Despite being a little more than a month old, Nosh is already loved by many for their amazing delicacies and has extended as a business more than initially anticipated. Taking things even further than food, the bistro has added life to the vehicle-free road it is located in with some lights, seats and art, making it a quiet environment where people can just escape to relax and unwind. And yet, people initially thought this was an absurd location for an eatery considering how closed off it was.
However, Nosh does not stop here. This is where we will revisit the toxic culture seen in the culinary industry. As the co-owner, Chef Ahmed employees an all-local crew (with exception of a cleaner who is an expatriate) that is a mesh of hotel school graduates and young food enthusiasts. He hopes to give the opportunity he never had in the existing culinary culture to these youngsters in addition to a chance to learn and perfect the art. The dynamic I witnessed at Nosh, between his employees and Chef Ahmed is a testament to his effort towards achieving this aim. It seemed nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, close to an exploit of talent at a receptive environment.
At the end of the day, however, the success of Nosh is not entirely on Chef Ahmed. The shout-out also goes to his partners and investors who have believed in him and trusted the process.