Your only friend is the customer who pays your bills, so keep that focus and don’t get distracted. Always keep your vendors in competition and on their toes.
I had the pleasure to interview Chef Asif Syed of 21 Spices. Chef Asif was a James Beard Featured Chef in 2019.
21 Spices By Chef Asif in Naples, Florida offers diners a chance to explore the diverse flavors of classical Indian cuisine through fresh seasonal ingredients and innovative culinary techniques.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to ‘get to know’ you a bit. Do you have a specific type of food that you focus on? What was it that first drew you to cooking that type of food? Can you share a story about that with us?
I focus on modern Indian food from farm to table. I was very good in arts and painting, plus my love for food since I was child brought all these elements together, but will give credit to my dad for recognizing this talent and guided me to culinary world.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Never think any human is weak, even a small kid can do wonders. I was the weakest student in my culinary class but today I proved that wrong with zeal and determination. I always give this example when I mentor students or give lectures in Universities & Colleges.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you became a chef or restauranteur? What was the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
The most interesting story is chucking oysters for 800 people for Easter brunch at 3am till 9am I almost lost all my fingers with bruises. The lesson learnt is always check the order twice when it arrives, second lesson learnt is you can always make it happen no matter what.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? How did you overcome this obstacle?
When I got my first job after I graduated, I was a cleaner and diswasher at the college canteen in Cyprus where I went for further education. I used to clean dishes, throw trash and sweep in front of my own classmates. I was embarrassed in the beginning but I never gave up and learnt that there is no job which is small work is work.
In your experience, what is the key to creating a dish that customers are crazy about?
The key to creating a dish is using freshest local ingredients, season well, keep it simple and cook with right technique.
Personally, what is the ‘perfect meal for you’?
Perfect meal for me is eating fresh catch near the ocean with my dear ones.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? What impact do you think this will have?
Some exciting project work is in process. I would like to keep it as suspense for now but it’s a demand of present time.
Do you have any advice for “up and coming” young chefs who are in need of guidance to become successful in the culinary world?
My advice for present chefs or restauranteurs is simple, if you want to enjoy work without getting burnout train people everything you know, don’t hide anything and don’t be intimidated. They can learn so empower them and you can sleep well.
COVID-19 has been a trying time for all of us. How are you growing your business during COVID-19? What advice do you have for any chefs who are trying to stay relevant during this time?
During this Covid-19 time, I’m working on take always and promoting boxed lunches for catering. Don’t be scared if your restaurant is not full try to utilize to go business as tool.
Thank you for all that. Now we are ready for the main question of the interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started as a Restauranteur or Chef” and why? Please share a story or an example for each.
1) How to say no for unreasonable harassment or bullying in the kitchen for no reason. I always tolerated thinking its part of the game which was wrong.
2) It’s a marathon race don’t worry if you see people running too fast in the beginning. The winner is focused in the end goal I realized that myself later in life.
3) Don’t keep too much expectation from anyone, you will get hurt. The day you think this is the best employee, same day he will put his notice.
4) Follow up Follow up Follow up. I learnt the hard way of this aspect in business.
5) Your only friend is the customer who pays your bills, so keep that focus and don’t get distracted. Always keep your vendors in competition and on their toes.
What’s the one dish people have to try if they visit your establishment?
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Change the world of restaurant and culinary by working 40hrs a week and being 100 productive. Train Train Train people and your life will be easy. At the end of the day, you can enjoy with your family and won’t have so many broken families in our field. Knowledge is meant to be shared, the more you share the better you get.
How can our readers further follow you online?
www.21spicesdining.com or Chef Asif Syed on youtube
Thank you so much for these insights. This was very inspirational!