Aidha Cader gets a scoop on celebrity chef Nazim Khan, a showstopper in the culinary world
Photographs from the Chef
Currently Executive Chef at Bryan Health, in Lincoln Nebraska, Nazim Khan moved to the US to study business however, his passion for food resulted in him switching professions. It began when he worked as an assistant at ‘Sen Japanese’; a fine dining restaurant located at Sag Harbour, New York. “One day I saw the singer Billy Joel in the restaurant bowing his head down to the Japanese chef asking him how he is doing,” recalls Nazim. This genuine respect shown towards a chef inspired him to change the culinary world across the Atlantic. His show “Chop Chop with Chef Nazim” in CBS2/Fox 28 in Iowa is still running successfully. Nazim’s talent and achievements not only has impressed countless fine diners but he was privileged to showcase it to the likes of Michelle Obama, Al gore, Nicole Kidman, 50 cent, Snoop Dog, Pitbull, Georgia Line and many such iconic clientele.
“In the US we see a chef as an artist; plate is our canvas and food our paint,” adds Chef Nazim.
It’s a Hell’s Kitchen
The culinary world is competitive and challenging like no other. “I first learned Japanese and French cuisine which are both artistic as well as technical,” he says. His mentor was Chef George McNeill, a maestro in the industry. “I am in debt to him for everything I have learned,” says Nazim. However, Nazim Khan’s greatest role model and inspiration is his mother. “I’ll be nowhere if it weren’t for my mother’s efforts and faith in me,” he recalls.
Long hours, yelling and screaming at the kitchen is routine in a chef’s world. But what fuels his passion is that the industry that builds around making people happy. “To be one of the best in the field, you have to live, sleep, breathe and eat 24/7 like a chef. If you aren’t working on your weaknesses, I can guarantee you the other guy is. You have to always have the drive to be better and offer more,” stresses Chef Nazim.
“So when the chef asks you to slice fresh algae into strips measuring 7 cm in length and 1.5 mm in width, you better know how to do that well and fast,” recalls Nazim.
It is a roller coaster ride that never slows down; but undoubtedly the thrill is like no other. “When you’re hungry, sleep deprived and exhausted, all the verbal abuse will make you question your own skill and ability. If you let it get to you, it will turn into a chaotic environment,” he adds. It’s also a physically demanding job. “You are constantly running up and down the stairs and standing for a good part of the day.” In the kitchen everyone is a team player and if one player doesn’t show up for even a day, the rest has to shoulder the responsibility, which is not an easy task. The other drawback is, in this sixteen plus hour day, it gives you little time for family and friends. “You miss all birthdays, holidays and family vacations and eventually you stop getting invitations,” chuckles Nazim. Your kitchen crew becomes your new family and friends.
“When my son Nuhad was born I used to go to work early in the morning when he was asleep, and when I came home late at night, he was asleep again,” shares Nazim
Nazim Khan respects his clientelle and believes in serving them dishes made of the highest quality produce. “My presentation is elegant and clean and I am constantly questioning myself on how I can make the dish better in terms of looks, texture and taste among other variables,” he remarks. The culinary industry, like the fashion world, is vivacious and constantly seeking ‘the next new thing.’ A classic dish will always have its share in the market, however, customers are demanding for more innovative dining experiences. “Food is no longer a fill for hunger; one comes to a restaurant and expects a food experience desiring a theatre on a plate,” adds Chef Nazim. Molecular gastronomy is an area that Nazim has mastered and thereby is able to deliver culinary invasions beyond one’s imagination. “Over the next few years, I see resurgence in ‘analogue’ dishes and a return to food that is real, tasty, and nourishing, both physically and spiritually,” he observes. As the consumers become more aware of ethical and sustainable living this will induce their food habits. “More and more diners will want to know about the provenance of what they’re eating. Animal ethics and sustainability will play an increasing role in dining decisions,” confirms Nazim. As technology improves this will offset the increasing staff cost and more tech driven facilities will be on board. “Don’t be surprised the next time you’ll be ordering from digital menu cards or robots,” says the chef humorously.
As he basks in the glory of all that he has achieved over an eighteen-year career, he is now the mentor for a new generation of chefs to look upon. “Walking into the dining hall and looking at my crew I feel a sense of accomplishment, I hope to keep motivating them to reach their best,” Nazim concludes.