Andy Cuthbert is the chairman of this year’s Worldchefs Congress & Expo, which is held in Kuala Lumpur from 11 to 14 July. He shares his vision for the event, which is now into its 38th biennial edition.
Andy Cuthbert is the man behind the 38th Worldchefs Congress & Expo. The industry veteran started in the business at age 16, when his cousin hired him as a dishwasher for a conference centre in Melbourne. Fast forward a few decades, and he is now the general manager at Jumeirah Mina A’ Salam, Madinat Jumeirah Conference & Events, Jumeirah Hospitality and Zero Gravity in Dubai.
As the chairman for this year’s Congress—as well as the 2016 Congress held in Greece—he is directly involved in shaping its direction. Between a busy work schedule, overseeing the final touches to this year’s event and planning for the next one in St. Petersburg in 2020, he shared with us his vision for congress, which brings together chefs from around the world.
How do you describe your experience of organising and putting together the WorldChefs Congress?
Events is my job. I am the general manager of a hotel that runs one of the largest convention centres in Dubai. The main thing for something like this is: because it’s for the members, listening to what they want is really important.
We have a broad spectrum of people that are from 75 years old down to 20 years old, and from 96 countries. You will never get it 100 per cent right with that diverse demographic, but what you can do is listen and modify and enhance each year. Hopefully, over time, we get to a place where the congress naturally evolves into an event people really want to come to, not just for the members of the WorldChefs. Of course, in a congress of an association, there is business. You need to sit down and talk about bylaws, and vote on things that may seem a bit boring to the outside world. What we do is we try to cut and do all the business in one day and have three days of fun and games.
To start, what can we expect from this year’s congress?
This year’s congress in will see us bringing over a thousand chefs from our 96 member countries. Bringing the congress to a city such as Kuala Lumpur, with its melting pot of cultures and cuisine, will give the chefs a taste of Asia and Southeast Asia Asia. We also have a stellar line-up of speakers from Asia and around the world, including Andre Chiang and Alvin Leung from Bo Innovation in Hong Kong. They are not only talking about food but also sharing their work ethics, management and leadership styles. We also have a professor to talk about the heritage of Malaysian cuisine and how the migration of people has contributed to make Malaysian cuisine very unique and individual.
It’s important that our young chefs get to know the heritage and traditions of the country. It’s not just all molecular cuisine using foams and spheres. They also need to experience the traditional culinary methods from the home and the street foods of Asia for a true understanding of a country’s cuisine.
The congress also gives an opportunity to people who are interested to coming into the profession to talk and network with very seasoned and well known chefs. We will have about 150 young chefs coming from all over the world to participate in the Bill Galerga Young Chefs Forum. There will also be the Global Chefs Challenge, where top chefs, young chefs and pastry chefs around the world pit their skills against each other.
You have organised a few Congresses now and will be organising the next in 2020. What’s your vision for the future?
I hope that we will be able to continue this theme of education for our chefs. Where we want to take the congress is also very heavily focused on education and young people, and making the congress inclusive not exclusive. The word exclusive means “to exclude”. We need to make it inclusive for senior chefs and members of Worldchefs, but also for educators, students and people that are generally interested in gastronomy.
Also, I believe that a diverse speaking programme gives you an edge over other similar congresses around the world, which is why we have the professor this year to speak about Malaysian cuisine.
What are the pillars of Worldchefs?
One of our pillars is education— to be able to give young chefs a solid grounding through our certification program, or through our certified school programs. Another pillar is sustainability—everything around food wastage, sustainable farming annd sustainable food production.
Worldchefs is a world body for chef associations globally. We are not an authority on all cuisines, but we are an authority that can be consulted on anything that’s got to do with gastronomy. We want to work with like-minded associations, whether it is the UN or any other charity or world association involved in gastronomy, food production or agriculture. We don’t just cook.
How has the profession of the chef evolved in the years since you’ve joined the business?
One of the biggest changes is within the education landscape. In Australia, the apprenticeships system is being changed so that it’s reduced to the time you can do in school or gain your certificate.
Also, the way we manage a kitchen has changed. Forget what you see on TV—it’s no longer lots of mad shouting and screaming during a shift. Yes, I’m sure it still happens today in some kitchens. In fact, the kitchens I was brought up in were not like that until I went to the UK and in the UK, it was very much like that. I do not know if it was accepted because all the cooks were a rough and tumble bunch back then, but it’s not accepted today.
The millennial mindset today is very different. And I don’t mean that we are dealing only with millennials who are 20 years old. It could be a 35 year old who doesn’t accept the way things were in the old style kitchens. Of course, discipline is still very important, but how you communicate and teach that discipline as a manager or as a leader has changed.
Also, the way that the people are learning has changed, probably because of social media and the Internet. It’s all online—you don’t have to learn as much over time with the hand; you can actually read about it. But whether it’s from the internet or the kitchen they worked in, as a chef, you gotta learn how to use a knife. The basics are still going to remain important.
How does Worldchefs fit into this new landscape?
I think that Worldchefs can play a role through its certification program and also recognising culinary schools around the world, plus offering a network. And it’s also our senior chefs that are 35/40/50 that can be utilised to train and share past experiences with young people. It’s making sure that the profession is looked upon as something worthy and respectable.
I guess the kitchen is always going to be that male-dominated space, but that’s also changing. So again, I think it’s making sure Worldchefs is inclusive to get the ladies in—and not just to say oh we have ladies in Worldchefs. So there is that, that’s part of Worldchefs’ role as well, to make sure the profession is inclusive, is open to everybody.
Worldchefs Congress & Expo is held in Kuala Lumpur, from 11 to 14 July.