Lij & Kari: Chef and Steward
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to the UAE, etc.
We are Kari and Chef Lij Heron, Jamaicans born and raised. Lij is the head chef of The Lexington Grill at the Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah. I am the Publisher & Dream Coach at our blog Chef and Steward, which is a boutique family business that enriches and transforms people's lives through food, lifestyle, wellness and professional coaching.
We moved to Dubai almost 6 and 10 years ago respectively. I like to say that Lij came for work as a chef and I pretty much came for love. We moved to the delightful village of Ras Al Khaimah two years ago. We were previous expats but the UAE has been the first country that we have lived in as a couple.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
The blog was started in 2010 but went public in January 2011. It was the practical way to merge our professional talents and interests and provide work for Kari, who arrived as a trailing spouse and had difficulty finding a job in the height of the economic recession, which finally hit Dubai when she arrived in late December.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
I can share some of our most popular ones:
- What You Need to Know Before You Say “I Do” to a Chef
- I said YES and I am Still Married to a Chef
- What Chefs REALLY Think About Bloggers
- Cooking with Mom
- But is it Really Organic? A Tour of a Real Organic Farm in the UAE
- Best Budget Joints in Dubai
Tell us about the ways your new life in the UAE differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
That’s what excites us about traveling to places that are so different! Your eyes become wide open and you see a whole new world in front of you. We are indeed a long way from home. This distance is both literal and figurative, though what has kept us going is not so much the focus on how different and odd things are, but to recognize the commonality of the human experience.
We love and respect the uniqueness of the Emirati culture, from their modest but graceful sense of dress and gait to their food and how they treat each other. As a Western girl, I never thought I would ever live to say and think of men in dresses (robes called Khandoura) as being highly attractive!
It is definitely a cultural melting pot because so many people from all over the world live here. The amount of languages you can hear spoken in one day will confound you. There is so much that is different that you learn to focus on what we have in common. And that is when you truly start to reap the rewards of overseas travel and living abroad. Its is not meant to preserve whatever limited worldview you had prior to traveling but to open you up and broaden your horizons. We were from a small country but now, having lived here, we are citizens of the world because we have made friends across so many nationalities.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in the UAE? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
I think age and stage as well as circumstances and a level of personal awareness and consciousness are essential. The expat life is a very huge adjustment. The further you are away from home, the harder the adjustment (and less family visits). We were expats before but not in the Middle East. This region has its own unique charms and challenges like everywhere else. You need to know if you would be comfortable living in a place that places legal restrictions on alcohol, clothing, and indebtedness.
Lij moved here in the security of a job and I moved in the security of marriage and the confidence and skills to make my own work if no one would hire me. I invested in professional photography gear and planned on starting a food blog to showcase my skills as a photographer and seasoned broadcast journalist. I have since become a certified professional coach as well in order to help others transform their lives as I have a particular passion for the complexity of the expatriate experience. I have since been able to work with major international hotel brands as well as transnational companies based here.
We both researched intensively before arriving and having followed Lij, I learnt from what knowledge he had amassed about the culture in his four years prior to me coming over.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
Dubai especially, like any major city, attracts a lot of people who love to tell tall tales about themselves and their experiences. A popular expat joke is that everyone is the Sheikh’s right hand man, because some people actually throw such things around.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in the UAE?
- Read a lot, do your research. Don’t only focus on what is great but find out the faults. It’s the challenges that you could potentially have a problem with.
- Try to get a job with a reputable company prior to arrival.
- Come with an open mind. People are different. Respect their differences and respect their humanity. They will teach you things you could not learn from a book.
How is the expat community in the UAE? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
This is somewhat of a tricky thing in the UAE. Many people are here short term so they come and go quite often. We are very social people and live very openly online and connect with people through our work. We tend to keep our inner circle very small, which I think is just a good practice wherever you live. Social media helps to forge friendships and business partnerships and we have gotten many such wonderful opportunities through our blog. InterNations is also a great way to network with other professionals.
How would you summarize your expat life in the UAE in a single, catchy sentence?
An epicurean adventure well worth the ride!