Shaheen Malek

Shaheen Malek
This Cart has been here since 2007. I’m from Bangladesh, and my journey in this city started twenty years ago. Cooking has always been my trade, my passion, my life. Back in Bangladesh, I was a chef and owned different restaurants.

Like countless others, I embarked on this immigrant journey and ventured into the food business world here in New York. I used to operate seven carts, but now I have five. Everybody took a hit with COVID, but thanks to life and my loyal customers, I’m still in business.

My cuisine blends Indian, American, and Middle Eastern flavors. We serve Middle Eastern staples like Falafel and Gyro alongside fragrant Indian dishes. Sometimes, I even throw in a curveball, offering hot dogs or Italian fare. Variety keeps it interesting and fun, you know? Business has had its ups and downs, but it’s slowly picking up again. It’s all good; we’re all good.

For me, cooking is deeply personal; it’s a reflection of your essence. It’s all about biryani and curry, crafted in my unique Indian style. I take pride in using clean, fresh ingredients prepared right here daily. When I see my customers enjoying every bite with satisfaction, that’s what keeps me going. Their happiness is intertwined with the future I have built for my family.

My wife manages our home; I have three sons and a daughter. They’re all pursuing their education here, thanks to the opportunities this job has provided. It’s been a challenging journey, but we’ve managed it together. This career has allowed me to offer them the chance to pursue their dreams and educational goals, filling me with pride daily.
@streetvendorproject is hosting a Street Heroes Gala on October 4th, celebrating NYC’s smallest businesses and continuing to work as a collective to create a vendors’ movement for permanent change. The organization advocates for the rights of street vendors in New York City. Link Bio to suport and join the gala.


My name is Sakhi. I was born in India and have been living in New Zealand for over three years.

I was interested in flavors ever since I was a child, I was never a picky eater. Contrary to most chef origin stories, I was never trained by my grandparents/parents in the kitchen. I chose the industry against my family’s wishes.

What I love most about cooking is being physically, mentally and emotionally involved in what I do, waking up with new ideas everyday, and the camaraderie within the hospitality industry.

The glorification of the hustle culture needs to change. Surviving on 2 hours of sleep, caffeine and nicotine might sound great for memoirs, but they will not sustain a genuine passion for food in the long term.

It’s 2023 and it’s high time we acknowledge that we are humans with every right to rest and a personal life.

No matter how prestigious a kitchen is, don’t tolerate disrespect. You might have a great opportunity to learn, but it’s not worth sacrificing your mental health. You deserve acceptance among your peers and a safe space.

Sebastian Simon

Sebastian Simon. I was born in Bangalore, India, but reside in Melbourne, Australia.

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine myself behind the kitchen pass, not even during my childhood days when I grew up inspired by my mum, who would cook spectacular dishes with no recipes. My dream was to become a renowned journalist, while my father saw me as a well-qualified engineer. I chose the food industry because I considered cooking a necessary skill and started a hotel management course after changing courses multiple times. It turned out to be the best decision of my life.

After I was exposed to the industry, it left a profound mark on me and kindled my interest to continue seeking more. Despite all the failed avenues I had taken, I finally found my true niche, becoming an Executive Chef at age 31.

Over the years, I’ve learned to find the perfect balance between doing and accomplishing all I want to do in my career and being there for the people I love. I genuinely struggle with it, but I would rather give as much to my life outside work as I give to my job. My peers and family constantly remind me of the cost because I miss key moments, and before I can catch up, it’s gone forever. We need to stop and smell the roses before that time has passed.

With that in mind, we must also learn to celebrate the journey rather than the destination. Yes, this career is challenging, and no, it’s not always easy. It’s definitely not the glamor people think it is, but learn to enjoy the journey. We’re so obsessed with perfection that we forget the relationships we build and the journey to make service happen. Learn to value relationships, your craft, your people, and the produce you cook with.
Don’t let fear bring you down.

Sometimes, we let fear crawl its way into our cooking, but don’t let it defeat you. If you mess up, try again. It’s not the end of the world. The mantra I constantly tell myself is this, “I knew nothing, I know nothing, I am always learning is your mantra of survival here.” This shift in mindset made me resolve to be a better leader first, than a chef.

Chris Berdes

I am Chris Berdes, born and raised in Patras, Greece, and now residing in Mykonos. For me, cooking is not just a passion but also a gateway to encountering the most captivating individuals one could ever meet in a lifetime. However, at the core, food remains my ultimate destination. Even after spending 12 years in the kitchen, I still get goosebumps every time I step into that culinary realm. From the very beginning, I understood that pursuing a career in the culinary arts would demand significant sacrifices, but I have never once regretted my decision.

I vividly recall an incident seven years ago when I was brutally stabbed and required surgery. The doctor informed me that I could not cook for several months, leaving me deeply disheartened. It was during that challenging period that I truly grasped the fact that my life would be incomplete without cooking.

If I could share two of my best takeaways from the industry, they would be never to forget your origins and always remain connected to your roots. To keep your senses wide open, taste is intertwined with memory, and it is through this connection that we can truly leave a lasting impression in the culinary world.

Ylenia Rago

My name is Ylenia Rago. I am 29 years old and am from Policoro, Italia.

When I was 12, I asked my parents to go to culinary school, but with firm determination, they denied me. After studying law for almost four years, I realized it was not what I wanted out of life. Even though my college career progressed well, I spent my nights cooking and experimenting with recipes. I never watched any programs about cooking; I hated them.

I never read a book about cooking until I realized I had to say goodbye to my future as a lawyer after I met a chef and asked him, “What is the best cooking school?” To which he answered, “The work.” It was April 7th, and on April 9th, I began this incredible adventure that, to this day, I consider putting on a chef’s jacket the best thing that has happened to me. I joined a brigade of 19 people, and my first day of work was an 11 1/2-hour shift in Rome, Republic Square. Now, I work at the Piazza Duomo Alba and have since been a cook for six years.

For me, it is not just about making food but about the excitement and emotion. It is indescribable. When I meet kids who have studied for years and perhaps have paid a lot of money to train who are not “hungry,” I get angry because they don’t realize how lucky they are to study culinary.

Since April 9th, 2017, I have never looked back. The kitchen is the most beautiful place in the world, and it’s the only place I feel at home. There is nervousness, but at the same time, there is organization. There is rigor, and there is discipline. There are mistakes, but always solutions, and that drives me. There is mostly adrenaline dictated by the pressure that gives you life. I could never live without it.

Every moment in the kitchen constantly marks me. I hope soon, chefs understand the value young cooks have in the kitchen and realize that they were just kids once.

Bola Akinbobola

My kitchen journey started primarily with my love of eating. I was a greedy child, ravenous. I once ate a whole jar of what I thought were Smarties (candy) from the medicine cabinet and had to go to the hospital! But that didn’t stop me from experimenting and trying anything and everything. Quickly it became my dream to become a chef, where I could learn and eat many things.

I am from London Town. My first kitchen job was as a weekend helper in a pub, collecting glasses, serving desserts, and getting coin tips from dirty ashtrays. I’ve been in this industry for 20 years strong. Working in a kitchen has fed my curiosity, taught me focus and control, and gives me the drive and inspiration I need daily.

There was a point in my early career when I was working for a brasserie-type restaurant that caused a shift in my life. The food wasn’t that great, and the chef was a classic nutcase, but I learned about kitchen pressure and how to concentrate it and use it to drive me forward. I discovered the want and gratification of perfection in the things I created. It was a time that showed me I could go further if I tried. So I sent a letter to 10 of the top restaurants in my area asking for employment. I got an interview and a trial in a 2 AA Rosette restaurant. The chef knew I was an amateur but gave me a shot. From that point, I’ve never looked back. All my interest and focus was on anything, food and drink.

In the future, I hope kitchens get more modernized and become better environments for staff to operate in. There are plenty of downtrodden basements with no windows and dwellings where people are sweating it out producing top-quality foods. If their environments were improved, imagine what they could do!
Interviewed & Shot by OFFICIAL HOTK REPORTER IN 🇬🇧 @darklingcaptures 📷

Marco Antonio Quelca

When I was ten years old, I worked washing cars in La Paz, Bolivia, where I am from. This job is humble, and because of the social discrimination in my country, we had to cover our faces with a “pasamontañas” (mask) balaclava, like other jobs.

It wasn’t until 2011 that I began working in a kitchen washing dishes. The effort and passion in this trade was infectious. When I was 24 years old, I became Executive Chef of a 5-star hotel in my country. After a few years, I migrated to Spain to work and learn from the gastronomic references I admired and had researched.

In 2014, I returned to my country after a gastronomic nomadism because my roots called me. I started a project that brings contemporary cuisine to peripheral areas of Bolivian cities with the sole intention of inviting different ways of eating local products for free. The Sabor Clandestino project was born there, whose creative axis is the popular daily life of Bolivian culture and ingredients, highlighting different techniques and presenting them in a contemporary way.

This project led us to self-manage it by making menus in unusual spaces, each time exploring the concept of clandestine in our activities, where no one knows what they will eat or where. The diners attend with their minds and stomachs empty. Today Sabor Clandestino is nine years old, and its activities are a mix of theater with gastronomy.

Each menu is exhibited for 4 months and rotates to a completely new one. We wear the pasamontañas (mask) as an icon of our activities, the face of anonymity, demonstrating that many people contribute to this world positively with their work and effort anonymously.



Ever since I was a little girl, I loved being creative. I dabbled in clay modeling and drawing, and I loved food! Looking back through my five years in the pastry business and three in the bakery, I’m happy I found a way to combine both passions into one!

My first job in the industry was in a pastry shop as an assistant. I learned a lot, and it was a phenomenal experience. Even though I knew that specific field wasn’t for me, I did discover my love for Viennoiserie. That was love at first sight. And I got the chance to dive deeper into my new passion during the COVID confinement period.

I’m so passionate about this field, and I love seeing people’s smiles when they try their pastries. It’s one of the things that brings me the most joy.



I was born in São Paulo, Brasil, native of the backlands of Bahia.

I’m a self-taught Chef with over 26 years of experience working in this profession. Aside from my Brazilian culture, I believe my cuisine is heavily influenced by French, Italian, Spanish, and Asian techniques. That is the beauty of this profession, as a single dish can transcend many borders. For me, cooking is an act of love and transformation. Learning from the exchange of experiences and teachings with others is one of my favorite ways to learn and grow.

Over the course of my profession, I’ve learned that everybody, regardless of their background, deserves the same respect. Value your own work and also value the work of others. Always believe in yourself and in the potential of others.


It all began in the dish pit, the humble corner of the kitchen. On one side, the flames danced as the wok sizzled with frenetic energy. On the other side, there he stood, immersed in the task of washing dishes. It was a juxtaposition of two distinct elements, coexisting within a single space. Growing up in a family kitchen, Lúóng couldn’t help but dream of the day when he would transition to the other side.