Chef Sharmane Sayeed did a radio show with CityFM89 during Ramadan and created the delicious dishes on Whipped, sharing all her favourite recipes for everyone to enjoy. With her high spirits and knack for making good food, it was only a matter of time before I sat down with her do find out what’s what.
Q. Me: So, for starters, how did you get to be here? Did you always know you wanted to be a chef?
Chef Sharmane: I was always pretty sure about what I wanted to do. I’ve been interested in cooking ever since I can remember, but I went to NYU and got a degree in Hospitality and Tourism, because that’s the closest course I could find that had to do with cooking. After that, I went to Le Cordon Bleu in Thailand and worked hard to become a chef. There, I got to learn how to make Thai cuisine and for me, that’s one of the most interesting and complex cuisines. It’s all about balancing all four flavors; sweet, sour, salty, spicy. Now, I live in France half the year and here in Pakistan when I have projects or to visit family and friends.
Q. What do you like about being a chef? And what about you makes you such a great chef?
I love experimenting. It’s fun, I’m always thinking about something or another; how I can change this recipe or how I can add this texture. I like fusion food because I like combining flavors and creating dishes that are away from the norm, like mac n cheese with chicken fajita. Food is not just about a recipe. It’s about making a recipe of your own.
Being a chef isn’t easy. One thing that helps is that I’m not a picky eater. When you go into this field, you’ve got to taste everything. I mean, I’ve tried frog legs. They aren’t so bad, they tasted like chicken. Another thing is it’s very strenuous, even though it may not seem like it. At Le Cordon Bleu, the first six months, we weren’t allowed to touch the machines. We had to learn to do everything by hand from whisking to folding.They want you to be able to understand textures and when to stop because with a machine, you don’t know when to stop. Also, you can’t be scared. I have burns all over my arms and at first I was so scared of hurting myself, but now it doesn’t even affect me.
I think maybe one of the most important things is never giving up. On some days, your food might not turn out like you want it to, but that’s okay. Cooking only gets better through practice and you have to be really driven.
Q. Where did your interest in cooking come from?
My parents love to travel, so as soon as the summer vacations began, we were on a plane. We would go all over the world; Europe, America, Asia, Australia. But there was one time that really got me interested in cooking when I went to a restaurant called Spago in Beverly Hills. I mean, eating good food is one thing, but meeting a chef like Wolfgang Puck is another. He came over to our table and the way he spoke, the way he described his food and the whole idea behind creating the recipe, really fascinated me. Then I started watching cooking shows and I started to cook. The first time I baked a cake, I literally lit the kitchen on fire. It was terrible. But I didn’t give up. My grandmother was also really into cooking, so most of the desi food I do is inspired by her. She would always blend her own spices. She didn’t go into the kitchen much, but she gave me the recipe down to the exact peppercorn. If she said there needs to be five peppercorns, there shouldn’t be a sixth. I think that’s what gave me direction and I learnt how to follow recipes.
Q. What do you think is the most fun part about being a chef?
It’s being able to create something that is yours. It’s your signature; it’s something you’ve made. And the proudest moment to a chef is when someone tries your food and goes ‘Oh my god, this is amazing,’It makes my entire day. I love making people smile because at the end of the day, they’re eating good food. You cook a good meal for anyone, they’ll be so happy.
Q. Have you faced any problems as a female, Pakistani chef?
When I started at Masala I was 24, straight out of college. It was my first time on television and at the time, there was a huge taboo, especially as a woman. I think I kind of paved the way for younger, more our generation, chefs to come out and do their thing. Initially even my parents were like, TV? No way. But I did it anyway. I wanted to stay here and do what I wanted to do. The first year, it was difficult, especially because I wasn’t even a chef at that point, I was a cook. And I got through it. I got better at it. Then three years after that, I went to Le Cordon Bleu and really began to pursue my passion.
Q. What advice can you give to people who want to be chefs?
It’s not easy. Cooking at home and being a professional chef are two very different things. They don’t just put you through standing there and cooking something with the ingredients they give you. You have to pick out your own ingredients and wash your utensils after you’re done. They train you from A to Z. They’ll cut your éclair and see if the cream is right to the center. But it’s worth it. It’s honestly worth it. Cooking, for me, is soothing. It’s my recluse. The last and first thoughts I have are about food. It’s is my passion. If it’s yours then go for it. But don’t do it if you don’t think you can handle it. Go for a career that you can’t get bored of. I know being a chef was one of the best decisions I ever made.
And there you have it! After a long talk with Sharmane, I was left pretty hungry yet mentally satiated. She’s one of the most intellectual people I’ve spoken to in a while and her drive and passion for food is something that shows through her conversation. If you want to see her videos and learn how to make the yummiest recipes ever, check out our new series called Whipped. Now excuse me while I get myself something to eat.
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