Meet Sunjeh Raja, an internationally renowned vocational educator who believes in making lives happen
The Hozpitality Group is appreciative of the support provided by the ICCA team and Mr. Sunjeh Raja in relation to the two awards, the Middle East Hospitality Excellence Awards and Chef Excellence Awards. We hope the future is bright for ICCA.
With the colossal hospitality management companies and international hotel brands proliferating in the UAE, the importance of a coherent training institute capable of training hospitality staff is paramount. Since its establishment in 2005, the International Centre for Culinary Arts (ICCA Dubai) has propitiously trained thousands of artisans wishing to master their craft and produce eye-catching delectables which people love. Aspiring chefs, bakers and pâtissiers, and food entrepreneurs have all benefited from ICCA's assistance.
ICCA is the first culinary school of its kind in the Middle East, with 17 years of continued success with 100 percent internship and a placement guarantee. In the past 17 years, ICCA Dubai has serviced 86% of hospitality brands in the UAE. Students from hotels, restaurants, and hospitality companies in the Middle East, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh & Africa come to ICCA to start and enhance their culinary journey.
The idea for The International Centre for Culinary Arts (ICCA -Dubai) was conceived in 2004 when Dubai was booming with plans for several good hotels and a great hospitality industry, so the journey began with a need to support the industry with a quality culinary education.
Eighteen years later, ICCA Dubai has re-defined not only culinary education but also reaped numerous international & regional awards and recognitions for many of its benchmark achievements; it works with some of the most coveted hospitality brands of the world and has changed the lives of over 9,500 students from over twenty countries, that it has trained and placed in the industry here.
For Sunjeh Raja, the man behind ICCA, vocational training programs have always been his passion. He said, "I have always believed that the world was moving faster than ever towards a focused education & training system best aligned to the emerging opportunities and needs of the industry. ICCA Dubai has been founded on these principles, focusing on the Hospitality Industry - Culinary Arts."
In 2004, destiny brought him to Dubai for a different purpose; however, an old friend and a mentor from Australia working with schools of similar format anchored the idea of a culinary school in Dubai. He says, "I arrived in Dubai for a different purpose, but all thanks to my friend, who supported and sowed the seeds of a culinary school; as someone with an entrepreneurial bent of mind, I saw a great opportunity for real vocational education here, and the rest, as they say, is history."
While the idea was there, it took a lot of work to build ICCA. Challenges were many, with the main ones being that vocational training programs were still nascent in the UAE, with a student market that did not exist. But Sunjeh Raja continued to persevere with utmost passion and patience along with his wife, Shanaaz Raja, to support, and with whom, over time, built this world-class culinary learning center in Dubai.
For Sunjeh Raja, one of his primary goals was to ensure ICCA Dubai was not just another culinary learning institution. "What sets ICCA apart is that we are everything quality with out-of-the-box innovation, application focussed & outcome-driven, and very relevant to the needs of the industry. The proprietary industry-centric curriculum here is focused on providing quality culinary education with ought-to-know knowledge & skills with reinforced fundamentals as the foundation, stringent student performance monitoring & evaluation along with comprehensive ERP systems & processes, while providing Industry Exposure stints followed by Internships and guaranteed Work Placement opportunities to the students trained, for the best-desired outcome."
Being socially conscious and making lives happen is part of ICCA Dubai's ethos.
Sunjeh Raja has always been passionate about giving back. As ICCA Dubai grew from strength to strength, his devotion to contributing to the community that nurtured him and ICCA also rose. Then in 2014, he took a landmark step by setting up the ICCA Dubai Culinary Scholarship Program- the Annual One Million Dirhams Continuing Education Award for the UAE Young Industry Chefs, delivered in strategic partnership with the Emirates Culinary Guild, City & Guilds, and WorldChefs. To date, this unique initiative has changed the lives of over 125 talented but underprivileged chefs by providing them with an opportunity to complete an international education and qualification worth USD 1.65 Million.
He says: "It is all about giving your best and making lives happen. What this scholarship program strives to achieve for the industry's talented and deserving but financially underprivileged chefs are empowering and transformational."
But his commitment to society and industry at large does not stop there. He has always maintained a socially conscious outlook and ardently supports the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through initiatives focused on protecting biodiversity and promoting sustainability in food.
Further, his pursuit of "Foodverse" - Food in Metaverse, is another example of his dedication to helping drive the future of the ecosystem around food to the way things will be in the future.
ICCA records a surge post covid
As the hospitality industry in the UAE quickly bounced back after the pandemic, ICCA also noticed a steady increase in the number of students in their professional programs. Sunjeh Raja substantiates. A spike of at least 20 % in the general number of admissions has been noticed since the second half of 2021. Another noteworthy trend recorded is that while most of their students are international students, there has been a consistent surge in the number of local aspirants.
Says Sunjeh Raja, “The resurgence of Dubai's ever-expanding gastronomy will create a multitude of opportunities in the hospitality and F&B industry; there couldn't be a better time for aspiring chefs to enter the industry, and ICCA, through its application-focussed programs, is keen to support and empower these aspirants at every step of their culinary learning journey.”
The road ahead for ICCA Dubai
Detailing ICCA Dubai’s future plans, Sunjeh Raja says, “ICCA has embarked on several projects in the Middle East. Among them is the opening of ICCA Abu Dhabi with its vast offering of programs that are aimed at UAE locals. Of late, with the rapidly growing reach of blockchain, ICCA has been exploring the future of the ecosystem around food as well as the new chapter of food in Metaverse that would benefit the Chefs and the hospitality industry at large.”
Awards and accolades along the way
While Sunjeh Raja and ICCA Team have been honored with several awards and accolades, the most recent being included in the prestigious Hall of Fame by Caterer Middle East, Sunjeh still credits his passion for excellence, innovative thinking and single-minded focus on the application along with the support of a dynamic team for ICCA Dubai's rise to its current prominent position.
As for what success means to him, he is quick to state, "For success, I advocate the epitomes of the five essential Ps of Passion, Perseverance, Performance, Perfection, and Patience, which is strongly ingrained within the team and as well as the student chefs trained at ICCA Dubai with success being a continuous journey and not a destination."
And so, his mission to make more lives happen continues…