NASHER’S FATE LIKE MOST BANGLADESHI CHILDREN WERE ALREADY DECIDED BY HIS PARENTS WITH HIS FATHER ADAMANT ABOUT HAVING A DOCTOR IN THE FAMILY BUT NASHER HAD OTHER IDEAS.
A chef is not the first choice of occupation that a parent has in mind for their children. It is probably not the second or third either. Although it is 2019, Bangladeshi chefs do not get the credit they deserve and this was one of the main driving forces that caused Abu Nasher Chowdhury to return to Bangladesh. The Banquet Chef of Le Meridien hotel had the world at his feet but he decided to give it up and return home in order to break barriers, change norms and achieve greatness.
Through thick and thin
Nasher’s fate like most Bangladeshi children were already decided by his parents with his father adamant about having a doctor in the family but Nasher had other ideas. He discovered a passion for cooking at an early age and was very keen to pursue it professionally. However, a chef wasn’t considered to be the most prestigious job back in the day and so unsurprisingly, he didn’t have his family’s support. He wasn’t going to allow this to stop him from chasing his dreams though so despite achieving decent grades in his SSC exam, Nasher left home for Barisal where he got enrolled into a college while also taking a job at a local restaurant. “I wanted to be able to learn while also keeping up with my studies and I felt that it would be best if I left my hometown for that,” he explained. By the age of 17, Nasher had already established himself as a charismatic and creative chef at the restaurant he worked in and felt it was time for him to move on to bigger things. The next destination of his journey was Kuwait in the mid 90’s where he joined Hyatt Regency as a waiter. Although this may sound like it wasn’t the ideal start, Nasher’s passion for food and cooking did not go unnoticed for too long. “One day, a client asked me about a dish that they were being served. Even though it wasn’t I who prepared the dish, I could tell them every single detail about it. I wasn’t aware that my executive chef and FNB Director were sitting on the next table. The manner at which I spoke and my passion really moved them. They called me over to their table and told me how I wasn’t meant to be a waiter and belonged in the kitchen,” he elaborated. And thus they gave Nasher all the training required to polish his talents and prepare him to be a world class chef. But while things were looking up for him, Nasher was still struggling to obtain residency in Kuwait. “I was working 12-13 hours shifts with no avail and for this reason I had to leave Hyat and join Holiday Inn in 1999 and you could say that this was the defining move of my career,” said Nasher. He spent the next 14 years of his life there, working his way up from a commis to a banquet chef. They provided him with more training and pretty soon he was representing them abroad in various food fests. This eventually got him promoted and he was posted in Africa for a while as an executive sous chef and then the acting executive chef.
Applying foreign teachings at home
Although the world was slowly turning into Nasher’s oyster, he decided that it was time to return to Bangladesh and apply his learnings there. All his training and his experience working with people of various nationalities are paying dividend in Bangladesh and Nasher has been bossing proceedings in Dhaka. “Bangladesh has a lot of potential and even though it slightly lags behind its forgein counterparts in terms of certain practices, my team and I have been able to implement a lot of changes that are bridging that gap,” he elaborated. Bangladesh also has a different set of challenges. While most of Nasher problems revolved around communication barriers abroad, the challenges in Bangladesh mostly involve the unavailability of ingredients and products. “I mitigated my challenges abroad by learning to speak Arabic and Phillipino. Here, I am receiving a lot of help from Le Meridien’s supply team to mitigate the challenges related to issues with ingredients. Challenges will always be there but they can be overcome as well,” he concluded. He further explained that the most important teaching he brought back to Bangladesh is the implementation of the 3 C’s. “My first boss taught me the importance of the 3 C’s that is common sense, common salt and commonwealth. Without common sense, you will always struggle with life, without salt your food will not taste good and no commonwealth would lead you to be out of sync with your team which will make it unproductive. You need perfect harmony between the three,” Nasher added.
A message to aspiring chefs and their parents
Although Nasher’s family eventually accepted his profession, he had to struggle a lot initially and that wouldn’t have been the case had he received the support of his family. On his concluding notes, Nasher urged parents to move away from the perception they have on chefs. “Parents have a very negative bias towards the word ‘chef’ but they need to understand it doesn’t always necessarily mean working in a small restaurant. It is a really prestigious job and offers the same opportunities and benefits (if not more) than being a doctor or an engineer does,” he stated. He also urged aspiring chefs to not give up on their dreams and to not hesitate to take a stand. “I would also like to request them to always take cooking as a passion and not a profession, otherwise they might not enjoy it in the long run,” he further concluded.