At IMI, we always remind our students that they have many diverse career possibilities after graduating with their hospitality degree. However, it is fair to say that we have not had many alumni who have gone on to forge a career as a successful fiction writer. We were therefore delighted to hear from Malaysian alumna Mia Sallehudin who has recently published her first novel 'The Knife's Got Reflections' which deals with the challenges and excitement of working in the culinary industry. Here, in an exclusive interview, Mia talks to us about her experience in writing the novel...
What are your favourite memories of your time at IMI and in Switzerland?
Favourite memories? I can't choose! Studying in IMI had been such a great experience for me. I felt one semester was too short. The staff and lecturers in IMI are the best. I was given the opportunities I needed to reach my potential as a student. During that short few months I was there, I was given the opportunity to take part in a number of culinary competitions (the IMI culinary cup and ZAGG Kocharena, where I won a m edal), and events such as the Augmented Reality conference and the Luzern Marathon. I had no idea I could do so much in just a short period of time! All thanks to the chefs and lecturers who guided and encouraged me through. And on my free time, I got to enjoy quiet walk s to the lake, sometimes window shopping in town, and even short holidays to the neighbouring countries. Not to forget, the place is beautiful, I fell in love with it since the first time I set foot there.
Can you briefly describe your career path since graduating?
Since graduating from IMI, I have had the chance to kick-start my career in Bahrain as a cook with Accor Group. It was my first job, and I was the only Ma laysian. Because Bahrain was also affected by the Arab Spring in 2011, I was requested by my family to transfer back to Malaysia. After that, I worked in an organic fine dining establishment before I got an offer to join a Starwood property in Langkawi where I was appoin ted as a Food Safety and Hygiene Coordinator. After a couple of years, I took a break from working in the kitchen to write my first novel. And now, after having published it, I am starting up a café of my own in Langkawi, specializing in serving fresh local produc e and healthy menus.
How did you first get into writing?
I have been into writing since I was around ten, that was when I had my first diary. Throughout my high school, I had been actively writing but only for m y personal reading. I decided that I wanted to become a Chef, so immediately after I graduated from high school, I enrolled in a local culinary school which later took me to pursue my culinary degree in IMI. During the time that I was focused on my culinary career, I had put aside my passion for writing. In time, I realized that both my passions; cooking and writing can actually be combined to complement one another. Cooking and putting food on a plate is so much similar to writing on a blank piece of paper. Both requires a lot of creat ivity and self-discipline. And plus, life is simply too short for us to just focus on one ambition and abandon the other. So I decided to give it a go.
What was your inspiration for this book?
I initially wrote this book as a tribute to my mentors and colleagues. In Malaysia, my home country, and perhaps in many other countries as well, I realiz ed that being a cook and a chef is often regarded as a second-class job. It is very hard for the general public to see culinarians (and individuals working in the hospitality industry, for that matter) as professionals. People fail to see that this is a very challenging industry that requires a lot of commitment, passion and sacrifices. It is hence my hope that this book could somehow express my own respect and appreciation towards those who are, or at one point have been, part of the industry. At the same time, I wished to enlighten th e general public about this particular line of profession so that people would start seeing the reality of the industry positively instead of getting the false ideas from TV shows which often portray culinary and hospitality professionals in ways that are untrue.< /span>
How long did it take to complete the novel?
The writing process of the novel took me around three months (quite a short time, since I was able to focus all my time and energy to this book, writing d ay and night). However, part of writing this novel involved arranging (and re-arranging) short and random notes that I collected over the period of around six years.
How much of the book comes from your real life experiences in kitchens?
I would say around 50%, maybe more... In order to bring life into a piece of fiction, I personally think an author needs to know what she or he is writing , or at least do enough research to try to get the closest experience of the world in which he/she wants the characters to live in. Otherwise, the story won't be realistic and the characters won't be relatable to the readers. So far, I have been told by the readers of my novel that they find it lively, dynamic and that the main character's personality, hopes, challenges and thoughts are very relatable. This came to me as a surprise considering the fact that most of the readers have never even been exposed to the realities of working as a chef. At the same time, fiction and autobiographies are two completely different genres, so as a fiction writer, I have to keep the story as genuinely fictional as I could.
Do you have plans for any future novels? Will these also be based around hospitality?
I am currently in the process of gathering materials for my upcoming pieces. They might be novels, short stories or non-fictional articles or even poetrie s. I am also in the midst of compiling recipes for my first cookbook which is aimed to be a practical guide to easy and healthy cooking.
Everyone at IMI wishes Mia the best of luck in her future endeavours - whether they be writing, restaurants or both... If you would like to order a co py of The Knife's Got Reflections, you can do so here on the publisher's website.
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