Game Changers The Aib Issue

The Khaleeji man who found himself in the kitchen

In conversation with 23-year-old Bader Najeeb, one of the youngest chefs in the GCC Region.

By Sharifa Al Badi

Let’s face it. The world could come to an end, but we would continue to eat till the very last day. That is how important food is to us; we can’t live without it, literally. And when we know that one of our own is whipping up creations that are too pretty to eat, we couldn’t be happier! Yet, some members of our society have a set of ideas and beliefs that are hard to shake; for instance the idea that “only women can cook”, or that “the kitchen is a woman’s place”. But, in 2019, let me tell you another story: men can really cook and a woman’s place is anywhere she wants it to be.

A simple Internet search will show the scarcity of Khaleeji chefs, both male and female. In fact, foreign chefs run most of the popular restaurants, hotels and establishments in the GCC Region. It is safe to say that when it comes to the culinary arts, Khaleejis do not hold a large percentage of the pie. That is not to say that there are no talented Khaleeji chefs around —there are —but it is not a popular profession in our part of the world, nor is it generally encouraged, especially for men.

For one, one of the youngest regional chefs is 23-year-old Emirati Bader Najeeb, who is more famously known as ‘Chef B’ on social media. Bader has been a whirlwind in the kitchen since he was 13-years-old, when his love for baking first started. Growing up, he would watch his mother cooking in the kitchen, and curiosity eventually led him to experiment in the kitchen as well, his motto being, “Don’t be scared to go into the kitchen and make a mess!”  Using YouTube, and with the support of his family, Bader taught himself how to cook. “My family never stopped me from doing what I liked. They gave me the freedom to just be, and for that I am forever grateful,” he tells me when we speak about his support system.

One of Bader’s yummy creations. Bader learned to cook with the support of his family and by watching YouTube videos. Photo courtesy of Bader Najeeb.

Bader’s electric online presence is sparking a light and colour in many people’s kitchens and Instagram feeds. Still down to earth, and not phased by his growing influence (he has over 92,000 followers on Instagram), he tells me that some of his followers message him and thank him for what he is doing, “ People message me telling me thanks to you, we feel inspired to do the same. Actually, someone once told me that after showing their family my Instagram feed, their family allowed them to go study abroad, which I think is amazing! I didn’t think such a thing was possible but I guess being passionately active online has its perks!” 

His boldness to showcase his passion for cooking for everyone to see can pave the way for other creative males who are passionate about certain professions that are more typical to females in the Region, such as cooking, decorating and even hairdressing.

Bader had his first cooking segment on TV at just 17. Photo courtesy of Bader Najeeb.

Bader believes that things in the Region are positively changing as more and more people are pursuing the creative arts with vigour, unashamed in the way they expose themselves to the world with their art. “ I am 100 per cent positive things are going to change to the best. I don’t even doubt it. The creative industry is blooming all over the Arab World,” he says.

If you have been following Bader since the beginning of his culinary journey, then you know that he had cooking segments on both Sama Dubai TV and Abu Dhabi TV. He had his first one when he was just 17. In 2013, Bader went to Dubai Men’s College to study accounting. He then began working in the government sector. But fate intervened, and in October 2018 he got a scholarship to attend the Culinary Arts Academy Switzerland, where he is specialising in Swiss chocolate and sugar arts  (major yum).

“I did not expect to get a scholarship to study culinary arts in Switzerland,” he tells me. “ It was unplanned. The offer kept coming back to me so I couldn’t say no because I truly love making desserts and Swiss chocolate, of course!” As part of his training, Bader will do a six-month internship at a five-star hotel in Hong Kong.

“It all starts with an ugly cake,” says Bader, “and after a few months it will turn into something people would want to buy. ” Photo courtesy of Bader Najeeb.

Saying he likes to go with the flow and not plan, he is not sure what’s next. He may open a café, restaurant, or an academy, and his accounting degree will surely help him with any of these endeavours.

Now, was the move to Switzerland risky? Definitely, because the safe thing to do is to stay in a stable job and have a steady income, but for Bader it’s been worth it. “What brought me here—my success—are the people who have supported me since the beginning. The moment I think that I am better, the moment I think I know it all, I have lost the game and there are a lot of players out there,” he says.

Now for those of you who want to wander in the kitchen and take risks, Bader has a piece of advice for you: “It all starts with an ugly cake, and after a few months it will turn into something people would want to buy. So go for it, make that mess and take that risk because life is too short for mediocrity.”

The views of the authors and writers who contribute to Sekka, and the views of the interviewees who are featured in Sekka, do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Sekka, its parent company, its owners, employees, and affiliates.

Sharifa Al Badi is a published writer and author from the magical lands of Oman. She has written for Esquire ME, Khaleejesque and The Culture Trip. She is also the author of ‘Themis Aella & The Magical Forest’ and ’50 Things To Know As An Adult’.