Meet Aung San Phyo, a dedicated Commis (3) at Melia Yangon’s Hot Kitchen, ranked Level-6. From humble beginnings in a village in Mandalay Region, Aung’s path to becoming a chef at Melia Yangon is a testament to perseverance and passion. He lost his hearing at the tender age of three. Despite setbacks, Aung found his calling in the culinary world, which began as a home cook preparing meals for his family. In this e-interview, we explore his unique perspective as a deaf chef, his innovative communication strategies, and his unwavering dedication to his craft.

Could you tell us about your journey to becoming a chef at Melia Yangon?

After struggling with my math skills and failing the matriculation exam three times, I made the difficult decision to leave school. I found work as a gem cutter at the Mandalay gem market. Then, I got married in 2014 and welcomed a daughter

I think my profession as a chef began as a home cook. I would often prepare meals for my parents and family, which eventually evolved into a passion. This led me to open my own bao shop, where I honed my culinary skills. One thing led to another and I found opportunities to make a living as a chef through my connections.

I moved to Yangon in 2018. Here, I had the privilege of learning from esteemed chefs specialising in Italian cuisine. My first professional chef position was at L’Opera. My mentors, including Mr Maurizio Mandl, Italian Chef Michele, Gastronomy.CAS’ Enrico Tosso, and Chef Kyaw Kyaw, have played instrumental roles in shaping my culinary journey. Then, I joined Melia Yangon.

What unique challenges do you face as a deaf chef, and how do you overcome them?

As a chef with hearing impairment, I often face challenges. Communication is key, and I have learnt to adapt by relying on eye contact, body language, and written notes to effectively communicate with colleagues. I also have to communicate my needs regarding workplace conditions that accommodate my hearing impairment. I’m grateful for the understanding and support of my coworkers, whose assistance enables me to pursue my passion despite these obstacles.

Can you share some strategies you use to ensure clear communication with your team in the busy kitchen and during service?

Hand signs and visual cues are invaluable tools for effective communication, whether in a bustling kitchen or during service. Maintaining focus and remaining open-minded are also essential, especially when resolving issues that arise from misunderstandings. By using these communication strategies and maintaining a flexible mindset, I can navigate the challenges of a busy kitchen and ensure smooth operations.

How does your condition influence your approach to cooking and creating dishes?

With my hearing impairment, I rely heavily on visual cues for communication. Ensuring accuracy in ingredient selection and monitoring the cooking process requires heightened attention to detail. I communicate with my coworkers using hand signs, notes, and even pictures to effectively convey information. Continuous learning and staying updated with culinary trends are essential to remain competitive.

Despite the additional concentration required in cooking, my heightened sense of taste and smell has become a valuable asset. I embrace challenges head-on and consistently overcome them in pursuit of my passion for cooking.

Have you encountered any misconceptions or stereotypes about deaf chefs, and how do you address them?

At times, I encounter misconceptions about my abilities as a chef due to my hearing impairment. Many believe that such a condition could hinder one’s ability to cook or even work in the kitchen. However, I’ve repeatedly demonstrated otherwise. Through my skills, experience, earnest communication, and teamwork, I have proven time and again that my hearing impairment does not limit my capabilities in the culinary world.

What are the latest culinary trends and techniques within the industry?

Veganism has gained momentum as people increasingly become more conscious about health and environment. While some adopt a vegan diet for ethical or religious reasons, the movement has also sparked a significant revolution in culinary offerings.

Can you describe a particularly memorable experience or achievement in your career as a chef?

Being selected as the Employee of the Month at Melia Yangon in January 2020 was an unforgettable moment for me. The appreciation and encouragement from patrons, colleagues, and the management team has been instrumental in supporting my career growth.

What advice would you give to other individuals with hearing impairments aspiring to pursue a career in the culinary field?

  1. Never stop learning. Make good use of the internet. Practise and experiment with different ingredients.
  2. Believe in your skills and be prepared to overcome every challenge.
  3. Always remember that hearing impairment can’t stop you from becoming a professional chef.
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