“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.” – Henry Ford
There is no doubt that we all would love to get back a few of those youthful days of student life that we keep so dearly in our book of memories. But honestly, if we do get a chance to relive those moments again, how many of us would go for it? I am sure most of us would have a common ground of excuses like work, money, family and age, even though we may be just in our 30’s or 40’s.
At ICCA, during the last academic session, we saw a calm & seasoned face with a determination and enthusiastic quest in her eyes to learn more among the usual young crowd. ‘She came and she conquered’ is the shortest way I can explain her student life in ICCA. Yasmin Yusuf, a mother and a grandmother, is one of those few inspiring souls that we rarely come across in our daily lives as a reminder so as to not let age affect our aspirations. Read on to know her story of working towards her ambitions at the age of 63, proving that age is just a number.
Q. Tell us a little about yourself.
I was born, raised and educated in Lahore, a beautiful city in Pakistan. After completing my Bachelors in Arts, in 1977 I worked briefly in Karachi for an Italian Food & Beverage Manager, Mr. Ernesto Barba at the Casino. Later, the very next year itself that job took me to London and Spain where I met my husband as well. I have to admit that some moments are indeed life changing.
After my marriage, we settled in London, and that place has been home for nearly 40 years. While I was there, I set up a property business in 1993, a company which my son runs now. From London, we moved to Dubai 10 years ago, and since then life was pretty much in and around UAE.
Q. Could you give us an insight into you as a home cook?
Life in London was all about being a perfect homemaker. When it comes to kids I have always been into good quality, healthy food so fast food was never an option. That’s where my love for cooking started. I learned cooking from my mother, aunts, sisters & books. Little tips that helped, a bit like the tips that our Chefs give us.
After setting up my business, life became a whirlwind and to my rescue cooking for family was therapeutic which helped me unwind during those hectic days. In my amateur way, I used to try new recipes for my family and friends. Glad that no one ever complained!
Q. From being a real estate business entrepreneur how did your journey take a turn to a culinary school?
All these years, my cooking was much appreciated by family & friends, and we used to talk about me opening a place of my own, but due to family priorities, I kept my dream on the back burner. Now, the focus of life has changed, I am quite free and my dream seemed to call out to me. But I wanted to have more knowledge about what a restaurant would involve, and my niece, Amina, has been doing a pastry course at ICCA at that time. We got talking and then here I am, a step forward in following my dream.
Q. Back to being a student after so long, how did you feel about it?
I won’t deny it was hard, but it was exhilarating. Exams were stressful, especially the practical and I haven’t done exams for more than half of my life, but then I learned to focus again and to deal with stress & time limits. I am thankful I didn’t have to do any retests! I guess the experience of being an old school student was paid off that way.
Q. How did the school react when you applied for the program at an age where most of them prefer to relax and enjoy the time with their family?
My first meeting with Ms. Shanaz Raja, Course Director, and Chef Aziz Rajab is still a source of amusement for me. After sending my application, I was called for an interview. I felt, they were thinking “What is she thinking? 60+ and wants to do such a physically gruelling course with kids aged in their early 20’s in a hot kitchen?” But I assured them I would be fine as I am doing it to live my dream, and I have been more than fine.
Q. How was your experience attending classes with considerably younger students?
I had an amazing experience with such a young and thriving generation. We had a lovely batch of 21 budding chefs with three boys aged less than 20! Not to mention the differences we had in the thought processes, which helped me learn much more than just cooking. They were all respectful and we formed a bond, like a surrogate family. The junior and senior batches mingle and help each other. It’s like a family coming together for those months and then staying in touch and knowing what we are all doing after leaving our temporary home.
Q. Being a culinary student at this age is not the same as doing other class room courses. It demands a lot of physical effort in the kitchen. Could you please share your experience in the kitchen?
The kitchen was a delight to learn and work in. Helpful staff, modern kitchen equipment, and the faultlessly flowing kitchen plan made things a little easy for me.
Chef Vinod & Chef Daniel & Chef Francois have the patience of angels. Chef Aziz pushed us to learn & find our potential. Chef Marco was our friend but was very strict in judging our performance. The morning greeting from Chef Mihaly for the “youngest student” used to set the mood for me. Chef Lorraine’s guidance is exemplary. They used to share their life experiences and the road they travelled to get to where they are today, and these stories fill our minds with dreams to fulfill for ourselves.
Q. What advice or guidance would you like to give for other non-conventional students out there?
When I decided to study further, I did not think about my age as a constraint. The only thing in my mind was to pursue my dream and for me, this was only a part of a much bigger plan. For the senior aspiring students like me, all I have to say is take the very thought of being old from your mind, which is stopping you from planning your future. I would say keep doing and experiencing new things rather than thinking you are too old for anything new.
Q. What are your future goals/plans?
There is still a lot to learn and the next step is to work in a real kitchen. I am hoping to do that in London and I am working on that. I am a step closer to fulfilling my dream…. A place of my own, a café that is an extension of my living room where I entertain in my own style but one that has been chiselled by ICCA.