By Yasmin Darsot Cassim

 In this issue of Irtiqa, we explore the changing roles of Muslim men in today’s workplace, breaking free from the stereotype and embracing new career paths that impassion them.  In keeping with this, we meet a remarkable man:  Muhammad Saleh, a well-known pastry chef from Johannesburg who has found himself in a role which not so long ago would have been regarded as “taboo” or unheard of in our local South African, Muslim landscape. However, with the changing social environment in which we live it is no wonder that there has been a breakthrough in perceptions. With the growing number of international television shows depicting men in unconventional roles previously thought of as reserved for women in particular, it is only natural that our local communities embrace such positive change.

 At the age of 20, Muhammad Saleh studied abroad. In London he attended the City and Guilds institute.  After his studies, based on theory and practical’s he earned his qualification as a Pastry Chef. His career started in South Africa, he worked under Executive Chef Andrew Ackerson at the Michelangelo Hotel in Sandton. He now specializes in Sugar Art, Chocolate Centre pieces, Novelty Cakes and many sweet delicacies.  He practices Chocolate lathe work and other techniques for his creations and takes cakes to another level entirely creating masterpieces and unique works of art! He caters for weddings, corporate events, anniversaries, kids’ parties to English High Tea events. If you want spectacular, he is the right person to go to!

Brought up in a home of a man who owns a bakery, there was enough room for Mohammed to explore his passion- His father being the most influential figure in his drive for success. When it came to career choices he was lucky enough to have all the options available to him at his fingertips, but even his love for aviation control could not subdue his true passion and calling- becoming a Pastry Chef.

 Muhammad’s real inspiration and inexhaustible creativity for his passion came from the Gulf Food show in Dubai that he attended in 2008 with his father when he was 15 years old. From that day onward he never looked back and it was clear to him that there was a bright future in store for him in the culinary field. He was inspired by many popular chefs, namely Eric Landlard and Gordon Ramsey- he was lucky enough to meet Gordon Ramsey at the good food and wine show..  Muhammad’s thoughts on Men dominating this industry are not surprising. Traveling often, and visiting kitchens of different hotels, locally and internationally, Muhammad’s experience met more men in his field than women. He agrees that this is beginning to filter into our local Muslim community too and believes that they are excelling at it. Furthermore, according to statistics, it is acknowledged that in more prestigious culinary schools, male students outrank females by 7 to 3 ( Also, by simple observation;   it is noticeable that a large number of celebrity chefs, Master Chef winner’s, Executive Chefs and restaurant owners are men.

 Muhammad is looking forward to his future and would like to expand his father’s bakery, take it to new levels, and promote his work. Training students and a cookbook will definitely be part of his long-term goals. The demand for sugar and chocolate art is low in South Africa, he says, but with time, the right exposure, and an increase in community demands, we may soon be on par with the international world

It is clear from the sheer number of unique creations that Muhammad’s passion translates directly into his work. He works alone and believes that working solo is what has made him a success; He gives each creation time and love and believes in utmost perfection. He does not think twice about redoing a recipe if something does not meet his standards. His greatest reward is seeing the end result of his work and feeling that “this could not be more perfect”.

 As a woman who does not shy away from using premixes, and totally freaks out when reading instructions such as “Proof dough, knead dough, reroll or melt chocolate on low heat”, I felt greatly inspired by Muhammad’s example. He is an inspiration for our young men out there who may feel too pressured by our local community to stick to pursuing “manly careers”.  

 In conclusion, it is safe to say that the roles of men in the local workplace is starting to evolve, moving away from the stereotype towards a more inclusive and dynamic understanding of pursuing our passions, and more importantly, a greater understanding of equality between men and women.