Cooking and International Travel

Discussion in 'General Culinary School Discussions' started by jamesedwards0579, Jul 2, 2018.

  1. jamesedwards0579


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    Hey there! This question doesn't involve culinary school, but it involves learning and I just couldn't find another place it fit.


    I've currently been exploring my love of cooking lately during my time living and studying in Bhutan as an anthropology student and I am really enjoying the practice of cooking, the interaction it creates, and also the delicious food I get to make with my own hands :). I've been spending the past few months learning all sorts of authentic Bhutanese recipes and in July I will be moving to Hyderabad India to live for a few months.

    So my question is this

    Does anyone have experience learning how to cook in a foreign environment without being in a culinary school? I like the idea of working in a restaurant and learning that way, but I don't know how to go about finding a job like that in a place like India. Plus working in a country in an environment where people will be speaking their local language, which I know very little of. I also have no connection with the expat community there as all of my friends are locals. I'm looking at learning from friends' families, but I would like to experience the hecticness of cooking in a kitchen as work, I quite enjoy the work.

    Anyone have any tips on learning cooking abroad? I would be very interested to hear! Thanks a ton!
  2. sgsvirgil


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    Retired Owner/Operator
    Hi and welcome to CT! :)

    While I didn't learn to cook abroad, my wife and I did spend about a year traveling the world after I retired and sold my restaurant. We went everywhere from London to Istanbul to Tokyo. Not only did we visit the sights, but, we made it a point to immerse ourselves in the local food as deeply as possible. In most places, the street food, not the restaurants, drew my attention. Whenever and where ever possible, I made it a point to talk with whoever was doing the cooking an learned as much as I could about their food. To that end, experiencing all of the different combinations of foods, spices and ingredients opened a whole new world as far as the way I approach cooking. So, I guess I can say that after all these years, I received a whole new education about food abroad.

    However, based on what I saw and learned, working in the food industry abroad mandates a working knowledge of the language. I think that's rather obvious. But, the real barrier, especially for a Westerner trying to break into an Eastern food industry, would be locals not wanting to let an outsider into their kitchen, so to speak. I'm not saying this would be the case everywhere and anywhere you go. Not at all. In many of the places we visited, the people I spoke with were happy and very willing to share their knowledge about their food and heritage. Some were not so enthusiastic. They weren't rude about it. They just hid behind the language barrier, nodded and smiled.

    I don't mean to say that you will have doors slammed in your face or anything of that sort. I think that trying to get a job in a commercial kitchen in a foreign country, especially in Asia, will be potentially difficult. If you can do it, I think you will have one of the greatest opportunities of a lifetime. Even if you never touch a pan or cook a single thing and wash dishes the whole time, you will have an experience that would be unlike any other.

    So, I guess what I am saying in a very long winded way is this: learn the language. You will not get anywhere if you don't know the language. Your enthusiasm and appreciation for their food, which is often a pillar of their culture, coupled with knowing their language just might be enough. If a young person from a foreign country who knew my language and was enthusiastic about the food I made came to me for a job, I'd hire them.

    Thanks for sharing your story. Please keep us posted on how things work out for you.

    Good luck! :)
  3. jminor


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    Line Cook. Sauté cook
    This is something I would definitely encourage! If you have a chance to go get experience overseas (being apt in another language is SO satisfying), it will bring you incredibly far. I personally got into cooking back in the states, and with the age of 18 got an opportunity to go to Germany and complete an apprenticeship there. I'm now in my second year of the apprenticeship now, and have seen/experienced a great deal.
    Granted I can only speak from the European/German view, I'd say it's relatively easy to get into a kitchen pretty much anywhere with the right attitude. If you show up and tell them that you're there to learn and actually get to know their culture/cuisine they'll open the door right up. At least in my experience. I went on a bike trip this past summer to Bavaria and brought my knife roll with and pretty much from guest house to guesthouse (and eventually a bakery, had to learn how to make ACTUAL pretzels ((I was just baking pre-formed frozen pretzels at work all the time and got fed up with it))) asking if I could cook in their kitchen for a room. What I found was that not only were they fully compliying, but most of them where sad that I only stayed one night!
    So I would try to get to know the people and show genuine interest, and the won't be able to say no. There's almost always someone looking for a cook (a double-sided coin of the industry).
    I wish you success!
  4. iridium12


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    Private Chef
    Yes - in Asia it is not that easy indeed
    Language barrier is the most common reason - so if you do speak the language, absolutely amazing opportunity