Whether or not a career in the kitchen was predetermined by his family heritage, a teenaged Zin Maw Win left the roost and spread his wings to the Middle East where he progressed at a rapid pace. Energised by Yangon’s ‘opening up’, he has returned, and can be found dishing up salt and peppered calamari at the much hyped Hummingbird, his eye set on spreading the seeds of success amongst his countrymen.
Zin Maw Win hails from a line of culinary talents with five male family members also claiming the kitchen as their working arena.
Whether he chose the kitchen or in fact, the kitchen chose him, the driven 30-year-old from South Okkalapa Township has – to the immeasurable joy of his family – raised the bar with his steadfast progression overseas and growing number of international accolades.
With knowledge acquired from humble beginnings, cooking traditional Burmese dishes in his family home. At 16 he entered a training course at Kandawgyi Palace Hotel where he would spend the following two months experimenting with Asian and European cuisine.
The wheels were firmly set in motion and on invitation of his uncle, the now 17 year-old embarked on a path charged with equal measures of excitement, challenges and invaluable experiences through the Middle East – a path which has found itself frequently entwined with Yangon’s growing professional chef community.
“I was very fortunate to have my uncle already living in Dubai. For a young man with no professional experience in the kitchen and fairly limited English speaking skills, the transition from Yangon to Dubai can be intimidating and overwhelming. So I was lucky to have the support of my uncle and adapted quickly to what was to become my home for nearly ten years.”
It was at the Mina A’Salam Hotel, one of the four hotels that complete the luxury Dubai resort, Madinat Jumeirah, where he realised his potential. and was promoted from commis 3 to commis 2 within four months – a position he held for four years.
After a brief return to Yangon he was back in the Middle East. A six month stint in Bahrain as Chef de Partie saw him broadening his repertoire to include exotic, high-end Japanese cuisine at the Bushido Restaurant and Lounge – an establishment which boldly paved the way for the Japanese restaurant scene in the Middle East.
In 2009, he was once again consumed by the unparalleled luxury of Dubai’s hospitality industry as he took up position at Atlantis, The Palm – a prominent world-renowned and multiple-award winning resort which is considered a culinary destination.
His ambition and capability shone through, and he closed the gap within the ranks by being promoted to sous chef within twelve months. It was a promotion which brought increased responsibility in both size and numbers and due to his age would initially prove to be Zin Win’s most challenging transition yet.
“Being promoted to sous chef within a year, topped off with it being at a five star award-winning resort in Dubai, was fantastic. It definitely made my family proud and for me, was proof of how valuable self-determination can be. I didn’t allow myself to be complacent. I was constantly on the road to self-improvement with my cooking knowledge and technique.
“Initially I could have described the step-up as being a little bittersweet. I was younger than some of my peers and was now in a higher position of authority which can naturally create feelings of jealousy and resentment. I had to prove that despite being younger I could own this role and take charge of my new responsibilities in such a way that the kitchen workload was well-organised and service flowed.
“I had to earn the respect of my colleagues which thankfully I managed to do fairly quickly.”
As promotions were quick to flow, individual medal awards began to accumulate, with his concocted menus and live cooking performances earning him multiple bronze and silver medals during his time in Dubai. A natural team player, group successes also followed as he played a crucial role in the Myanmar Chefs Association team in the 2013 and 2014 prestigious Pattaya City Culinary Challenge, which in both instances saw the teams collect the Bronze Medal Award.
During the decade he spent progressing professionallyin the Middle East, absorbing the wealth of his internationally influenced surroundings, Myanmar had itself been progressing at a rapid rate. Yangon had come to present itself as a city weighing in on a new scale of opportunity.
Having excelled in Dubai, and feeling in need of a change and recognising the buzz surrounding Yangon, he permanently returned to his homeland in 2014.
He can now be found dishing up Latin American inspired dishes in Yangon’s new kid on the dining block, Hummingbird, which is living up to its hype and all set to become an institution amongst Yangon’s trendiest.
“The Yangon I left around ten years ago is completely different to what I’m seeing now. It’s continuing to transform and I wanted to become a part of that. I wanted to come back and use my experiences in working with different cuisines and fine dining to help put Yangon’s dining scene on the map.
“I’m inspired by the energy that’s got the creative juices of locals and expatriates flowing. More and more people from across the world are moving to Yangon. Here is a chance for me to get behind its growth by sharing my knowledge and skills with young, talented aspiring chefs.
“The advice that I would give to those aspiring chefs would be passionate about learning. Learning doesn’t end in the kitchen which is what keeps it so fresh and what I find so rewarding about being a chef. Being able to keep your concentration in a fast-paced, demanding environment is a must as is being patient.”
Zin Win may even unknowingly already be an inspiration to the adolescents of Myanmar’s community who are looking to pursue careers in the industry after starring in MRTV-4’s The Chef Cooking Show of which he was first runner up in 2014.
When asked what other challenges face the culinary community here in Yangon, Zin Win states that there is still a stigma attached to men becoming professional chefs, as cooking is often seen to be mainly a woman’s responsibility. He hopes to help dissolve this notion as he sees that the kitchen should be free of gender inequalities.
If he wasn’t tackling the flavours and textures of the kitchen, he would have loved to have been a football player and considers Manchester United’s players as his heroes with one of his dreams being to visit Old Trafford one day.The ball has certainly been rolling in the right direction for Zin Win for some time and it seems set to continue as he takes aim during a window of opportunity.