Student Life Series: Ismail Haggag, Le Cordon Bleu, Madrid, Spain
We’re continuing our student life series with Ismail Haggag, a talented Egyptian who is currently studying at Le Cordon Bleu in Madrid, Spain.
Let’s hear it from Ismail.
1. Please tell us a bit about yourself and your passion for food.
I’m from Egypt. I’m 32 years old and right now I live in Spain with my wife, who’s Spanish, and we’re both attending Le Cordon Bleu together.
My passion for food started from a young age as I used to spend time in the kitchen with my grandmothers and grand aunts, watching them cook and learning from them. I moved to the States on my own when I was 15 years old and lived there for a few years through high school and university.
There, I was introduced to the different cuisines of the world and my knowledge of food broadened. In my 20s, I moved to Dubai and worked in a corporate job for 10 years. While I was there, I was introduced to the concept of fine and modern dinning, which I learned to love too.
I’ve also traveled around a bit to different parts of the world and my main thing was always to try as much new food as I could in all those places.
2. Why did you choose the Le Cordon Bleu (Madrid) and what course are you taking?
Well, we decided to move to Spain from Dubai more than a year ago. We asked around about the schools here and talked to some people who had attended the school, so that’s when we decided to join Le Cordon Bleu. I’ve always had this fantasy or dream of attending a culinary school, but I’ve always thought of it as just a dream until it actually happened.
I’m taking the French Cuisine course.
3. What was your criteria for choosing a culinary school?
I really didn’t have any criteria, but I knew that at this school I would get to focus on techniques and start from the basics of cooking and food in general.
4. What was your cooking experience before entering the program?
I didn’t have any professional or learning experience before school.
I didn’t have any professional or learning experience before school. I simply did amateur cooking at home and for friends and family while bragging about how well I cook, even though I knew that I really knew nothing much about it.
But at the same time and I had a passion for always trying something new and different and experimenting in the kitchen as much as I could. Wherever I travelled, though, I’d always go to a local cooking class.
5. What are some of the things you wish you had known before attending the culinary school?
I wish I had known that I had the courage to follow my passion and had attend a culinary school maybe 10 years ago.
6. How is the experience so far?
The experience is far beyond my expectations. I’m loving every minute of my demo and practical classes. I’m learning so much and seeing a lot of improvement in my cooking, which is giving me confidence in myself. My passion for food and cooking is up another level now that I’m actually learning, and finding out what I’m capable of doing.
I’m loving every minute of my demo and practical classes.
7. How would you rate the working atmosphere where 1) is highly stressful and 10) is relaxed and fun?
I’d give it a 9/10. The atmosphere is very friendly and fun and the relationship with the rest of the colleagues is amazing as I’ve developed new friendships and we’re always trying to help and learn from each other in the kitchen.
The only times it gets stressful is when you’re struggling a bit with new techniques or cooking methods and I get frustrated or overwhelmed sometimes by the amount of information we have to learn. But that’s for me to handle.
8. What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned so far?
Many different things, but the most I’m impressed with is how to make sauces. Also, I’m enjoying learning how to debone, fillet, and cut fish, meat, poultry, and game.
9. Tell us a bit about your career goals. What are your goals and aspirations?
Once I’m done with school, I’d love to work in restaurants for a few years to get as much experience as I can get and learn. Then the ultimate goal is to one day be able to have my own restaurant, once I’m confident enough that I can offer something special.
10. Who’s your favorite chef?
I honestly don’t have a favorite chef yet as I’m yet to try food from famous chefs around the world. But from what I’ve watched of documentaries and food programs, I like the works of many like Grant Achatz and Albert Adrià. I also like Gordon Ramsey.
11. What is the best meal you’ve ever had?
That’s a tough one and almost impossible to answer, as I have favorite meals from different experiences in different countries and restaurants around the world. But if I really had to choose that one dish that I almost constantly crave, it would have to be Egyptian stuffed pigeon with spiced rice.
12. What is your favorite ingredient?
Well I’m a huge fan of rice and I really love mixing rice with almost anything I can and trying new spices with it, and new cooking methods, whether it’s as simple as white rice accompanying dishes or using it as stuffing for meats or vegetables or as paella or Jambalaya.
13. What are the top 3 dishes you are the most proud of so far?
So far: Oxtail Empanadas (recipe link here), Egyptian Pumpkin Bechamel Pie, and Shrimp and Chorizo Stew.
But I know that in a few months, those will definitely change as I have a lot of dishes that I plan on making.
14. What cuisine, besides French, would you really like to master and why?
I definitely want to learn more about the cuisine of my origins, Egyptian. I want to apply the techniques I’ve learned from school and also to fuse Egyptian cuisine with other cuisines.