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RIYADH: When Donya Modir was growing up, she nurtured an appetite and a curiosity for food. This interest grew until she graduated from the Culinary Arts Academy in Switzerland and was chosen as one of the ambassadors of the Kingdom’s Tourism Ministry.

“Cooking was my hobby and I used to cook for my family and repeat the same dish until I perfected it, so when I heard that there was a culinary art scholarship, I made the decision to grab the chance and go for it,” Modir told Arab News.

Enrolling under the tourism scholarship program, Modir studied at the academy’s Le Bouveret campus in Switzerland and received a Swiss higher education diploma in two years.

“I was lucky to be chosen to be on the scholarship and appointed to one of the elite culinary institutes in the culinary world.”

It was an intense program. She had a daily schedule of 12 hours of intense studies in the culinary world — both theoretical and practical — in addition to general hospitality management and other assessments. Despite all the challenges, she managed to be an honors student and was selected as the Open Days Ambassador for Culinary for two full terms.


The received her position at Saudia aged just 22, making her the youngest sous chef at the organization. Her meteoric efforts were noticed by the Ministry of Tourism, choosing her as a success story under the title ‘tourism makers,’ making her one of the ministry’s ambassadors.

But halfway through the pandemic, Switzerland’s lockdown kicked in. While most of the students went back home, Modir insisted on staying in the country and seized the time she had to finish so she wouldn’t fall behind in her studying schedule.

Once Modir finished the academic program, an internship was vital to her graduate development.

“For 10 months, I started applying my knowledge and passion to one of the most well established Swiss hospitality companies: The Living Circle.”  

The Living Circle is a collection of elite accommodations and eateries operated by devoted hosts in unrival stunning settings.

She also worked in many restaurants, starting with Alex Lake Zürich Hotel, The Boat House Restaurant, Widder Hotel, August Boucherie Restaurant, and a two Michelin star restaurant headed by Chef Stefan Heilaman.

“During that time, I was promoted twice. This added so much confidence and made me the person I am today.”

Coming back to the Kingdom, she immediately started working at Myazū Jeddah Restaurant: First as a chef, then as floor assistant manager.

“Four months later, I was interviewed by Saudia Airlines Catering Company and was given the position of sous chef. Such a position in our world is really hard to get, especially when you are still at such a young age,” she said.

She received her position at Saudia aged just 22, making her the youngest sous chef at the organization. Her meteoric efforts were noticed by the Ministry of Tourism, choosing her as a success story under the title “tourism makers,” making her one of the ministry’s ambassadors.

In this position, Modir has advised the younger generation to enroll in tourism scholarships, noting that the Kingdom’s tourism sector is enjoying revolutionary upgrades.

“I was just a young Saudi student who was willing to achieve something in a field that was very promising for the future of tourism, and throughout my education and apprenticeship, I became equipped with genuine knowledge, more confident, more responsible and a reliable team member,” Modir said, adding: “That is exactly the aim of our Kingdom in sending us abroad, (it) is to empower us with such an education, so we can be ready to give back to this nation.”

She continued: “The Kingdom is aiming to excel in many aspects by empowering such sectors, including the food and beverage industry. It is now that we have started to forum our cultural identity and represent our hospitality through our cuisine and meet global standards.”

Modir believes that food always has been — and always will be — a way to capture a nation’s identity.

“With the Kingdom opening up to tourism, I believe it is mandatory as a culinary student to elaborate on our food more in the industry. It is simply fascinating how it brings people together.”

The world’s biggest tourism training program from the Ministry of Tourism is investing SR375 million ($100 million) to train 100,000 young Saudis at 10 top global institutions, preparing for a bright future in tourism.