“This is the chef’s biggest asset,” said Sunjeh Raja, pointing to the screen.
That screen portrayed a Certified USA Cheese Specialist certificate bearing the name of one of the 646 chefs who had earned this prestigious accreditation through his International Centre for Culinary Arts (ICCA) culinary school in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. One of that school’s core curriculums has an educational focus centered on the USA Cheese Guild.
The U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC) began developing this partnership with the award-winning ICCA program in 2016 and officially launched it two years later. There are others like it around the world. In developing the USA Cheese Guild program, U.S. dairy farmers, through USDEC, continued to take a long-term view on growing consumer demand for U.S. dairy product exports. It’s the same long-term view many U.S. dairy farmers take when developing their multigenerational family farms.
“Many companies spend great sums of money on marketing budgets. Here we use education,” said Sunjeh Raja. “It’s the most intensive form of marketing. Our marketing is built through relationships,” said Sunjeh Raja, who later reminded those at the gathering that the U.S. is the world’s largest single-country cheese producer and produces the widest variety of cheese.
“These are the people who will become your ambassadors,” continued the highly regarded culinary specialist when speaking to a group of U.S. dairy farmers who were in Dubai as part of a U.S. Dairy Export Council trade mission.
“It’s marketing with soul,” added Angelique Hollister, senior vice president of global cheese marketing for the U.S. Dairy Export Council and executive director of the USA Cheese Guild.
To be fair, education is the founding principle for ICCA, which continually ranks among the Top 10 Global Culinary Arts Training Institutes in the world. “Most hotels do not have budgets for training,” continued Sunjeh Raja, who founded ICCA with his wife, Shanaaz Raja, in 2005.
“When you educate one person, you don’t just educate one person, you educate a generation,” added Shanaaz Raja. ICCA currently has a group of upcoming chefs from nine countries that include Cameroon, India, Kenya, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Zimbabwe. Once these 22 additional chefs go through the program, ICCA will have graduated 668 chefs working in the region with USA Cheese Guild certification.
Highly regarded for its training, ICCA has a 100% guaranteed placement for chefs who graduate from its school at the largest state-of-the art training facility in the Middle East. In guaranteeing that placement, Sunjeh Raja has worked with 86% of the major U.S. brands in the region.
“Dubai is the best of the East and the West put together,” said Sunjeh Raja.
The greater Dubai metro region is a $2 billion market. It features 12,000 cutting-edge restaurants and 600 of the finest hotels in the region. As a result, the chefs and customers are on the cutting-edge of cuisine. These days, that cuisine includes more and more dairy.
As for the future with growing demand for chefs, Sunjeh and Shanaaz Raja plan to expand their International Centre for Culinary Arts to Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and beyond. And the U.S. Dairy Export Council’s USA Cheese Guild accreditation will grow with it.