As part of the recent tourism boom in Myanmar, Myanmar Hospitality Professionals Association was established to improve the standard and skills of people in the hospitality industry in this country.
Ma Moe Moe Khaing, Myanmar award-winning chef with around 10 years of experience in European Fine Dining Cuisine, has recently become one of the association’s chef trainers, fulfilling her dream of contributing to her much loved homeland. Ma Moe Moe Khaing talks with Natty Tangmeesang on her passion and
dedication in reaching this level of culinary expertise.
Beginning at ten years old, Moe Moe Khaing loved to be a kitchen helper to her mother. It was here that she first developed her inquisitiveness for food preparation.
“Cooking has been my passion since I was young,” Moe Moe Khaing recalled.
When she was old enough to work, she followed this passion. In 1999, at 17-years-old, Moe Moe Khaing applied for work in the kitchen at the Sedona Hotel, a leading five-star hotel in Yangon. Though the working age in Myanmar was eighteen at that time, she convinced her bosses to start at a younger age. She had one year as a part-time trainee to prove herself.
With no background in professional hospitality or cooking, her first step into the kitchen was as Commis 2, the lowest rank, where her main responsibilities were cleaning the kitchen and preparing ingredients. She knew that she had to work harder than others who already had experience from attending culinary training schools.
“I had to work an extra two hours in the evening every day after my 9am–5pm shift, so as to learn everything about the kitchen,” she explained.
She worked at Sedona Hotel for around 6 years, with her last position as Commis 1, where she was responsible for cooking, and passing on the finished dishes to the chefs for approval.
In 2005, through a recruitment agency in Myanmar, Moe Moe Khaing grabbed an opportunity to further pursue her dream of becoming a chef by going to Dubai. She applied for the position and paid around US$500 to the agency. At that time it was a huge amount of money, as the average income per capita in Myanmar was only around US$237.
When accepted, Moe Moe Khaing took a bold decision, leaving her family and her loved ones behind to travel abroad. She was the only woman from Myanmar working in the kitchen at a the five-star Habtoor Grand Beach Resort and Spa.
Life in Dubai was challenging. Her first job in the kitchen was as demi chef, assistant-in-charge to the chef; a cool job that she loved. Four months later, she had worked her way up to the French Fine Dining kitchen, despite having a limited knowledge in French cuisine and language.
“Everyday I had to learn French after work because the chef was French and most of the ingredients were in French,” she said.
She had to spend hours at night learning from a simple dictionary, trying to speak as much as French as she could. Thanks to her boss and co-workers who helped her, she quickly improved her language skills along with kitchen skills.
Moe Moe Khaing experienced a great deal of culture shock and homesickness in Dubai. Her secret to getting through such difficulties was ‘perseverance’.“I had to keep reminding myself that I was in Dubai to gain international-standard knowledge and experience, and to fulfill my dream of becoming a good chef,” she said.
She spent four years in the French Fine Dining kitchen and then proceeded to the hotel’s Italian kitchen for 3 years, and then the Tapas bar for the final two years of her nine-year-sojourn in Dubai.
During her time there, she proved her excellence by winning many culinary competitions. The Black Box competition was the most arduous as no preparation was allowed prior to the competition. She had to cook nine dishes – three starters, three main courses, and three desserts – from what was supplied inside the Box, within one hour. Despite the challenges, she won this competition twice.
In 2014, Moe Moe Khaing saw the milestone developments in her home country and thought it was time to give back.
“I wanted to come back and work in Myanmar. I wanted to help my country,” she said.
The Myanmar chapter in her career kicked off when she became assistant to Chef Oliver E Soe Thet, Chairman of Myanmar Chefs’ Association, as well as food production trainer at Myanmar Hospitality and Professional Association.
“I wanted so much to share my knowledge with others, to be a good trainer, and help in the improvement of young chefs in this country, “ Moe Moe Khaing said of her goals on being back in her homeland.
She also has a plan to open her own culinary training school in the near future; with the support of her brother who is a culinary artist specialized in ice carving, food carving, and decoration.
With the recent opening up of Myanmar, the tourism and hospitality industry is booming. New high-class restaurants have sprung up on almost every corner in the main areas of Yangon. Moe Moe Khaing intends to be part of this business boom.
“It has been my dream to have my own restaurant. I want to open an Italian restaurant. However, it is very difficult for me, due to the high cost of business operations,” she admitted.
She hopes to meet potential investors who will make her dream come true.
When asked whether she reached the highest point in her journey as a chef, she said that this peak had not been reached yet.“Being a chef, you never give up and you never stop learning,” she said.
The next step in the Myanmar chapter for Moe Moe Khaing is to make her country proud. Last, Moe Moe Khaing will be the first person to represent Myanmar in a Black Box Competition, which was held in Singapore.
This article was previously published in MYANMORE’s monthly lifestyle magazine, InDepth #4, February 2015