Nurturing a Sustainable Culinary Future: An Interview with Chef Haitham Hameed Hassoon
In an insightful conversation with Haitham Hameed Hassoon, a seasoned culinary professional and certified trainer in sustainability, we delve into the transformative journey that led him to embrace the Sustainability Education for Culinary Professionals program and the profound impact it has had on his career and the culinary industry at large.
When did you get involved with the Sustainability Education for Culinary Professionals program?
“I started participating in the Sustainability Program for Culinary Professionals program in 2019. I wanted to develop my knowledge in this field because of its great importance in correcting the grave errors that plague food systems and their sources. Then, the program provided the opportunity to become a trainer, so I quickly submitted my application to be one of the accredited trainers so that I could transfer this knowledge to the people of my Arab region, who work in the field of cooking and others. This way, I could help to develop their knowledge, urge them to abandon bad habits in consuming food, and show them the importances of sourcing to help them adhere to sustainable standards as a way of life. I was very happy to obtain approval to be an official certified trainer, and I still work very happily in this field.”
How many students have you trained so far?
“I announced my first course specialized in teaching sustainability after obtaining my trainer’s certificate. The title “sustainability” was strange to many when I announced it, and everyone was asking me about its meaning and how it could benefit them. I was happy to explain to them the meaning of sustainability and its importance in our daily lives and the future. Registration to attend these courses began, and my students were very enjoying attending these lessons, especially since I had prepared a curriculum that included video presentations for clarification. I was the first to use this method in the Arab region, as my students used to tell me. The lessons had a great positive impact on my students, and they told me that they had begun that they remember all the lessons and directions during their work and work on them in a way that meets the standards of sustainability and non-waste. So far, 1,059 students have graduated from the courses that I have provided. I still strive to spread the culture of sustainability more widely.”
Why cooking? What drove you to the kitchen to begin with?
“The world of cooking has been one of my personal hobbies since I was young, but at that time this profession was not widespread and was not viewed in the same way it is viewed now, as an important profession that has a major role in many areas of life. Therefore, I practiced the hobby of cooking on a limited basis at home and learned it from others or through books because there was no internet at the time. At the same time, I headed to study within the electrical specialty because it was one of the good and popular professions and specializations of many at the time. I continued to develop my personal skills in cooking through books and home experience until I had the opportunity after many years to work in this field due to the war conditions that my country was going through. This was the beginning of my career in the profession, which was my favorite hobby. I participated in many culinary schools and academies to develop my skills. Finally, with a degree in culinary arts, I opened my first private restaurant in 2009 in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Then I moved to work in Turkey in 2017, and through my stay in Turkey I obtained more advanced certificates in the culinary arts, worked in a catering company, and an international company, and contributed to the opening of many Arab restaurants in Istanbul. In addition, I went into teaching the culinary profession after obtaining a training certificate, and I obtained accreditation from a specialized culinary academy to be one of its culinary trainers. I presented an integrated academic curriculum for teaching culinary arts that was approved by Worldchefs to be the first online education curriculum in the Arab region. I am still working within this curriculum in an effort to establish my academy for teaching culinary arts.”
What advice would you give to people who are interested in teaching others?
“My advice to anyone who wants to work in education is to be sincere in what he presents to students, to search for the correct information and present it in a manner that is appropriate to the different cultural levels of others. Try your best to be popular person with your students through his personality, culture, and the way you speaks, respond to them, and listen to them. Be very humble without being weak. You must be very educated in various fields because this will increase your standing among students. You should apply what you says to yourself first so that you can be an example for your students. You must be firm during lessons without being harsh, and this will enable you to control the students’ listening and commitment. Teaching is a talent like other talents. Not everyone can deliver information to others in the desired manner, so make sure you possess this talent and always develop it. Do not make your goal of education only financial gain. Education is a humanitarian message above all else. Feeling that your students love you, that they rally around you, that they consider you their role model, and that they seek your help when needed is a feeling of happiness and pride that is unlike any other feeling; it is priceless.”
What sets this sustainability curriculum apart from others?
“The Sustainability Education Program for Culinary Professionals is distinguished by the fact that it is not a program to teach specific cooking recipes or discuss profitable topics. Rather, it discusses topics that are more important to our lives in general. This program highlights the hidden aspects of the culinary profession, those aspects that many may not see, including the amount of food and water available, the meaning of energy and fuel, the decreasing number of seafood, environmental damage, waste and its dangers. These aspects are not seen by the general public nor seen by chefs if we do not highlight them, make them a part of it, and hold them responsible for preserving them for the sake of their children’s future. This is what we are doing through the Sustainability Education for Culinary Professionals program. We are completely changing their lives in the right direction for a healthy and safe food future.“
How do you think the culinary industry is different today from when you started?
“The cooking profession has changed a lot from where it started. In short, the cooking profession was based on skill only, and now it depends on knowledge and skill. We did not realize the importance of sterilization and hygiene, and we did not understand what cross-contamination meant. We did not know the extent to which wasting a quantity of food would affect the future of food. Now cooking has become a science, skills, art, and responsibility for preserving the planet’s food sources, in addition to the responsibility for preserving the health of others. Now the concepts of quantities, the size of a serving, the components of a dish, and the method of presentation have changed, and all of this is thanks to the scientific and cultural development of this profession. This is in addition to the great development in modern equipment and methods. One of the important things is that society’s view of the chef has changed a lot in a positive direction. The chef has gained a prominent position in society, and this has made young people’s desire to learn this profession greater.”
How did joining the Feed the Planet training program help you with your career?
“My participation in the Sustainability Education Program for Culinary Professionals and the Feed the Planet Project has greatly contributed to my acquisition of many skills and information related to the culinary profession and training. In addition, it contributed a lot to introducing me as a professional trainer in the culinary profession, and this made the extent of my responsibility greater. I have become responsible for doing everything related to sustainability in my work to be an example for those who work with me and under my supervision. This has increased my personal skills in maintaining food safety and reducing waste to reach zero waste. I put the small quantities that are produced as waste when I prepare the recipes and put them in a bag from the beginning of the work day until the end. Then I put this bag on the scale to see the amount of waste produced throughout the work day, and I photograph all these steps to show them to my students. This greatly encouraged them to apply it in Their work, especially when they saw that the amount of waste that resulted from preparing me for a full day’s work did not even exceed 300 grams and it only contained some simple peels, dry onion ends, and similar things. This was a great motivation for them to apply it in their work.”
What’s a memorable success story or transformation you’ve witnessed in one of your students through the Sustainability Education for Culinary Professionals program?
“The abilities of many of my students developed according to what they were telling me. Sustainability lessons had a great impact on their work, and many of them used to tell me that they began to remember my words and directions while working, and they remembered that they must preserve food, not waste, and act wisely. Some of them told me that their officials decided to give them the job of supervising food preparation and production after they began working in a more scientific manner, based on the information they gained from my lessons in sustainability.”
In your view, what role can culinary professionals play in addressing global sustainability challenges, and what excites you about the future of sustainability in the culinary world?
“If we, as culinary professionals, adhere to sustainability standards, we can make a significant change in the global food system and reduce the irresponsible behavior of some beneficiaries at the expense of the health and safety of the planet. Our commitment to sustainability standards will make polluted food sources unpopular in the market. It will make equipment designed and produced to standards that do not match sustainability standards become mere waste that no culinary professional will buy. Our role is great in not dealing with unreliable suppliers, which will support reliable suppliers, making them even more reliable, and encourage others to become reliable in order to promote the popularity of their goods. Our role is to educate and teach others who are not professional cooks, including women, students, professors, doctors, engineers, truck drivers, and all other segments of society, about the necessity of dealing with sustainability standards in our homes and workplaces, and that their small steps on the path to sustainability make our steps much larger to reach a food-safe planet. Training beginners in restaurants and cooking schools on how to deal with food sources, not to waste, to benefit from all parts, to invent new recipes from parts that were turning into waste, and to be creative in their use. Our role is important in changing the culture of customers in our restaurants and shifting their attention towards healthier dishes that rely on plants as an essential ingredient. Changing the culture of customers with the quantities allocated to each dish and the size of the portion. We can limit the violations that occur on seafood and other foods by boycotting those who violate their fishing rights during their reproductive times, not purchasing species that are on the verge of extinction, and not encouraging their actions for the purpose of financial gain. The honor of wearing the white jacket makes our role and responsibility great towards feeding the planet.”
What’s your vision for the next generation of culinary professionals who are passionate about sustainability? How do you hope they will influence the industry and the world at large?
“Through the sustainability lessons I provided to more than 1,000 students, and more to come, I instilled in them a sense of responsibility towards our planet and its future. We will have an educated generation that realizes the importance of its personal role in protecting food security, and they have become fully aware that every person has great importance in what he does and that in the end we will have a huge number of small steps that they have taken to constitute an influential factor in the food industry in the right direction and to protect our resources and our planet. I taught them that they are not just chefs who make one or a hundred dishes, but that they are now responsible for the future of food and for the safety and health of their customers, and are responsible for preserving the quantity of food through their careful handling of waste and achieving zero waste. My students learned that the culinary profession is now no less important than the medical profession, or the engineering profession, or any other influential profession, and that they have an important and influential role in shaping the future of the planet and the future of future generations. They feel proud as they work and are committed to not wasting food and are proud to tell me their stories in applying the sustainability standards that I taught them. We will have a generation that we can be proud of, and they will have a very big role in putting things back on track in the field of food sources and the environment.”
Start the Sustainability Education for Culinary Professionals course for free at www.worldchefsacademy.com, and receive a digital badge to show your achievement.
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Sustainability Education for Culinary Professionals is made possible with the support of Feed the Planet partners and the tireless contributions of Worldchefs’ members around the globe. Worldchefs extends the utmost gratitude to all course participants, program trainers, and educational institutions who bring their time, expertise, and vision to all Feed the Planet initiatives.
To learn more about Feed the Planet, visit feedtheplanet.worldchefs.org.