Jamaican Expats In UAE - Expat Interview With Chef and Steward

Published: 2 Dec at 1 PM
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Filed: Interviews,United Arab Emirates
Chef and Steward is a fun food and lifestyle partnership between husband and wife, Chef Lij and Kari Heron. Hailing from Jamaica, they have lived in the USA, Turks & Caicos, Malaysia and now the UAE. Chef Lij is a head chef with over 10 years in the industry post his culinary degree from the Culinary Institute of America. Kari is a trained communicator, multi-talented F&B Strategist | Food, Travel & Lifestyle Photographer | Columnist | Producer and Presenter with over 15 years experience. She recently completed shooting for a travel and lifestyle book that will be published in 2013 and manages PR and social media for the top kitchen and table retailer in the Middle East. Together, they have merged their skills to create Chef and Steward (see listing here), a platform to explore one heck of an epicurean journey. The blog is often featured in local and international media and is a hit among chefs, industry professionals and home cooks alike.


Here's the interview with Chef and Steward...

Where are you originally from?
We are both from the tropical paradise that is Jamaica.

In which country and city are you living now?
We are expats in the United Arab Emirates

How long have you lived here and how long are you planning to stay?
Chef Lij has been here for 7 years and Kari for 3. Man has time flown!

Why did you move and what do you do?
Chef Lij: I came for work. I had been working as a sous chef in the Caribbean after returning from Malaysia and the USA and I wanted to travel again. I am the head chef for two outlets for a new luxury hotel opening soon.
Kari: I was an expat at that time in the Turks and Caicos Islands, setting up a proper Public Relations Unit for their government and came over here for love. And marriage. I am now a PR & Marketing Manager for Tavola, a fine kitchen and table retailer and a F&B Strategist, Travel & Lifestyle Photographer and Writer.

Did you bring family with you?
We are all the family we both have here, though we have made a select few friends who are almost like family.

How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
Luckily for both of us, we both had expatriate experiences so it was not the first time we were moving away from home. However, the UAE is unlike any other place we had ever travelled to, much less lived and so it took some adjustment. Chef Lij went straight into a job so that helped. Kari came as a trailing spouse so she had even more adjustments. We both delved in and made it work and because of that, we are still here!

Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
We love people! We are from a place that is known for the hospitality of its people. Jamaicans are known as very warm, friendly and approachable people. Generally, you don't have to know someone back home to share a greeting, conversation or a laugh. We have tried to ensure that we keep the warmth we came with because that is part of our own cultural fabric. We find local Emiratis to be extremely kind and hospitable and have made some wonderful local friends who are a delight to be around. We have also been fortunate enough to share very closely with the local culture and those experiences are priceless to us. It is always great to hear the proverbs and great sayings of the Arabs because we too share a similar tradition and more things than we ever thought! We do have expatriate friends as well because we are from a small place and we love the idea of making friends from all over the world, which is a really great opportunity that living here presents us with!

http://www.chefandsteward.com/What are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
We love being outdoors when the weather is good. Ras Al Khaimah is our favourite Emirate so far because it has Mountains, sea and desert. It’s a great place for weekend trips as well. When the weather is good, everybody goes outside because when it is hot, it is brutal. There are lots of barbecues, outdoor gatherings and al fresco dining opportunities in many restaurants to celebrate the cooler winter months. We recommend camping as well as it is a huge tradition here. Try going to the museums across each Emirate for a greater understanding of the cultural history of the place.

Food is also a great way to integrate with the community. Cookery demonstrations and classes are a great way to meet people as well as a variety of other short courses on different subject areas.

Dining out is a huge part of the expatriate culture of the UAE. It is easy to do so but it can be expensive so we recommend striking some balance and cooking at home sometimes.

Twitter and Meetup groups are also great ways to meet people as the community is pretty social media savvy and you will probably find it easier to meet friends online then in person.

http://www.chefandsteward.com/What do you enjoy most about living here?
The world lives here! There are about 200 nationalities living in the UAE, which means it is a great opportunity to learn about other people! Plus that lends to diversity in the food scene and since we both work in the F & B industry, that is a huge plus for us! We love how centrally located it is in the Eastern Hemisphere because we have both long had an obsession to travel and explore this part of the world as best as possible.

We have also managed to parlay our experience through our Chef and Steward blog, which also helps to introduce our Western readers to a side of the beautiful Arab culture they may have never heard and to share our own rich culture in the place we live.

How does the cost of living compare to home?
In many ways, it is a cheaper; in others, not so. We had more access to greater resources in Jamaica whereas here we are limited to what we earn. So really, we cannot compare both.

What negatives, if any, are there to living here?
The most difficult part of being an expatriate is being an expatriate. It is not easy to live away from one’s home. We are very far from most of our family and hardly get visitors. Also when there is trouble at home, you dread not being able to get there in time. This is the expatriate dilemma.

On a way more superficial note, we miss the colour green.

http://www.chefandsteward.com/Why a food blog?
For us, food was our common language as a couple. We courted each other with food, our friendship developed through food. It’s not just that we love to stuff our bellies, but for us, food is a great equalizer among all men. We all have to partake to maintain life and some of us elevate it to more of an epicurean activity that basal natural instinct. We use food to create conversations with people, to find common ground and shared meaning. The home kitchen is undergoing a renaissance as is the professional kitchen and we represent both elements.

We wanted to merge our core talents, training and experience and the blog was the springboard. Kari had been blogging since 2006 and worked on website projects from as far back as 2001 so she was quite familiar with the technology and with social media as a platform for publishing.

How can you help anyone new to or thinking of moving to the UAE?
In addition to our Chef and Steward blog (see below), can find us on Twitter @Chefandsteward Facebook www.facebook.com/ChefandSteward and Pinterest. We have become a resource for chefs and others in the industry who are looking to relocate here but we are happy to help anyone in any way we can.

http://www.chefandsteward.com/What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
  1. Be open-minded. If you are too rigid, you may have a problem adjusting to a totally new environment. Leave your inner judge at home. Things are different here because they are different here. It does not mean that the people here have got it wrong or you have got it right. Things are simply different. If you cannot leave the judgmental attitude at home, you will have a horrid time.
  2. Contact a few residents before arrival and try to broaden your network before you arrive. Use Linkedin for a professional network and Twitter and Facebook fan pages to start. Don't be afraid to ask questions as people are often willing to help.
  3. Don’t lose sense of who you are. It is easy to lose sight who you are in a bid to fit into a new place, but try to maintain your own integrity even while fitting in.
  4. Don’t bite off too much financially. This is a very glitzy place but be aware of your own means and live within it.
  5. Research! That way you will make informed decisions and put crucial plans in place before your arrival. For example, you may be required to pay rent up to an entire year in advance and many employers pay housing allowances monthly. That means that you could see yourself having to come up with a lot of cash even before your first pay cheque and signing bonuses or advances are not standard as they are in other expat locations.

Chef and Steward blog at http://www.chefandsteward.com/ which we recommend a quick visit if you haven't been already. Chef and Steward have an ExpatsBlog.com listing here with a huge number of great comments - but there's always room for more, so add a review if you like! If you appreciated this interview with Chef and Steward, please let them know by leaving a comment below.
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Comments » There are 3 comments

Didi wrote 9 years ago:

I love the advise on the finances :) Many people fall into that trap! Best to be clear with the objective why you've moved to the UAE, whether it to be to save money or whatever, then stick to it...FOCUS! It is quite easy to be tempted by the glitz and glam...it is just a test, I guess, for most of us here :)

Corve DaCosta wrote 9 years ago:

I love their blog. I would love to live in Dubai for a while.

Stacey-Ann Dennison wrote 9 years ago:

Very good article guys!!!

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