3 minute read
A career of creative fulfilment
I have loved cooking for as long as I can remember.
Growing up in Lebanon, I always helped my mother in the kitchen as she prepared food for our large family gatherings. Together we tossed zesty tabbouleh, stuffed marrows and stood over a pot of moujadara (mashed lentils and rice), sampling and seasoning until our tastebuds approved. Of course, no special occasion would be complete without a cake, which I took great pleasure in designing, baking and decorating myself. I had no access to recipes; everything was a product of my imagination.
My parents begged me to choose another career path.
‘The chef’s life is a hard one,’ my father said. ‘Why would you want to spend so much time on your feet, working long hours, with no time for a personal life?’
But I couldn’t think of a single thing that was more interesting to me. Food was my passion, my calling.
Two years into culinary school, a representative from Abela Flight Catering visited my class and offered me a job at the company’s Dubai facility. I had never considered a career in airline catering, but I was curious.
I remember walking into the kitchen for the first time and struggling to grasp its enormity. How could everything run so smoothly with so many people, so many moving parts?
Day by day, I learned the ropes, moving from one section of the kitchen to another and acquiring new skills. I loved the pastry station most. There was so much room for imagination and creativity; it was like creating works of art.
In 1996, dnata approached me and offered me a role at the company’s catering facility in Bucharest, Romania. I worked there for nearly two decades before returning to the United Arab Emirates to oversee our kitchen in Sharjah, near Dubai.
Since that time, our business has grown rapidly. In 2015 we were making around 5,000 meals per day. Now we are approaching 20,000 – not just for airlines, but also for airport food outlets, corporate events and Dubai’s famous desert safari tours. Our kitchen never sleeps, with culinary teams at work 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
I oversee 120 staff and it is very important to me that each and every person feels valued and appreciated. I encourage everyone to speak up and give their opinion – from the most junior apprentice to our senior sous-chefs. Every time we develop a new menu, we have an open and honest discussion about what works, what doesn’t and how we can do things differently.
When people feel part of the decision-making process in this way, they realise they’re not simply a ‘cog in the machine’. They matter. And if they love what they’re doing, they’ll do it with love.
Of course, maintaining this human-centred approach becomes more and more challenging as our business expands. Fortunately, I relish a challenge; it’s one of the reasons I enjoy inflight catering so much.
Was my father right?
Of course. This career is not an easy one. But chefs aren’t looking for easy. We are a different breed; thriving on adrenaline, experimentation and the thrill of creating meals for others to enjoy. Cooking feeds our souls in a way few other professions ever could. After 27 years in this business, I can confidently say I have no regrets.
About Bernard Antoine
Bernard Antoine leads dnata’s culinary team at Sharjah International Airport. Prior to joining our UAE-based team in 2015, he oversaw culinary at our catering unit in Bucharest, Romania. With more than 22 years’ culinary experience, Bernard has delivered significant growth and customer satisfaction in our UAE business, including establishing a number of non-airline catering opportunities.
Did we whet your appetite for knowledge?
Let us know by endorsing this piece.
By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories stand out.
Want to improve your retail offering? Fill in the form to schedule a consultation with our experts.