The culinary arts is a profession that is increasingly getting attention in Pakistan, not only among the youth seeking to enter the industry but also among adults who wish to polish their skills to develop a career out of it. The influx of food-based TV channels, MasterChef and the increasing demand for home catering has been a pivotal reason for home-based cooks to hone their natural skills and to develop a professional career out of something that they are passionate about.
There are institutes offering internationally recognised certification and just looking at Karachi, one’ll find three culinary institutes offering programs for both culinary arts and hospitality management. The most well-known is PITHM (Pakistan Institute of Tourism & Hospitality Management), mostly on account of the fact that it is the oldest, having started in 1967.
The second is COTHM (College of Tourism & Hotel Management) which started its Karachi chapter in Jan 2013. The newest institute catering to the area is NICAHM or the National Institute of Culinary Arts & Hotel Management.
NICAHM is a partnership between Mr Muhammad Ameen, an entrepreneur who brings to the institute his decade long experience in the food & beverage industry, and Mr Afzal Ahmed Siddiqui who has been associated with the travel and tourism industry since the 1990s. Both of them realised that while the food and hospitality industry was growing in Pakistan, there was a dearth of culinary institutes and particularly the ones that focused on detailed hands-on practical training.
This led them to partner and open this institute, making sure that the academic programmes were designed such that they catered to effectively addressing the flaws they felt existed with their personal experience of the industry.
One of the competitive advantages NICAHM have is that they have the largest training kitchen in the country, with individual workstations for every student. Their kitchen includes a hot kitchen and an air-conditioned pastry kitchen, both featuring food grade stainless steel equipment of international standards. The idea is that instead of just observing the chef and making bits and pieces of the dish, every student gets the opportunity to make the complete dish on his/her own, thus building up his skill-set through practice.
The institute plans to take the practical training approach to the next level through its future ventures. It plans to open a bakery near Agha’s in Clifton, along with a restaurant near Gul Plaza. Both will be ventures for profit but one of the major reasons behind starting them is to offer an opportunity for NICAHM students to observe and work in an actual running kitchen.
NICAHM also does catering for events, for example, they recently provided food for a dinner hosted for the Pakistani cricket team. Similarly, they also took part in the Karachi Eat Food Festival cake competition and won the third prize. In both cases, students were given an opportunity to participate and build their skills for the future.
NICAHM currently offers programs ranging from six weeks for certificate courses to 12 -15 months for diploma courses — the courses are designed for students aiming for a professional career in the food and hospitality industry, or for amateurs who wish to pursue a hobby, learn a skill or develop a career in the culinary arts. The degrees on offer are Advanced Diploma in Culinary Arts Management (15 months), diplomas in culinary arts (12 months), hotel management (12 months), and baking and pastry arts (six months) along with certificate courses for culinary arts (six months) and baking and pastry arts (6 weeks). Scholarship offers are also available for students who wish to pursue a career in this industry but are unable to do so due to financial limitations.
The faculty at NICAHM is primarily visiting faculty from relevant professional institutions — the culinary and pastry arts program has chefs from various 5-star hotels with international exposure teaching the students. Similarly for hospitality management, the faculty is picked from leading hospitality institutions in the country to be able to give students both theoretical knowledge, as well as teaching them practical examples.
With the institute opening up in June 2014, it’s still in its infancy. Being situated in an office building instead of their own premises, the space is limited. However, they have tried to utilise it effectively with the major floor plan being occupied by the two kitchens, which should be the primary focus of any culinary institute.
It is when their first batch of students (graduating in Feb 2014) enters the professional market that the true mettle of the institute will be revealed. The founders have invested with a lot of hard work and resources into this venture, and their future plans include opening this institute in different locations both within Karachi, and within the country to be able to impart culinary arts education to students.