Maha Naseer

8 mins read

Maha Naseer is at the top of her field as a pastry chef. She decided to pursue a career in culinary arts relatively late in her working life, but she went on to enjoy many successful years in the field. In 2022, Maha became the first Maldivian to be awarded the title of Master Chef.

She also has collected accolades from several prestigious competitions, including the Food and Hospitality Asia Maldives International Culinary Challenge, the Emirates Culinary Competition, and the Hotel Asia Maldives Culinary Challenge and Food Ingredients Show.

A certified rookie judge by the World Association of Chefs Societies, Maha also serves as the Secretary General of the Chefs Guild of Maldives (CGM). Her career in pastry arts has encompassed catering, training and providing consultation for resorts. Hotel Insider had a chat with Maha about her journey.

Hotel Insider: What inspired you to choose a career in the culinary field?

Maha: I’ve been cooking since I was 8 years old, but my childhood dream was to become a lawyer. And since I couldn’t pursue it, I worked in marketing and human resources. I’ve worked at several companies in the tourism industry. And after I had kids, I wanted to do something that I could do while staying close to the kids, and because I was interested in cooking, I chose this career.

Hotel Insider: You’ve been in the industry for over 20 years right? How has the journey been? What were the highlights?

Maha: I’ve been in the business for about 20 years yes, but in the culinary sector of the hospitality industry, it’s been about 7 years.

The biggest achievement and the one that made me the happiest was the first award I won, that’s winning 3rd place at the Hotel Asia Maldives Culinary Challenge in 2006. I am very humbled and honoured to be where I am today. And that was the award that propelled me forward in my career and helped me to be where I am today, and so it tops any awards I won after that. 

Hotel Insider: What kind of roles have you taken on in the tourism industry so far?

Maha: In the hospitality sector, I worked as a marketing executive at Sun Travels and at Villa Hotels, Front Office, HR and Admin. It’s very different from the culinary field.

Hotel Insider: You are the first Maldivian chef to be awarded the title of Master Chef by the Master Chef Society. Could you tell us a bit more about that?

Maha: Again I’m very humbled and honoured. It was hard work. A lot of people applied and to be selected among them, I see it as a big achievement. 

Hotel Insider: You’ve won many culinary awards as well. What do you consider as the key achievements in your career?

Maha: One that is really close to my heart would be teaching. I had a studio to teach pastry and baking. I feel a sense of achievement to when I see how my students’ careers have developed since then. Teaching others is a passion of mine. It makes me very happy to impart my knowledge to others. 

Hotel Insider: When did you conduct the classes?

Maha: From 2014 to 2019. I conducted baking classes mostly. We brought international artists as well and hosted them to teach classes. It’s expensive when you have to fly abroad for courses and pay for accommodation, food and transportation, but if we brought in trainers, the students would only have to pay for the course, so I wanted to make it happen.

Hotel Insider: Women in most occupations face obstacles due to their gender. What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in your career?

Maha: To be very honest, it’s quite a macho industry. In the Maldives and abroad as well. A lot of women have to face all sorts of challenges. I have to say I’ve been very lucky to not have to face it personally but I have helped and advised my co-workers and subordinates to overcome them.

I have to say that there’s nothing you can’t do because you are a woman. If you set your mind to it and work hard, you’ll achieve your goals.

Hotel Insider: Compared to a few years ago, we are seeing more women in the hospitality industry, and in higher positions as well. What are your thought on this?

Maha: I would say there still aren’t enough. Even in the culinary industry, there are very few women. Out of all the culinary graduates from the hotel school, less than 5 percent seek employment in the culinary or hospitality sector. Although 90 percent of graduates are female, most of them start a small business from home. But if they come to work in the industry, they’ll get a lot of opportunities to grow. I think it’s a great idea to explore it. You’ll gain more hands-on experience. We are seeing more women in the hospitality industry, but there’s still quite a few in the kitchen.

Hotel Insider: Why do you think that is?

Maha: I’m not sure. I think it’s the mentality. If you go to work at a resort, a lot of labels get attached to you. I think we need more awareness programmes to change that mentality. 

Hotel Insider: Are there any chefs that you admire, local or international?

Maha: My favourite local chef would be chef [Mohamed] Adil. And Amaury Guichon. I follow his work and collect his books as well.

Hotel Insider: Who would you say helped you the most in your career?

Maha: In general,  I would say I get a lot of help from everyone who are close, especially my family. 

Hotel Insider: Since you are a chef, we’d like to know your favourite ingredient.

Maha: If I had to choose one ingredient, it would be githeyomirus (scotch bonnet).

Hotel Insider: You’ve reached the top of your career. What’s your vision for the future?

Maha: I still haven’t reached the level where I want to be. I would like to be someone that people look up to, to be an inspiration to girls and women, to be a motivation for others to come into the industry. 

Hotel Insider: We think you already are. 

Maha: Thank you!